Happy Tuesday everyone!
I am really sorry a new post did not go out yesterday. As you might know I work as a youth minister and this past weekend we had a big event, so I was a little sleepy Monday morning. I am sorry about the delay and will work hard for it to not happen again!
Thank you for all the support you have shown the site so far! Sometime during this week we will hit 1000 page views! Pretty exciting after only 5 weeks of posts!
I look forward to this week’s insight. So without further delay here are this week’s responses to……
“Why is teaching the Bible to youth important?”
Chris Cherry is an ordained minister who received his Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology. He enjoys foosball and skittles, but doesn’t particularly care for static electricity. He is currently serving as Minister to Students at St Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.
Mark Yaconelli writes, “Our first task as youth ministers is to be with young people just as Jesus was with people. Our second task is to help youth develop the eyes, ears, and heart of Jesus for themselves. We’re not only called to be witnesses among young people, we are also called, like Jesus, to be teachers. We’re called to awaken youth to the presence of God in the world.”*
I like this quote. This quote reminds me of why I do my job in the first place. There are bigger things than what I am able to teach (duh!). This quote also frames the essence of why it is important to teach youth the Bible. We don’t teach the Bible for head knowledge—it’s not a textbook. We don’t teach the Bible to win points on a holy scorecard—it’s not a game. We teach the Bible because it is one of the core pieces that awakens youth (and all folks, for that matter) to the presence of God in the world.
What God wants from us most is a relationship—a real relationship with give and take, talking and listening, joy and sorrow. God wants us to give of our best. But how? Some of the best lessons I’ve learned about relating to God have come from conversations with my past and current mentors. What we have in the Bible is a collection of examples, likened to mentor relationships.
The Bible is a book about normal people doing their absolute bests to relate to God. In these pages, we witness their great successes, their joys, and the praises they sing. In these same pages, we also witness their failures, their tears, and the curses they hurl. These are people, just like us, figuring out what it looks like to have a relationship with the God of the universe. The authors write down their experiences with God, as pure, authentic, and sometimes muddy as those may be.
As a youth minister, I think it is important to teach youth the Bible because the Bible gives them a basis for critically considering their faith in order to increase depth and personal ownership. Youth, like myself and the women and men of the Bible, are seeking God in one way or another. Teaching the Bible allows one youth to see the love of God expressed in the compassion of Ruth. Teaching the Bible allows another youth to see the excitement of God in Peter. Teaching the Bible allows everyone to see the gift of God in Jesus. And the examples go on, page after page, from Genesis to Revelation.
Teaching the Bible allows us to be awakened to God’s presence in the world and to better understand our own personal relationships with the God who loves us.
*The Yaconelli quote comes from his book “Contemplative Youth Ministry” and can be found on page 180. If you happen to be looking in my copy of the book, there are brackets around the paragraph, a few highlighter marks, and some notes in the margin. You can’t miss it.
Andy Farmer is Minister to Students at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. He is drawn toward those enduring growing pains and desiring light-heartedness. He and his wife Emily are expecting their first child.
Ten reasons (not thought to be exhaustive and in no particular order):
1. For the sake of perspective and worldview. Youth can be reminded that their world isn’t the world. And it isn’t the context of the Hebrew Bible or New Testament. The life skills being taught are intercultural competence and appreciation for the “other.”
2. For the sake of imagination. Biblical material is rich and provocative. There are as many stories as commandments and a lot prompts for sensory learners. Youth can smell the bread, touch the sand, hear the shouts, see the leper.
3. For the sake of identification. Young people play a prominent role in plenty of intriguing and memorable Bible stories. It doesn’t take a magnifying glass for youth to see themselves in scripture. There are also family systems issues in the Bible that provide great case studies.
4. For the sake of the adult teachers. If the best way to learn something is to teach it, then here’s a great way to affect an adult’s formation. The brain-busting questions of teenagers and, perhaps even more so, their boredom (and the accompanying silent treatment) can be motivation for going deeper or trying a new angle.
5. For the sake of laughter. Consistently in circles that too often take themselves too seriously, youth can benefit from the self-deprecation, irony, and playfulness in scripture.
6. For the sake of others. Sweeping themes of radical love and social justice may make the status quo a little nervous, but we can sleep at night knowing our kids have been encouraged to be aware, to be hospitable, and to do something.
7. For the sake of public dialogue. One way to guard against proof texting and an opinionated posture may be to expose youth to key verses in context.
8. For the sake of calling. On top of being a world-class library of “call stories,” the Biblical collection observes that we can find and hear from God in everyday life. Our youth can be encouraged to look for God in burning bushes, in normal conversations, and even in Leviticus.
9. For the sake of listening. We might want to be careful not to model for youth a need to explain everything and fill silence. I wonder if an “all ears” approach to Bible study might help youth mature into active listeners in relationships and in worship.
