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"How Do We Get Teenagers To Read The Bible More?"

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[NOTE: It's Veteran's Day which hopefully means you can take the day off! As you do, remember the freedoms you enjoy because of the sacrifices made by others. As we often do on holidays, today's ym360 Blog post is a re-post of a popular post from the past.]

I was at a youth ministry conference this weekend and was fortunate enough to lead a workshop that focused on the needs of new/young Christ-followers. The idea was to define the unique needs of those teenagers in our ministries who have either just entered into a salvation relationship with Christ, or are just realizing the call to actually follow Christ on a daily basis. We defined some of these specific needs and then asked how effective our ministries are at creating an environment where these needs are being met. It was a good, interactive discussion that I pray was beneficial for those in the room.

There was a question that came up a couple of times that stuck with me after the workshop was over. As I have these types of discussion with youth workers, it’s actually a concept that comes up all the time. The question is this . . . 

How do we get teenagers to read the Bible more?

I have thought a great deal about this, and I’m convinced there isn’t a sure-fire, “try-this-five-step-method” that works. But I do think there are some important things to consider. Here are a few of them . . . 

Knowing God, Part 1: We’re Framing The Question All Wrong.

“What can we do to get teenagers reading the Bible more?” I think this might be the wrong question. I think the right question may be, “What can we do to help teenagers value God more?” God must be important to our teenagers, specifically the idea of knowing God. When knowing God is important, when being close to Him matters to teenagers, the act of reading the Bible simply becomes the means by which they come to know Him. If they value God, they’ll value reading the Bible. Which leads me to the next point . . . 

 

Knowing God, Part 2: It Doesn’t Start With Doing. It Starts With Feeling. 

I read hundreds of blog articles a week. (Or, I skim hundreds. I read a few dozen.) A few times a month I will run across an article that is titled something like this: “5 Steps To Better Bible Reading,” or “Tips To Help Your Students Read The Bible More.” The problem with these articles is that they are practice oriented. They focus on technique (“Bible study methods”) and behavior (“when to study the Bible”). Many of them are solid articles. But they assume a faulty starting point, as I alluded to earlier. 

We have to change the way we teach teenagers to think about the Bible. If we teach them to see the Bible primarily as a “discipline,” or a “habit,” or even as “Bible study,” we’re missing it. We've forgotten that reading the Bible is relational. (We don't talk about any other relationship in this way. You don't develop the discipline of taking your children to see a baseball game. You do it because you love your kids. We should approach the Bible the same way.) We should strive to teach teenagers that the Bible is first-and-foremost a heart-driven, deeply personal, experiential encounter with God. We go to the Bible to engage with God, to meet God. We have to stop putting technique and behavior first, and make Bible reading about feeding our relationship with God. 


Teach Teenagers To Embrace Multiple Methods Of Engaging With God’s Word

WAY too often we communicate to students that there is one way to engage with the Bible: sit down with a passage and study it as they would any other text. Inductive, exegetical Bible study. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching this method. The only problem comes when this is the ONLY way we teach teenagers to engage with the Bible. It communicates to students that the Bible is meant for primarily comprehension-based information gathering. It neglects the many experiential, heart-driven approaches to meeting God in Scripture. 

    • What about praying through the Psalms as personal worship?
    • What about choosing a specific attribute of God’s and meditating on it over the course of a few days?
    • What about learning some of the different names used for God and choosing to pray to Him using a name that speaks to them personally?
    • What about creating something, ANYTHING using Scripture?
    • What about prayer journaling? 

These are just a few of the many different ways to lead teenagers to engage with Scripture. They represent a varied approach to encountering God in His Word, and helps students to break free from one specific way of looking at the Bible.


Modeling A Right Attitude Toward The Bible Is Key

This almost seems like a cop-out to include this on the list. After all, you can say this about every aspect of spiritual growth. But, I think this is especially true for this discussion. Your students will pick up on whether or not you value the Bible. If you model a passion for meeting God in His Word, your students will pick up on it. This is “caught” WAY more than it is “taught.”

These are just a few of my thoughts on the subject. I want my teenagers reading the Bible more. But I know that it starts with their attitude and values toward God and His Word.

What are your thoughts? 

 

About the Author

andy@ym360

Andy Blanks is the co-founder of youthministry360. Andy has been teaching the Bible and discipling teenagers pretty much weekly for the last 14 years. He lives in Birmingham with his awesome wife and their four children. Andy is an avid runner and loves just about anything involving being outdoors. Follow him on Twitter (http://twitter.com/andyblanks).

