Lesson 2: How do I connect youth to scripture?
Connecting Youth to Scripture
By Dr. Amy L. Peeler
One of the primary tasks of a youth leader is to draw the teenagers to Scripture in such a way that they want to keep coming back; for how else will they continue to grow in their faith if they are not connected to the Source through the Word (John 15:4)? The challenge, then, is to take young people of the 21st century and connect them to a document more than 2000 years old. How can you as a youth leader connect them to Scripture? How can you make these old documents relevant to them?
The first answer is: don’t. Trying to make Scripture “relevant” to your youth by simplifying it, enhancing its edginess, or packaging it with overbearing flashiness may turn this generation away rather than draw them in. There is some evidence that many young people do not want the text (and their worship experience) conformed to their tastes, but want to be asked that their tastes be shaped by God’s story. More importantly, it will not take them long to realize that if their youth leaders are working hard to make Scripture “relevant,” then it must mean that the Bible by itself is pretty boring. When the commercialization ends, the students who have not ever learned to connect to the text directly fade away. (Could this by why there is a decline in church attendance among 20-somethings?)
With Scripture, there really is no need to make it relevant. Vital relevance courses through the text itself. Are your students concerned about the oppressed and poor? So is Scripture. Are they inspired by beautiful poetry? Scripture contains it. Are they anxious and fearful about their future? Scripture recognizes both the reality of the fear and the God who is big enough to bear it. The fact that Scripture is “living and active” (Heb 4:12) and that God speaks through it today (Heb 3–4) means that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, enlivens the same text for the ears of each generation.
That being said, while you can drown out the powerful voice of Scripture with noise, you could also dim it through monotony. Connecting your young people with Scripture does not mean you must stand there each week reading large chunks of the Bible in uninflected tones. Good pedagogy matters, but there is a difference between good teaching that brings an ancient text to a contemporary reader and teaching that forces an ancient text into a contemporary mould.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to bring Scripture to your young people, for who doesn’t enjoy—and learn from—a good story? Not only is the Bible itself full of them, but with a little bit of study, any section of the Bible can be presented as a narrative. Take Romans for example, arguably Paul’s magnum opus. You could make a list of doctrines and study them one by one: Natural Revelation, Sin, Law, Atonement, Creation, Baptism, Eschatology, Election, Ministry, etc. This wouldn’t be a bad idea for a Sunday School class or Bible Study, but you could also turn Romans into a story.
God displays his goodness in the beauty and majesty of creation, but sadly humans often turn their gaze down to creation rather than the creator. After Paul racks up the list of sins of the pagan world, he then turns his stare to the self-righteous Israelites who think they are better than the Gentiles but can’t see their own failings. By the middle of chapter three, the world stands in silence, unable to say anything in the presence of a Holy God. And then the good news comes.
Telling any part of the Bible as a good story demands some preparation, namely that you know the shape of the narrative so well that you can connect with your listeners as you tell it. The benefits of this method are that your youth will remember the text better and begin to see how all the little stories fit into the big one.
If storytelling brings the Bible to your youth, then exegesis will bring your youth to the Bible. Getting them working with the text will not only keep them engaged, but also equip them with the tools to stay engaged once they graduate from the youth group. Over the course of a semester or school year, have your young people pick a passage or question about the Bible. Maybe there is a passage they just love and want to know more about, or there is a section that really bothers them and they want to discover what it is really trying to say. Possibly you could have them each articulate a question they have about God. Once they have made their selection, provide them with some tools that will help them find the answers. Introduce them to Bible dictionaries and encyclopaedias and commentaries that you find helpful. Take them to your pastor’s office or local Christian university library. Go to some of your favorite Bible search websites. At the end of the period of time, allow each of them to present their findings. Host a Bible symposium. They might initially grumble at a project that seems like homework, but if you allow them to choose the passage or question out of their own interest and if you give them time to feel the joy of their own discoveries, the spirit will catch on and your young people will become informed learners and teachers of Scripture.
When youth start hearing and reading the Bible, they will discover how it meets them where they are in life. They will discover its relevance. But the great thing about Scripture is that it won’t ever leave us where we were found, but will drive us on so that our lives are more fully transformed into the image of the One who is life itself (John 14:6).
Dr. Amy L. Peeler is an Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. She is presently pursuing ordination to the Priesthood with the Episcopal Church, USA.
Gathering and Opening Prayer (5 minutes)
Logistics and Organizational Topics (5-10 minutes)
Training Time (20 minutes)
- Tell a story about a time when you were so excited about something you had to tell others.
- Watch Video together
- What role does Scripture play in your own life?
- Is there a moment or time when you have been excited or passionate about Scripture? Describe the experience.
- Tell us about your favorite Scripture or story from Scripture. Why is it your favorite?
- When has a particular story or verse resonated with you and sunk deeply within you?
- What may need to change in the way you approach Scripture yourself?
Take aways (10 minutes)
- How will this impact our church, our youth, or our team?
- Hand out essay for further reading
Close in Prayer (5 minutes)