Engaging young people authentically with the Bible today can be daunting, but it is an amazing opportunity to wrestle with big questions, go deeper, and walk closely through life with others. Adrian Blenkinsop, from Bible Society Australia, gives us some ideas to help young people see the Bible as an essential resource for life.
“I don’t understand what the Bible says... I don’t know if the Bible has anything to say to me today...I know the right answer, but that doesn’t help me in my current situation... If I took the Bible too seriously I’d have no friends!” Are these phrases that you’ve heard, or observed the reality of? Engaging young people authentically with the Bible today can be daunting, but it is an amazing opportunity to wrestle with big questions, go deeper, and walk closely through life with others.
Encouraging young people to honestly reflect on the Bible and express their struggles where needed can be a great starting point. Acknowledge the challenges of getting into it. I often find preconceived ideas about the Bible are based on pop culture and negative media portrayals, which can lead to young people approaching the Bible not as something good and life-giving, but as a book that tells them ‘what-not-to-do.’
A youth worker who ministers to kids in an inner-city shelter commented that his young people “just find the Bible really threatening. The language and style of vocabulary scares them. It’s intimidating for them.” Engaging these thirteen or fourteen-year-olds, who may not have the comprehension skills required to interpret and understand what they’re reading, needs leaders to read it with them, inviting questions, exploring the passage together.
Build a culture of questions
Lots of research suggests that young Christians need people around them (peers and older) who they can talk openly and honestly with about their struggles and questions. In fact, this is one of the keys for young people not abandoning their faith in their late teens.
I like how Rob Bell reflects on asking questions of God and about faith: “Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the book of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he’s asked with... a question.” (1)
Throughout Scripture we get the picture that asking hard questions of God and wrestling with the tension and challenges of following Christ is actually a part of what it means to follow him— it is, in fact, a ‘health indicator’ of our faith. If you’re like me and seem to have more questions than answers, then that’s quite a relief to know.
Let’s continue to encourage young people to ask honest, hard questions, and avoid giving easy answers for fear that they might come to the wrong answer. It’s not so much about having the answer as it is about encouraging the journey of discovery—trusting the work of the Holy Spirit.
Know who you are leading
A good leader is someone who knows those they lead really well. I don’t mean they simply know their names, where they live, their birthday, and what school they attend. I mean they know their life situation, their interests, and where they are at in their understanding of God. They know how to really connect with each person. A leader tuned into those they are leading can engage them with characters and stories in Scripture that are pertinent, to help them see how the Bible story engages with their own story.
A friend of mine is a youth pastor in a Salvation Army church. Many of his kids can’t read, or simply haven’t developed the comprehension skills required to understand what they’re reading. When we catch up for a coffee he tells me stories of when he has had to confiscates knives, call the police to break up gang fights, and how he often provides the only healthy meal many of his kids will eat that week. They’re not really interested in sitting through a Bible study. I asked him what Bible engagement looks like for them. “Oh, that’s easy,” he replied. “I just tell Jesus stories to them. I stand up there and engage their imagination... I try and make these ancient stories of real people in real situations come alive for them in their minds.”
Understanding and tapping into the different learning styles of young people is really important in engaging them with the Bible. It is worth knowing how those in your group learn as this might alter the way you approach exploring the Bible. Here are three styles.
A typical visual learner uses visualisation techniques to remember things. They often have a good sense of direction because they visualise maps and directions in their mind. Many prefer to read information in a textbook or on the whiteboard rather than listen to the teacher lecture. They also enjoy doodling and drawing. Visual learners typically use sight words in their everyday terminology. For example, they might say, “let’s take a look at this,” or, “let’s look at this from a different perspective.” They remember details including colours and spatial arrangements.
Auditory learners learn best by listening and talking aloud. They typically notice and remember sounds. They are good at remembering things that they hear. They are also good with words and language. They often read to themselves as they study. They are also often distracted by noise and sounds.
Kinaesthetic learners typically learn best by doing. They are naturally good at physical activities like sports and dance. They enjoy learning through hands-on methods. They typically like how-to guides and action-adventure stories. They might pace while on the phone or take breaks from studying to get up and move around. Some kinaesthetic learners seem fidgety, having a hard time sitting still in class.
Knowing those you lead will help you engage them with the Bible.
Mixing up the leadership
I’m hearing from lots of youth leaders the power of investing in peer leaders. Fostering a love of God and Scripture in young leaders creates a ‘flow-on’ effect of positive influence among the rest of the young people. So the role of the older leaders is to mentor and equip the peer leaders.
Remember also that it isn’t all down to you. There will be friends, parents, pastors, teachers, and others around you who could be a great resource to draw on. Mixing the input up at times could bring a fresh perspective. In addition, you need to keep being inspired too.
A good question to finish with might be, how is my approach enabling my young people to hear from God through Scripture? Is the approach encouraging transformation at an individual and community level? Ultimately, there is no single way of engaging young people with the Bible, but it is worth stopping and thinking what would be helpful. I’d love to hear your ideas.
Story: Adrian Blenkinsop
Adrian is the National Youth Ministry Development Manager with Bible Society Australia. His role is focused around resourcing, training, and equipping youth influencers (youth leaders, chaplains, parents, and Christian teachers) to engage young people with the Bible in ways that lead to transformation.
You can contact Adrian at [email protected]
This article is adapted from Adrian’s blogs available at blogs.biblesociety.org.au.
- How could you foster a culture of questions with those you lead?
- How could you encourage exploration of these questions together?
- What is the balance of giving answers and exploring answers together?
- How would those you lead best engage with the Bible?
- What shaping questions have you found helpful as you’ve planned your Bible study sessions? We would love to hear your ideas.
1. Rob Bell. 2011. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (p. ix). New York. Harper Collins.
Photo credit: Neely Wang/lightstock.com
This article is from the October 2016 issue of Baptist Magazine.
You can subscribe to Baptist Magazine here