Before Coronavirus closed our programming, I was slated to speak to our high school students on studying Scripture. I was so excited to share; this is a topic I am passionate about. But at the same time, I struggled with the “how.” How do we impart passion for the Word to our students?
I think I’m still fighting to figure that one out. I also think it varies from student to student. Some will be more inclined to read, period. Some will be more interested in their Bible than others. Some may not care about the Scriptures until they’re older. Even though there might not be an easy answer, or a “one size fits all” solution, I don’t think that should keep us from trying.
The truth is that the Bible changes lives. The more time we spend in it, the more we come to know the God who wrote it. The more we know Him, the more we fall in love with Him. I had an illustration I had planned to share about how my husband Nick–who is also the youth pastor–and I met and became friends. Over time, the more I got to know him, the more I liked him, until one day I realized that I loved him. It wasn’t instantaneous–when we met, we were just two strangers. But over the years I came to know his character, his heart, and his passion for Jesus.
Falling in love with another person is amazing, but falling in love with God, that’s on another level. I long for students to fall in love with God, and for them to start that journey now. So how can we help them along that path? How can we encourage students to study and remain rooted in the Scriptures?
1. Lead by example.
This is so simple, and yet for many of us, so challenging. Whether we look at the Bible as a textbook, or a guide we study before giving weekly lessons, or something we barely have time for in the midst of our busy schedule–many of us struggle to make time in the Word a priority. But I believe the best way to encourage students to remain in the Word is to do it ourselves. If you are passionate about the Bible, that will be evident to your students.
I think there is a fine line between making this about a daily checklist and pursuing a consistent relationship with Christ. If we’re just doing it to do it, I think we’re missing the point. At the same time, there will undoubtedly be days we struggle to want to read the Bible. Our daily pursuit of God should not be contingent on our feelings, but it also shouldn’t be a religious duty we check off our list once it’s completed. Our efforts should be focused on daily seeking to meet with God and hear from Him, whether we have time to read a whole book of the Bible or only a few verses. I believe God will use the time we give Him to teach us and deepen our relationship with Him. Like any strong relationship, we have to be committed to putting in time and effort.
2. Share your story.
It’s one thing to tell students that they should read their Bible, anyone can do that. It’s another thing to share why you read your Bible. I think students need to hear the life change we have encountered through time in God’s Word. This is another way we can lead by example, and your story can take it from a religious duty to a personal recounting. How has the Bible, how has time with God, changed your life?
Students want our honesty, they deserve it. They can tell when we’re faking it, or just sharing a hypothetical story that we made up. I’ve seen how an honest, personal story can instantly harness the attention of every student in a room. They will latch onto it because they want to know how we’ve survived, how God is real in our lives, and if there’s hope for them. Sharing our real, honest stories is one of the best things we can do for our students.
3. Provide a way.
Some students may not have their own Bible. Some might have a translation they struggle to understand. Some need help filling in the blanks and answering the questions they have as they read. In as much as you are able, help them get the resources they need. Some students need a Bible; some need a new, more easy-to-read translation; some need a basic student-level commentary.
One of the things I encourage all students to get is a study Bible. Heck, I encourage adults to get study Bibles. More recently I’ve realized how much we as adults don’t know about the Bible, things we could easily uncover by reading the notes in a study Bible. Yet more often than not, we don’t look into resources, we just keep reading and ignore our confusion. Let’s not set that example for our students. Instead, let’s show them how they can begin to understand more and uncover answers to their questions during their personal Bible-reading time.
Whatever your students need to help them get into God’s Word and understand it, provide that to them. But while you’re doing that, I encourage you to challenge them. If they’re getting a brand new Bible or commentary, challenge them to use it and not to allow it to collect dust on a shelf. You are investing in them, challenge them to invest in their relationship with God.
[Not sure which Bibles to provide to your students? Check out this post for our top picks.]
