Youth Ministry Essentials: Teaching Students The Story of The Bible
Recently at SYMC I taught a training seminar entitled "Best Practices For Teaching The Bible." One of the truths that kept emerging over and over again (both from me and from the awesome group of youth workers in the room) was how important a Big-Picture understanding of the Bible is for teenagers. Plain and simple, teenagers need to grasp the story of the Bible, from start to finish.
They need to know the narrative thread that runs from Creation in Genesis, to the culmination of God's reign in Revelation (and the "high points" in between). In-depth study of individual Books and passages is critical for spiritual growth. But without a solid grasp of the overall biblical narrative, individual Books and passages lose a great deal of depth and meaning. They lose so much of their context, an issue I wrote about here.
I had several conversations after the seminar, and in the days that followed, about this very subject. And I came to a conclusion: while many youth workers understand the importance of their students knowing the Big-Picture story of the Bible, they're not teaching it to their students. They know this understanding is important for students to have. But in many cases, it's not being taught. Here's a few reasons why I think this is so:
- Without a specific plan in mind, some youth workers seem intimidated by trying to teach the Big-Picture story of the Bible.
- Teaching the Big-Picture takes a great level of commitment, in both programming and from teachers/volunteers.
- Many youth workers don't know the Big-Picture story of Scripture themselves. They do not value the importance of knowing it.
- Teaching topical Bible study is easier and maybe more appealing to our short attention spans.
- Many comprehensive Bible Study plans are cost-prohibitive. (NOTE: I have always found it noteworthy how passionately many youth groups will fund-raise for a camp or mission trip, but can't find the same enthusiasm for curriculum fund-raising.)
- (I'm curious to know any challenges you have encountered in desiring to teach students the Big-Picture story of Scripture.)
How do we overcome these barriers? How do we move past teaching students topics, or individual books without giving them the backdrop of Scripture's story? I think there are probably two basic schools of thought:
Take The Plunge
One way to address the challenges we face in teaching the Bible's story to students is to simply blow right past them. Embrace comprehensive Bible Study. Adjust your programming and curriculum accordingly. There aren't a ton of comprehensive Bible Study curriculum out there, but they exist. And I'm aware of some pretty effective ones. Student Life Bible Study and Lifeway's LXVI (or "66" for those of you, like me, who are Roman numeral deficient) teach the Big-Picture fairly effectively. (I am halfway done with Michael Novelli's book, "Shaped By The Story." Michael takes a pretty radical approach to storying through the Bible that I am intrigued with. I have never tried it, but I probably will. It looks phenomenal.) Take the plunge and get on a program to teach ALL of the Bible to your students. In this way, students basically engage in a long-term journey to learn a fairly in-depth view of Scripture's narrative.
Work With What You Have
I spoke to one youth worker who had a great desire to teach the Big-Picture of the Bible to her students. But she was in a youth ministry that whose topical approach to teaching Bible Study was firmly entrenched. We brainstormed a bit, realizing she would not be able to change the entire philosophy of her youth ministry. I asked her what it would look like to take four weeks to tell the story of Scripture to students. Something like:
- Week 1--Creation to the Judges
- Week 2--Saul to Malachi
- Week 3--The Life of Christ and Acts
- Week 4--Romans to Revelation.
Teach it just like a story. Build excitement. Use multiple narrators, if possible. Use visuals and other sensory elements. And figure out a way to put it on a timeline that could remain in the classroom(s). Then, as the group picked back up in their topical studies, she and her fellow teachers could take a few moments to place each lesson in context of the narrative they taught the students.
For instance: if she were doing a 6-lesson Book Study, I don't know, say Vivid, the best-selling resource from ym360, she could take a minute or two in each lesson to remind students where the Book of James fell on their timeline, and of the context surrounding the Book. In this way, students would in essence be building their knowledge of the Bible's story as they encounter individual Books and passages. At the end of the day, many of you will have to work with what you're given. If you're an adult volunteer, you probably can't change your youth ministry's philosophy. (But you can influence it!) But if you're a youth minister, it's probably not a bad idea to evaluate your own attitudes toward how your teaching students the Bible.
Are you doing an effective job of teaching them the Big-Picture story of God's Word?