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27 comments

Thanks Andy for this. You're right about focusing on how we approach Scripture as key. I had a study with a girl last night where she wants to learn how to read Scripture. We are journeying through the book of John but before we started I shared that what we are about to read is God's word and that we should come humbly and hungry with the intent that God is going to change us with every reading. Thanks for this.
by: Robbie Mackenzie February 4, 2013 11:16 am
Thanks for the encouragement Robbie. And thanks for all you do to lead teenagers closer to Christ.
by: andy@ym360 February 4, 2013 1:24 pm
Andy, its always great to see you post something that is circulating on the hearts of many youth ministers. I recently skimmed through the book "How to Study the bible and enjoy it" by Skip Heitzig. One thing that jumped out to me was the three ways we approach reading the bible. Devotional, reading a few verses and reflecting on them to make a personal application. Systematic, starting from pt.A and ending in pt. B. Like trying to read through the bible. Then lastly, Topcial, in which we see what God's word says about specific ideas, thoughts, and characteristics. What I realized is depending on the seasons we are in with God, we approach God's word through one of these ways. (sometimes combined methods). But what I have found with students is that they are almost always in the Topical method of reading. Straight and to the point, if you will. When students have questions about the life around them, I try my best to give them the verse(s) to read and let them tell me what they think. God has his way when they open up His word, and they begin to grow a hunger to know more. Also, another great resource for multiple methods of approaching scripture is Doug Fields, "Creative times with God" we use it each time before our Small groups to get our hearts and mind in the right area before we dive in to our discussions. Thanks for your heart as always.
by: Chad Johnson February 4, 2013 1:54 pm
Awesome insights, Chad, as always. Thanks for being so thoughtful in how you lead students. (I owe you an email, BTW!) Thanks for being a part of our little community. Blessings!
by: andy@ym360 February 4, 2013 2:17 pm
Absolutely LOVE this post. Thanks so much for it. The Bible is one big story about a God who came to us in Christ. The whole point of the Bible is to reveal God in Christ to us (the Holy Spirit wrote it, after all, and His primary job is to point us to Jesus). And of course, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in order to bring us into eternal life, and eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son whom He sent (if you don't mind my conflating a couple passages from John...). All that to say, no student will ever be serious about the Bible until that student sees the Bible as a way to know God. And our students will only care about that when our leaders model it and when our ministries are set up to show that the one great thing we have to offer them is God Himself, not any gimmicks or programs or whatever. OK, I'm getting fired up. I just love this post. Thanks a ton, Andy. Andrew Faris <a href="http://www.someonetellmethestory.com">Someone Tell Me the Story</a>
by: Andrew Faris February 4, 2013 6:35 pm
Andrew, You're right on, friend. (And you have impeccable taste in first names, I might add.) I couldn't agree more about the focus of our ministries. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the encouraging words. Glad you're a part of the ym360 Community.
by: andy@ym360 February 5, 2013 6:20 am
Andy, this is brilliant. I needed this. This is a GREAT way to shift a youth ministry's paradigm in how we teach the importance of God and the Bible. Thanks brother!
by: Eric Gargus February 4, 2013 6:47 pm
Eric, thanks for the kind words, buddy! Thankful the post was tracking with what you were thinking. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and thanks for being part of our little community.
by: andy@ym360 February 5, 2013 6:25 am
This is something that is at the forefront of my mind as we have been focusing on spiritual practices (SPs) in a relational context with your creator/savior. I called them practices instead of disciplines for two reasons: 1) you don't use the word disciple to describe your commitment to a person you love 2) Faith does take practice like anything else, it just does not grow statically. So we started with Bible meditation as the first SP, and I supplied with with bookmarks that had reading goals (ex: plan 1: 4 min, for 3 days, in 2 weeks, OR...plan 2...) and QR codes (links) to websites and software (youversion and glo) that would help them engage in scripture. We started with the book of James as it is short and to the point and very practical. I sent them all text reminders and encouragement with links to the blog pertaining to the SP. Even though we gave them all this and it was in the context of a relationship with God and accountability with peers, very few of the students actually took the time to read the Bible on their own. This is also Sunday school kids, our more mature kids. upon meting with my volunteers we determined a couple reasons for this inconsistency: 1) I was out for half of the Sunday schools with a newborn baby, so the reasoning behind it may have been lost or not repeated enough. 