Pre-made Bible studies are great. They can help lead students through the text, drawing out important points and helping apply them to their lives. But what about the times students don’t have a Bible study on hand? What about when they go off to college and it’s just them and a Bible in their dorm room? Now is a perfect, and extremely important, time to teach students how to study the Bible on their own.
I encourage youth leaders to teach simple Bible study methods to their students regularly. This could be a yearly lesson–a refresher for those who have heard it, and an education for those who haven’t. This is an easy way to equip students to not just read the Bible, but apply it to their lives. A few basic methods include:
- O.I.A., or Observation, Interpretation, and Application; ask what the passage says, what it means, and what it means for me.
- Discovery Method; ask what I learn about God, what I learn about people, what the passage teaches me, what I need to obey.
- S.O.A.P, or Study, Observe, Apply, Pray; read the passage, ask questions and write it in your own words, ask how to specifically live it out, write a prayer of response.
Students may gravitate toward different methods. Some may enjoy color-coding with pencils or highlighters. Some may want to keep a journal, while others may want to discuss with a leader or friend. Help students discover a method or methods that work well for them. Whatever they decide, encourage your students to always start their Bible time with prayer. Nothing will help them understand the Bible more than the Holy Spirit. I encourage students to start by asking God to help them know and understand His word before they dig in.
I would also encourage students to write down any question they have that they cannot find the answer to, but challenge them to look on their own first. If they can’t find an answer, encourage them to bring their questions to their parents, to you, to a leader, or another pastor in the church. This will not only help them wrestle with their faith and what they believe, but also build community and relationships with their parents and adults in the church.
5. Direct and encourage.
Besides struggling to understand the Bible, students may also struggle with knowing what to read. They may start at the beginning and get lost in a genealogy or particularly difficult text and then give up. We can help by guiding students into what to read. If you know a student well, you can give them a suggestion or two based off of their current context. Another option is to provide a list of suggestions and let students choose based off of where they’re at in life, or what they’re interested in. I’ve listed some suggestions below.
- New to reading the Bible, or don’t know much about Jesus: John
- Curious about the beginning of everything, or enjoy studying history: Genesis
- Interested in the early church, or how the church began: Acts
- Life is difficult, or feel like you’re struggling: Psalms
- Want to grow in wisdom: Proverbs
- Struggling to see that God is working or has a plan: Esther
- Want more information on the Gospel or Christian life: Romans
- Current events worry you, or need assurance that God is in control: Daniel
- Struggle with feeling like you need to “earn” salvation: Galatians
- Want to be a leader in the church: 1 and 2 Timothy
Remind students that they can find the book they’re looking for by using their Bible’s table of contents, and that they can uncover more information with notes from a study Bible or commentary.
6. Invite and equip parents to join in.
Not all parents are believers, but for those who are, they are the primary disciple-maker in their child’s life. They may not see it that way, instead believing you or your small group leaders fill that role. But they are the ones who spend the most time with their child. Their lifestyle, habits, and relationship with Christ are the examples their child sees the most, and will most likely emulate.
I encourage you to keep parents in the loop–if you are teaching on Bible study methods, providing Bibles and resources, and challenging students to study the Word, inform their parents. Parents can follow up throughout the week, do a study with their child(ren), ask and answer important questions, and model consistent Bible study. You can also provide resources to parents to help them feel equipped to guide their child(ren). Parents might not know where to turn for answers to tough questions, so make sure to share helpful resources, including yourself.
7. Cover your students in prayer.
As I mentioned before, nothing will help students more in their Scriptural study than the Holy Spirit. We can give them all the tools, tips, and answers, but without the illumination of the Spirit, they won’t get very far. Pray that they will hear from God, that He will capture their hearts and their attention, and that they will be drawn into deeper relationships with Him.
And pray for yourself, that God would help you educate and encourage your students. Ask Him to show you how to best guide your specific students in their study of His Word, and in their relationships with Him. He knows their hearts, their needs, their struggles, and He can provide–for them and for you. God has you in this place, as their leader, for a specific purpose, and He will empower you to lead well.