Developing Spiritual Disciplines In Your Students: BIBLE STUDY
[ym360 Note: This is the second in a series of short posts ym360 will produce over the next several weeks on teaching your students spiritual disciplines. You can read the first one here, a post on teaching your students the discipline of prayer. We'll post one a week for the next month or so. Hope you enjoy!]
I love this quote by Thomas Brooks, the Puritan preacher and author:
The Word of the Lord is a light to guide you, a counsellor to counsel you, a comforter to comfort you, a staff to support you, a sword to defend you, and a physician to cure you. The Word is a mine to enrich you, a robe to clothe you, and a crown to crown you.
If knowing God is our chief aim as humans, then we must know God's Word. As I have written here before (and will again, I imagine), while we can know God through means other than the Bible, God's Word is the primary way God has chosen to make Himself known to us. It is impossible to have a full and saving knowledge of God and His ways apart from a knowledge of His Word. We can't know God if we don't know His Word. Which begs the question: Do your students know God's Word?
The sad fact is that many of our students do not. The National Study of Youth and Religion is back in the news again with the release of Kenda Creasy Dean's excellent book, Almost Christian. But those of us who devoured Dr. Christian Smith's book Soul Searching (released in 2005), that first unpacked the findings of the NSYR, discovered evidence for what many of us already suspected: for the most part, teenagers in America cannot articulate the basic tenets of their faith. They do not know what they believe. They cannot distinguish between the foundational elements that make their faith unique from other faiths.
In my mind, this points to a direct result of a lack of biblical knowledge. If the Bible is God's primary way of teaching us about Himself and His ways, and students do not know a great deal about God and His ways, then we must assume that students don't know the Bible. What are some ways we can develop in our teenagers the discipline of Scripture study?
Teach That God's Word Is Valuable
In many cases, you may be the most prominent Christian adult your students have the opportunity to observe. Unless your students see you valuing God's Word, chances are they won't value it. Teach students that knowing God through His Word is imperative to their faith.
Re-think Your Strategy
When your students leave your youth group, what will they know about God through the Bible? Will they know some of the main attributes of God? Will they understand the big picture narrative of redemption that starts in Genesis and ends in Revelation? Will they understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New? Will they know the main "characters" and their place in the biblical story? Will they have a basic grasp of biblical theology? Ask yourself what you want a college freshman to know about God and His Word, then plan in reverse. Let this shape your youth ministry.
Re-think Your Programs
Call me overly simplistic but I think the aim of each program in our ministries should be aimed at helping teenagers become followers of Christ. As I have pretty well stated, I think this happens through knowing and living out God's Word. In that vein, what if you evaluated your programs to see if they met with this aim? Consider how effective your large group and/or small groups are at teaching students the Word and how to apply it. Do you have any sort of incentive or emphasis on Scripture memorization? Do you make sure you do strong biblical lead-ins and follow-ups for all of your service oriented events? Are you providing resources for your students' parents to be intentional about teaching Scripture at home? Look at your programming through the lens of teaching students the Bible. See how it matches up.
Create "Bible Saturated" Environments
Make Scripture a part of everything you do. Make sure your "talks" or "lessons" are aimed at drawing students closer to God through a knowledge and application of His Word. Let your students choose their favorite Bible verses and create posters to go all around your meeting place. Choose a theme verse for each year and print t-shirts with it on them. Have a verse of the week you send out through text or Facebook. Allow Scripture to permeate your environment.
Learn To Teach The Bible
Teaching the Bible effectively is something that takes a good bit of intentionality and practice. There are a lot of great books out there that can help and we have posts on it here and here that are helpful. Take the time to invest in learning how to better teach Scripture. The dividends in the lives of your students are worth every moment you spend learning how to teach.
Think Outside The Church
The discipline of biblical study truly happens outside the relatively small amount of time you have with your students. Are you equipping them to know how to study the Bible on their own? Are you challenging them to do so? Are you holding them accountable with encouragement? These are just a few suggestions on how to create an environment where knowing the Bible is a discipline that is valued and emphasized.