Andy Stanley makes a ton of great points in his 2012 book Deep & Wide. One of them that will remain forever jogged in my memory relates to how we use the Bible in our teaching. Stanley’s book primarily focuses on adult church services, but most of the principles he discusses are entirely applicable to youth ministry, and this is one of them.
Whether you teach topic-by-topic or verse-by-verse, you might find yourself saying, “The Bible says…” or “John 4:1-10 says…” and then reading the passage. I do this constantly. For example, when teaching about temptation, I might use the verse 1 Corinthians 10:13 to illustrate the point that God always gives us an escape from temptation. Here is how, by default, I would include the verse in the message:
Check out this verse in First Corinthians, ten thirteen. “The temptations in your life are no different…” Like it says in this verse, God always gives us a way out in temptation…
Do you see anything wrong with the verse being included that way? This is a pretty standard way to drop a verse in a message. I would have thought it was perfectly fine… until I read a section in Deep & Wide about teaching the true nature of the Bible. Now I know what is wrong with the above bolded statement:
“The verse” does not say anything. Neither does “the Bible.” Saying things like “The Bible says…” or “First Corinthians 10:13 says…” implies that The Bible is an impersonal collection of sayings and stories that were written anonymously without any context or continuity. Instead, we can truly bring out the life in the Scripture by explaining who wrote it— in this case, Paul, a man who used to arrest and execute Christians but unexpectedly encountered Jesus and became one of the most influential members of the early Church, even going on to write one-third of the New Testament— and why it was written— to encourage believers in a church that God can help them through their temptations. Here is how it might play out with these added details:
God always gives us a way to escape the temptations we face. I know this because of a letter written a couple thousand years ago by a guy named Paul. Paul has an interesting story, because early in his life he arrested Christians, persecuted them, and even had some of them killed. But one day, Jesus stopped Paul in his tracks and said, “Paul, why are you persecuting me?” This real encounter with Christ caused Paul to give up his evil ways and dedicate his life to Jesus. And from that point on, he ended up becoming one of the most influential followers of Christ in the early Church. He even wrote one-third of the stuff in the New Testament. This verse comes from a letter he wrote to encourage believers like us in a church like this one that God is with them in their temptations. Here is what Paul says: “The temptations in your life…”
Which reading of the verse do you think is more likely to catch students’ attention? Many students have the false idea that the Bible is boring, irrelevant, and nothing more than a religious textbook. Explaining the context behind verses and passages demonstrates that it’s much more than a collection of sayings and stories, but a real text written by real men inspired by a real God.
I’ve implemented this learning into my last few messages, and although it’s difficult to gauge the long-term impact of it in my student’s lives, it has given me a renewed passion for God’s Word.
Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.