The crazy, unexpected way that we help youth become Bible-readers
I’ve experienced the same frustrations as every youth worker I know when it comes to my students and their Bible-reading habits…
…or more specifically, their total lack of Bible-reading habits.
We’ve talked and encouraged and bribed and purchased devotionals, but it seemed like no matter what we tried, we couldn’t make anything stick.
Until we finally did something that actually worked, and it happened on accident.
Now, I don’t really believe in accidents as much as I believe that sometimes God moves in ways that we never imagined or intended.
That’s what happened here.
How we “accidentally” helped our students become Bible-readers
It was Saturday night when I finally realized that I had somehow double-booked myself on Sunday morning.
Somehow, I had scheduled myself to teach in two places at once.
But instead of rounding someone up at the last minute or loading up some sort of video, we quickly devised a different plan.
We took the Scripture passages I was going to teach on, and instead of having time set aside for teaching, our students would read the verses to themselves and formulate their own questions to lead their own small groups.
I thought it was a brilliant scramble maneuver.
It turned out to be so much more, because what happened after that was that more of our students reported becoming Bible-readers during the week than anything we’d ever tried before.
Why did it work?
Think about the Bible from the perspective of an overwhelmed pew-sitter.
We come to church and a person who probably has an advanced degree is explaining the Bible to us.
I’ve listened to sermons that lasted 30-40 minutes so that a person could unpack just one verse.
This kind of teaching is good and sound, but it also has the unintended effect of making the Bible a little intimidating.
After all, if it takes seven years of schooling and thirty minutes of lecture to explain the eighteen words in John 3:16, then what hope do I have to read through an entire chapter and have it make any sense?
That’s how our students viewed the Bible: as a clunk, difficult thing that they were not intelligent enough to comprehend.
But when we cut the teaching time to provide them reading time, light bulbs went off.
They could read one of Jesus’ parables in two or three minutes and it actually made sense to them!
They realized that they didn’t need a Master’s Degree to take something from Scripture; often they needed just a few minutes.
This was a big deal and once they found that at least parts of the Bible were intellectually accessible to them, they were hooked.
Now, we repeat that happy little “accident” every single year. Here’s how we do it.
We create a three-week series where there’s no teaching time, only “reading time”.
Students spread out throughout our worship space and read on their own. We usually choose the passage.
Students use that time to read Scripture and formulate questions.
They generate their own questions, and then ask those questions of their peers in small groups.
Adult small group leaders are instructed not to answer questions.
The idea here is that we don’t want students conditioned that they need a “qualified” adult around in order to understand Scripture.
We want them to have the experience of reading Scripture on their own and talking with friends about it and gaining something from it.
Small groups are a blast at these sessions, and more importantly, they leave encouraged and excited to open up their Bibles again when they get home.
Beyond doing this once a year, you can incorporate this technique other times throughout the year as well.
Here’s what Keith Sobus did in his youth group:
“We split up into small groups where students read and wrote down questions on their own. The majority of them really struggled to come up with any questions. We did it on a passage of Jesus feeding the multitude. I suppose it reflects poorly on me that they couldn’t come up with any questions. We had to coach them through this. Once we helped them come up with one question, it took off from there. We also found that when discussion was over… it helped for us to say, “What’s one take away?”
We have a mix of churched and non-churched, as well as middle and high school aged. So we split up our small groups by middle or high. That seemed like a smart idea for us. Thanks for thinking of this.
We called the night DIY night and had DIY activities like a paper airplane competition, marshmallow & Spaghetti tower building and tinfoil boat building. Also considered doing duct tape wallets or any duct tape craft.
I think we’re going to make DIY nights a recurring thing. Maybe once every other month.”
Take a few minutes to figure out how you can do this in your youth group.
Go ahead and give it a try.
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Aaron has been in youth ministry for over 15 years.
He is currently a youth pastor in South Bend, Indiana.