2) I have been here 3 months and this is the first time they have been challenged to pick up the spoon and feed themselves. 3) We did not give them enough practical advice and role play to actually figure a good time and method that works best for them as individuals. 4) We had introduced the Lectio Devina format (read, think, pray, live), but we had not really given them a good way to apply it at home. 5) Solution to the above observation: create a booklet with Bible passages pertaining to the next SP (prayer) that has passages (the message) and space for them to write out the think, pray, live portions of the lectio Devina. 6) we all agreed that this would be training wheels and sooner then later they should be able to do this for themselves without being given a booklet. I give all this info as some may be trying some of these things and others are looking for ideas, and I completely get putting all this practical method stuff in a relational context with your creator/savior. The motivation for reading your bible and praying is grow closer to someone you love: God; and I put heavy emphasis on this. I DO however take great exception to this point: It Doesn't Start With Doing. It Starts With Feeling. for a couple of reasons: 1) If it starts with feeling, what happens when there is a day they do not feel like reading their Bible or praying? I love my wife and I want to have dates with her, but if I am not intentional about them, they just won't happen. Sure there is room for spontaneous outings, but if everything is spontaneous than the reality is that you will have very little quality time. 2) I understand that kids today have to experience truth before they even recognize it as truth, but one of the biggest lies I have to combat is this notion that if they obey God without feeling like it, then they are being fake and thus they should not obey God unless their is a correct emotion behind it. Ideally we should always obey with a spring in our step, but if I only changed my newborn baby's diaper when I felt overwhelming love and joy for her, her diaper who remain poopy through the night! If we call ourselves Christians, our identity is in Christ, and when we obey him, whether we feel like it or not, we are actually being SUPER authentic, and anything but fake. 3) There is a difference between motivation and feeling. A kid may not feel like reading his bible, but he knows that it is worth it and he knows that he does in fact love God, but he feels tired, or stressed, or sad, and there is no room for an emotion for loving God, but he knows that if he trusts God and obeys him by reading his word and praying, that very action creates the opportunity for the emotion of love for his savior. Correct motivation applied into spiritual practices give room for the Holy spirit to work in our lives and this often gets very emotional and exciting! So in conclusion, perhaps your Point could be phrased more like this: It Doesn't Start With Doing. It Starts With Correct Motivation. And honestly, this is probably what you meant in the first place given the content under that point, but I think it is dangerous to communicate that emotions have to be the starting point for anything worthwhile. I really appreciate your Blog, and it confirmed a lot of the stuff that we are doing. Keep up the good work! :-)
by: Daniel McGinty February 5, 2013 10:35 am
Daniel, I read every word of this. Solid, solid stuff. It's funny, I literally have done an almost identical experiment as the one you mentioned. I created a 30 day experiential Bible reading experience that featured many of the same components you listed. And I had very similar results! I chalked it up to the big hill we face in undoing current attitudes and learning to re-learn much of how we view the Bible. I wanted to respond to one point you raised. I apologize for being unclear in my article. When I said it started with feeling, not doing, I didn't mean "feelings." Because you are right, how we "feel" about God, or reading the BIble, etc., is fleeting. I meant to set up the juxtaposition of "the head vs. the heart," the idea that if we don't VALUE (what I meant by feeling) God personally and His Word as the means of knowing Him more, teaching practices is putting the cart before the horse. Sorry I was unclear there. Thanks for your thoughtful and challenging reply and for being part of the ym360 Community.
by: andy@ym360 February 5, 2013 11:49 am
The things we do for the love of Youth to encourage them to love God! :-) Appreciate the encouragement and the clarification. This past Sunday as we kicked into Spiritual Practice 2: Prayer, and I put a lot of repetitive emphasis on spending time in prayer BECAUSE you love him (value), and it's okay if you're fall back is sheer obedience because God will set your heart right through it. What's interesting, as a result of this lesson, I actually got into some lengthy emails with the parent volunteer there who was trying to figure out why -out of curiosity- I had chosen the Message as the Bible for the reading guide I gave them and what was the difference between personal Bible Study and personal Devotions (Lectio Devina). Basically it came down to the difference between getting closer to the heart of God (devos) complimented by getting closer to the mind of God (Bible study). I emphasized that especially for youth today, getting closer to God's heart will pave the way for them to understand and be motivated to seek deeper theology and doctrine.