10. For the sake of transformation. Do our comments about a “Biblically illiterate” generation reveal an over-emphasis on information? The Bible is not as interested in the transfer of information as the Information Age is. The Bible is perhaps most counter-cultural in that it “gets” that truth goes beyond facts and that mere knowledge doesn’t fix everything. Our goal is transformation, not information.
Rev. Anita Laffoon earned her Master of Divinity degree from Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA, and is currently the Youth and Children’s Minister at First United Methodist Church in Marion, NC. She is passionate about helping children and youth develop their own unique relationship with Jesus, and truly loves being a part of their faith journeys. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and photographing the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near her new Carolina home.
A year ago I started working at the church I’m currently employed at as the Youth and Children’s Minister. I’ll never forget the first Sunday School class I taught here. I had a combined group of 7th through 12th graders, and had just announced that we would be studying Moses’ story. One of my 11th graders looked at me, completely serious and slightly embarrassed, and asked if Moses came before or after Jesus. In that moment I realized that I had made a huge mistake – I had assumed that middle and high school students would have learned about Moses already, without taking time to find out if they actually had. Given that the average tenure of a youth pastor is relatively short (18 months to 3 years, last I heard), it is often hard to quickly gauge the spiritual education of the kids we are working with when we first arrive in a new church. We don’t how many ministers/directors have come before us, or what they taught the kids who are now our charges. We also don’t know who among the youth have been raised in the church, or who is relatively new to faith. As I learned that Sunday morning, the most dangerous thing we can do is assume our youth know the Bible.
I am a firm believer that there is no cut off age for “teaching the Bible.” Preschoolers, teenagers, and senior adults should all be actively engaged in studying Scripture. But youth seem to be especially vulnerable when it comes to the practice of substituting teaching Scripture for discussing topics. With all of the challenges that face our middle and high school students, we who have been called and charged to teach youth often feel pressed to focus on topics such as sex, dating, lying, drugs, and alcohol. And while all of these warrant time and attention from Christian educators, we often focus on these topics to the detriment of the time we spend in the Bible itself. For some reason, we seem to unconsciously decide that youth have “outgrown” the stories of the patriarchs, the miracles of Jesus, and the wisdom of the Epistles. However, when we substitute relevant topics for Biblical stories, we are denying our youth a chance to engage the stories they were (or were not, as the case may be) taught as children on a newer, more mature level. And we forget that the answers to the “topics” listed above are found within these stories. For instance, we teach our children about the “heroes of the faith” and give them stories of people who modeled faith and trust in God so that they can learn to do the same. But when they grow up a little and become youth, we can teach them that every “hero” in the Bible was flawed. Now they are ready for the knowledge that having faith doesn’t mean you are perfect or holy, it means you are reaching towards a perfect and Holy God. If we only teach the Bible to our children, and not our youth, then our youth will go out into the world with only a child’s understanding of how Scripture calls them to live and they will be devastated when they find how hard this is to accomplish. We do them a disservice, we cripple them spiritually, by expecting them to live faithfully when we have not been faithful teachers. But when youth are given the chance to study the Bible stories, to challenge and even question the Scriptures, they head into adulthood with a firmer foundation upon which to stand – and possibly even become faithful heroes themselves.
Adam Standiford serves as Minister with Youth at Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, KY. He and his wife are both students at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. He will graduate in 2015 with an emphasis in Pastoral Care and Counseling. His ministerial interests include pastoral counseling, spiritual formation, and youth/college ministry.
I remember being a kid, younger than a teen, and having to recite a Bible verse each Sunday morning to my Sunday School teacher. The reward each week? A pencil – which to me was high currency because I was a school supplies freak (and still am, I used to work at Staples).
As I got older, my teachers expected me to memorize the books of the Bible. The reward for this feat was even better: a t-shirt with the church logo on it. Sweet!
Now I don’t remember which of the verses that my teachers had me memorize and at times I confuse the order of some of the minor prophets, but what I do carry with me is a familiarity and appreciation for the wonderful Scriptures that we find in our canon. We are presented with a collection of beautiful, harsh, comforting, and invigorating stories of a Creator loving a creation that seeks to learn to love the Creator in return. Many of the characters are downright scoundrels and some of the laws are totally inappropriate when transplanted into our culture, but within these texts is a common thread of God’s gift of love and truth for a creation that aches and yearns for restoration and healing.
Our students need to be familiar with these texts because these stories are the common ground we share as Christian communities trying to make straight the path for the coming-yet-already-here Kingdom of God. They should be read with many voices: from folks who study these texts well and the students that sit in your Bible study encountering God as they read together. Even the greatest among us has something to learn from others in community. As Stanley Hauerwas once said, “Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”
If we do not teach our students these written voices of God’s love throughout history, there will be a great void in their spiritual formation. Though the Bible does not function as a how-to guide for every problem in our lives, it serves as a beacon of light that enriches us to joyful living with our Creator and all of God’s creation. May it be a resource for you and your students to shape your community into a vibrant member of the Body of Christ.