My first night at my current church, I asked students to grab a Bible. I don’t remember what we were exploring. I do, however, distinctly remember the stunned look on their faces.
I didn’t think much of their reaction until my second gathering, when the same thing happened. At that point, I asked someone what the deal was. He responded, “We don’t use the Bibles. They’re just our youth room doorstoppers.”
I thought – or maybe more accurately, hoped – this student was joking.
It quickly became clear he wasn’t.
In the six years since, I’ve made it a point to use the Bible every time my high school youth ministry gathers. Intuitively, I know this is important for students’ spiritual growth.
Over the last few years, I’ve gleaned a few anecdotes to support this practice. Now I’ve also got some evidence.
Over the year year, I’ve had the privilege of working with professor, author, and researcher Terry Linhart on a study for InterVarsity USA. One of our findings from this study is that students’ relationships with Scripture changed from restrictive to life-giving when they actually began reading it for themselves and applying it to their lives.
To some degree, I know that seems like Youth Ministry 101.
Yet, think about it.
When it comes to Scripture, how often are students actually the one’s reading and digging into it?
So often, as youth workers, our model in youth ministry is to teach.
We read the passage.
We interpret the passage.
We tell students what to think about the passage.
We tell students how to apply it to their lives by making a command we expect everyone to follow. Rarely do we follow up with students about this. When we next see them we’re already focused on a new lesson, not on what, if any, difference the application from the previous gathering has made in their lives.
What might happen if we replaced this model with one that shifts the focus from us to students?
Such a model would require us to talk less and prepare more.
It would necessitate a space wherein we invited students to open the Bible, actually read it, and together dig into passages to wrestle with their meaning.
It would challenge students to apply a passage to their lives not in one, universal way but in a way that accounts for their unique faith stories and life circumstances. It would also hold students accountable for applying Scripture to their lives. It would follow up with students to debrief that process. In so doing, it would invite students to share how Scripture – and God – is shaping and making a difference in their daily lives. That, in turn, would spur students on in their journeys of faith.
Make no mistake. It’s far more difficult to create this type of environment and facilitate this kind of discussion than it is to give a talk.
Yet, it’s worth it.
It just might change students’ relationships with the Bible and in so doing, their relationships with Jesus.