by: Daniel McGinty February 13, 2013 10:06 am
I think these are all valid points, but I believe one of the most important points of all is missing- training/equipping the PARENTS of teens to read the Bible both for themselves and with their teenager. Ultimately, parents are the primary faith formers in their children's lives, and we as youth leaders need to keep ourselves in check that we don't try to usurp the primary role of passing on the faith (intentionally or not). Time to move away from being the "expert" to being the supporter and encourager.
by: Allison N February 5, 2013 10:35 am
Amen! Yes, Allison. Great inclusion! We know from the works of Kenda Dean and Christian Smith that came out of the National Study on Youth and Religion that parents are the number 1 shaper of faith attitudes and practices . . . for better or for worse! So, thank you for championing that point, and for sounding off! Have an awesome day!
by: andy@ym360 February 5, 2013 11:51 am
I would take this a step further and bring it to the adults in our congregations also. How many spiritual babies do we have in our pews? Adults who simply do not have a passion for God, who wont serve because they do not know the joy of knowing God deeply and passionately. I will certainly carry this forward not only in my own life and reading time but will also cast a vision with our leaders, our adults and our youth. We can never go wrong bringing Glory to God and hungering more deeply for Him. In His Service, For His Glory! Steve
by: Steven February 5, 2013 11:13 am
Preach it, Steven! :) I think your comment dovetails nicely off Allison's up above. It starts with parents and meaningful adults modeling a right attitude and consistent, healthy practices. When these are absent, it's harder to engender change in students' approach to the Bible. Thanks for sharing!
by: andy@ym360 February 5, 2013 11:53 am
I thought this was a great article Andy. I was so inspired that in the midst of Reading it I actually wrote my message ("The Original Smartphone") for this week. Thanks for sharing this post and others as I am a youth leader turned youth director/youth pastor and am not always sure where to get inspiration from, especially in this area (helping teens read the bible).
by: andrew finney February 5, 2013 1:17 pm
Anytime, Andrew! Glad we could help out in some small way. And thanks for being part of the ym360 Community!
by: andy@ym360 February 5, 2013 1:40 pm
This is a great blog, Andy! It helped to see some things differently, especially reading the Bible relationally. I also appreciate the different ideas you give for engaging students in the Bible beyond what we would normally encourage. I appreciate you guys!
by: Alanna February 6, 2013 3:17 pm
Anytime, Alanna! Glad we could help. We appreciate you, too! :)
by: andy@ym360 February 7, 2013 9:04 am
Thank you so much. I especially love the suggestion to engage the bible in different ways. A few months back we had small groups act out their bible story of the prodigal son. We've also had the youth make wordles, posters and re-write it in their own words.
by: Russell Martin February 9, 2013 12:35 am
Russell, This is awesome! I think what you're doing will help as much as anything in leading students to change their attitude toward approaching Scripture. I'd like to recommend two books that really helped me think about different ways of leading students to engage with the Bible: "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook" by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun and "Creative Bible Lessons From The Life Of Christ" by Doug Fields. Both offer some really good models for different ways to approach Scripture. And both can be found for cheap on Amazon or Christian Book Distributors. Thanks for sharing!
by: andy@ym360 February 13, 2013 1:58 pm
Great pointers Andy I too believe if our teens see us on fire for Jesus and not just an Sunday ritual they too will catch flame. Go Yankeees!!!!
by: Chris March 7, 2013 12:20 pm
Chris, Such a fine comment ruined by such an odorous ending. :) Seriously, we're thankful you're in the ym360 Community, even if you do pull for the wrong team. Go Sox!
by: andy@ym360 March 8, 2013 3:52 pm
I've been struggling with motivating the young people that I'm privileged to lead every week to read their Bibles on a daily basis. This made me realize a few things I've done wrong and introduced me to a better perspective. Thank you for sharing! Keep it awesome, Mr. Andy Blanks! ;)
by: standingupforJC January 14, 2014 6:44 am
It's a struggle we all deal with, no matter our ministry context. Hang in there! :) And thanks for the encouraging words. Thank you for being part of the ym360 Community.
by: andy@ym360 February 4, 2014 8:30 am
Andy, thanks a ton for this insight. I have been fighting to figure out how to be effective in developing a desire for my students to spend time with the Word. I just did a study on John 1:1 to try and figure out what it meant when it says that "Jesus is the Word". This blog has helped to supplement a great introduction for a Word of God emphasis in our small groups. You rock my friend and I deeply appreciate your work to help folks like me. Have a rad blessed week!
by: Rick Hughes April 2, 2014 7:10 pm
Awesome, Rick. Thanks for the kind words. Let us know if there is every anything we can do to help you.
by: andy@ym360 April 3, 2014 10:39 am