Cultivating Biblical Literacy in Student Ministry
I love when our new or younger students are blissfully ignorant and insatiably curious about the Bible. I remember years ago when a student said that Christ would be on the back of Jesus' football jersey because it was His last name! He didn't know any better, and that's okay. I just loved that he was so interested in knowing more about Jesus and was willing to stumble through his lack of knowledge to get there. But as Youth Leaders, we have a responsibility to bring students from a place of ignorance and confusion to a place of clarity and Biblical Literacy.
Biblical Literacy is a person's familiarity with the Bible and his/her ability to correctly and consistently comprehend, interpret, and apply the Bible. Biblically literate people do not have to be able to answer every Bible trivia question, but they are familiar with the Bible's books, genres, messages, characters, and history. They may not be able to teach God's Word, but they have the skills and habits to read and study it for themselves. This is a major goal of Christian discipleship, and student ministry plays an important part in the process. How can we cultivate this crucial characteristic in our student ministries?
Biblical Literacy Starts with Leaders who Love the Bible
Students can tell when a leader loves the Word of God. Their lessons are not just content to complete but heartfelt meditations on God's teachings. They can regularly talk about what God is teaching them, not just what God wants to teach the students. This is because they understand what God says about His Word. It's not just content for a lesson, but food for your soul (Deuteronomy 8:3). It is vital for people to be prepared for every good work, especially the work of ministry (2 Timothy 3:16). Leaders must live like the Bible is essential for their lives, and that love and passion for it will pass on to the students.
Students Need Familiarity and Skill with the Bible
Many of my students have grown up in church, and their parents did a terrific job raising their kids in the Word of God. They can recite the books of the Bible in order and tell you most of the major Bible stories. However, this is becoming less and less common, and it cannot be taken for granted that all of our students are familiar with the Bible. As we develop our scope and sequence and preach our content, we should be willing to slow down and cover what may seem to be even the most basic Bible facts. Students can learn quickly, so if we start with the assumption that some students know nothing, we can bring them up to speed quickly with the others who are more familiar with the Bible. We should also be sure to preach all of God's Word, not just the parts we are familiar with or prefer. Help students gain a familiarity with the whole Bible so that they are comfortable with all of it.
Familiarity is important for reading and understanding the Bible more broadly, but the skill of study is vital for understanding the Bible more narrowly. The ability to study the Bible helps students understand specific passages, answer tough questions on their own, and interpret correctly without a leader present. They need this skill to avoid error and false teaching, especially as they graduate High School and head into a world without their parents or youth leaders. It also cultivates a love for the Bible and emboldens their pursuit of God. So, below are three simple emphases to cultivate both familiarity and skill in your Student Ministry.
1. Get Students TO the Book (Read)
How can we get students into the book more often? In my experience, most students read the Bible in church and that's it. There are a lot of reasons for this, but there are two that youth leaders can help combat. Students often don't read because they don't know what to read, and nobody is holding them accountable. An easy solution is to create a reading plan for the youth group or their small group to go through. Challenge them to read along as a group and ask them how they are doing when you see them. A great way to encourage this in small groups is by dropping an occasional text in the group chat to see how everyone is doing.
2. Get Students IN the Book (Study)
Beyond just teaching a lesson on studying your Bible, if we want to help students know how to study the Bible, we have to show them by example and help them practice. The best way to do this is to peel back the curtain when you’re preaching or teaching small groups. When you claim something in God's Word, show them how you discovered that. Point out the footnote that showed you that cross-reference you used. Tell them what website or commentary helped you with that text. A great way to help them study is to ask them the same observational questions you asked as you were studying. Have them interpret the text for you in the middle of your lesson. The more practice they get, the more likely they will be to do it on their own.
3. Get the Book INTO the Students (Live)
Helping our students be doers and not hearers only of the word is critical (James 2:22). Scripture knowledge is nothing without Scripture action. In addition to teaching the Bible with relevant application, the most comprehensive approach is by thinking inside out. Help students get the Word deep in their hearts through memorization and meditation, and let that change their beliefs and behaviors. Some creative ways to do this are to have a monthly memory verse, give students a phone wallpaper with the verse, and recite whenever you meet. Another option could be short-term memory challenges, such as taking a month and memorizing Psalm 23 as a group. Getting God's Word into students is the best way to get God's Word out of them in their lives.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- Are you living like you love taking in the Word of God more than you love teaching the Word of God?
- Which of the three emphases does your student ministry need to grow in right now? What is one thing you can do this month to make an impact in that area?
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