The Bible is unlike any other text in the world. It provides the foundation to Christian life, but for some, young people and adults alike, it can be difficult to open up and read regularly of our own accord. Tim Gough shares some tips on how to get young people to engage with the Bible.
When was the last time you heard a young person say 'my insides came alive when you taught the Bible tonight'?
That is what should happen.
At the end of Luke’s Gospel in chapter 24, Jesus - somewhat disguised - is walking and talking with two of his nonplussed followers. While trying to tell their heartbreaking story, Jesus interrupts to lead them in Bible study. He takes them through “all the scriptures” concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).
The two followers eventually do recognise Jesus, who then gets on with his Houdini-style disappearing act. In His wake they turn to one another and say,
'Did not our hearts burn within us… while he opened to us the Scriptures?' (Luke 24:32).
This teaches us one very simple, faith-defining and denomination-dividing lesson: There is nothing wrong with the material God left!
The Immense and Necessary Epicness of The Bible
The Bible is, in every sense of the word, epic. It is living, it is active and it is powerful. It is succulent food that gives life, and introducing young people to its Author is the most important thing we can do. Devaluing and diluting it, however, will raise young Christians who are ill-equipped to live for Jesus as they grow.
Opening the Bible in our youth clubs is a great victory, but only a small battle compared to training those young people to read it for themselves.
We also need to teach young people how to read it - not just to read it. Not teaching young people how is like handing them an acoustic guitar in order to introduce them to Brit-Pop; it’s only going to go so far!
Young people need to have this relationship with the Bible themselves so that they can:
- Develop a personal and growing relationship with God that isn’t dependant on you
- Learn to hear God’s voice more clearly, and recognise when it’s missing
- Have more to contribute to your faith community
- Be more discerning when listening to fallible teachers (like us!)
- Live life to its fullest, the John 10:10 way
5 Steps To Grow Bible-Loving Young People
1. Give them a passion for it
There are a million-and-one things that young people are passionate about! Passion shortage is not an issue, even when it's hidden under the guise of apathy.
Look for their passions and connect those to the Word. What is it they care most about? Is it their family and friends, homelessness and poverty, football and computer games? All these things have a hook in the heart of the person which can be found in the Scriptures.
When you recognise something good in them, make sure you show them how God speaks about that trait. Let your positive reinforcement of them be soaked in God’s Word. When they’ve got a choice to face, give passages that speak specifically to those issues.
The more they see their life overlap relevantly with the Bible, the more natural it will be for them to passionately seek answers within its depths.
2. Show them that you value it
Without this step the other four don't really work. You need to have an ongoing and active relationship with the Bible yourself. This relationship needs to be constantly maturing and not dependent on prewritten Bible study notes.
If you value the Bible and are actively working on that relationship, then it will soak through how you speak, act and teach. Young people never miss anything, and they won't miss this!
3. Model it in your programs
Leading quality Bible studies that explode the text wide open has got to be the linchpin! It’s the key place you’ll get to show them not only what it says, but how to get there.
We started off by saying that there's nothing wrong with the material. You don't have to try to make the Bible interesting - unless you've already cultivated a culture that believes that it's not. In which case, you’ve got some work to do!
You don't need to dress up the Word, you just need to know it, speak about it clearly and apply it relevantly. A good way into this is to give young people ample room to speak. Ask lots of questions that require them to dig around, and get them to tell you how they’re going to apply it.
Every time you read a passage together, get your group to tell you what struck them before you ask any other specific questions. Then always look for the who, what, when, where, why and how questions. Make sure the answers to these are in the passage, so they have to keep turning to it.
Finally, sprinkle Bible around all you do. If you make a new decision for the group, show what passage you based it in. If you think a game has a teaching point, then make a verse the arrow that points there.
4. Set up mentoring
The ideal step between group Bible study and personal, regular reading is one-to-one mentoring. Find youth group leaders, or members of your church who can take young people out for cake and read with them.
Once you create an expectation for this, you can get some of your older youth group members to carry on this tradition themselves by reading with younger youth group members.
5. Encourage them to get messy
At my Bible studies, we print out the text and give them hundreds of coloured pencils. Arrows, highlighting, boxes and underlining makes them see patterns they may have missed otherwise. Also, when you read with a pen hovering over the words you tend to read slower and pay more attention.
This also makes reading conversational. They can write what God may have said to them and their prayers to Him alongside the passage.
Finally, when their personal Bible is shredded and plundered by highlighter at the end of the year, tell them well done and buy them shiny new one!
Tim Gough is centre director at Youth For Christ Llandudno
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