Teaching the Bible to Teenagers
Recently Josh, one of our staff members stepped up into a new role to fully lead the skate program which includes quite a bit of teaching the Bible to teenagers. After a couple weeks of teaching it was clear that he was struggling to engage the group in the Bible study. Together we realized that while Josh is an authentic skater who is passionate about Jesus and passionate about youth, he has had no formal training in teaching the Bible.
One of the staples of action sports ministry, and really any ministry for that matter, is teaching the word of God. Whether in small group Bible studies or presenting the gospel at an event, each involve teaching the Bible to others. Here in our local programs we do small group Bible studies multiple times each week with riders mostly in their teens. Around the world there are action sports ministries that are teaching the Bible to riders each week as well and yet the majority of them have never had any formal training in teaching the word of God.
There is a clear warning in James 3:1 where it says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” The Bible also shares that the Holy Spirit will teach you what to say and will speak through you in powerful ways (Exod. 4:12, Matt. 10:20, Luke 12:12 & Luke 21:15). Nevertheless, this does not mean we should not work at becoming better teachers and communicators.
I took Josh to meet with two experts Dr. Ken Castor and Pastor Troy Dobbs. After being a youth pastor for 20 years, Dr. Castor is an author, speaker and professor of Youth Ministry at Crown College. Pastor Troy holds a Doctorate in Expository Preaching, is the senior pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN and is responsible for teaching a congregation of 5000 people the word of God each week. Josh and I wanted to share what we learned from these two guys.
The first thing we learned is that teenagers are in the cognitive development process of sampling, testing and concluding things about the world around them and their own identity. They want to try out different sports, maybe make new friends, and discover why things are the way they are. Often when we teach the Bible we tend to present the students with conclusions about what we already believe. For example in a Bible study we read in 1 Corinthians 6 & 7 about sex and marriage and proceed to tell our audience that sex outside of marriage is wrong. We hand them a prepackaged conclusion about sex and marriage without allowing them to test and discover, so no one engages with the message. In fact they may even resist the teachers conclusion because they want to test and discover on their own and we end up with STD’s, abortions and shows like Teen Mom.
Instead the purpose of Bible study should be to create an environment where the students can test and discover. This doesn’t mean we encourage students to try sex out before marriage or to get married super young. We can develop questions that challenge the conclusion that the Bible makes. Yes most kids know the Bible says that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but what they really want to know is why? Who really cares? and What does that really mean technically? They want to test the commonly held belief until they can conclude on their own that its true. We need to create disequilibrium, design experiences, and utilize discussion and problem solving to engage their minds. For teens it’s not just about the right answer, its more about the space between the right answer and what they currently believe. We inject conflict and ambiguity into that space to create a mental curiosity that is motivated to explore. As teachers it is our job to help them test common beliefs and then help guide them into the Word of God to discover and make a conclusion on their own. As students make conclusions it forms their identity and how they view the world around them.
The second thing we learned was that in order to properly teach the Bible you must study it. In order to be effective in teaching we must be affected by it. The rule of thumb is to spend an hour prepping for every minute you preach. So a 30 minute sermon should have 30 hours of prep time behind it. Pastor Troy told us he spends 20 hours each week, studying the passage he is preaching on Sunday for 45 minutes. He then gave Josh and I a 16 page document that he uses each week to study the passage he is teaching on. It includes 10 different ways to observe the text, 50 questions to ask about the text, notes on building introductions, transitions and conclusions and then a grid that explores the demographics of the audience to make sure each presentation speaks to every person in the audience. Pastor Troy also shared that he actually writes out a full transcript, word for word, of each sermon by Thursday every week. Then Friday and Saturday he goes back through to wordsmith and rewrite portions of the sermon before teaching on Sunday. Most of us action sports ministry leaders spend at best an hour to prep for Bible study each week, jotting down a few notes and a rough outline on our phone and then we wonder then why we struggle!
Teaching is a daunting task that is not for the faint of heart. It requires discipline to rightly handle the Word of God. But be encouraged and do not abandon your calling to teach the Bible. Always start with prayer and reading the Bible (save the YouTube sermons and commentaries for later). We use this simple outline to prep Bible study:
-Observation – What is the author saying? What is the who, what, when, where, and why in the text? -Interpretation – What is the author saying about what he is saying? What does it mean? -Application – What is God saying to us? Why does it matter to us? -Evaluation – How are each of us personally doing in this area?
Then we get creative with two elements to help engage the group in the teaching:
-Hook/Activity – A Game, story or something fun, active and engaging that relates to and sets up the teaching. -Challenge – One specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goal to help us improve, develop and grow.
When Josh and I finished meeting with our two experts we felt inspired and overwhelmed. There is so much to learn about teaching the Bible to teenagers and there are so many things that we can improve on. So we boiled it down to two key takeaways so we could better implement what we learned that we hope will help others with teaching the Bible to teenagers:
1) Design Bible study to be an environment where students can test and discover
2) Put a lot more time and effort into preparing
We would love to here your thoughts and questions, so please share this and comment below!