young teens and bible reading

some time ago, i did a blog interview with josh griffin on the download youth ministry blog about young teens and bible reading. thought i’d share it here:

Research shows that a large percentage of churched teens rarely read the Bible outside of church. Why do you think that’s so?
A secondary reason is the busyness of the lives of teenagers these days; but the primary reason is that the Bible feels inaccessible to teens. They would say–if they’re being honest–that it’s “boring.” But what they really mean, if they had the words, would be, “I don’t know how to read it.”

Why do young teens have a hard time reading and relating to the Bible?
Of course, there’s a language issue. But I think the main hurdle for young teens is that reading the Bible feels more academic. They try it once or twice, but feel like failures when they don’t connect with what they’re reading.

young teen and bible.1How have changes in youth culture affected the ability of Christian teens to understand, relate to, and engage with Scripture?
One of the primary shifts in youth culture over the past couple decades is a major shift in how teenager understand truth. Mostly gone are the days when rational arguments trumped. Today’s teenagers and young adults have grown up in a world where their experience informs their understanding of what’s true. This shouldn’t unnerve us as Christ-followers; instead, we trust that the God who wants to reveal himself will meet teenagers in the living Word of God.

What are some of the spiritual challenges a young teen faces in today’s culture?
While I could answer this question in dozens of ways, I’ll go with this: today’s teenagers have an extremely heightened need for belonging. A desire for belonging is a good thing, and part of our being made in the image of God. But the challenge for today’s teenagers is that they usually learn their identity through their places of belonging. And, clearly, this can be problematic when their places of belonging tell them lies about themselves.

You’ve been involved in youth ministry for a few decades now. Is nurturing the faith of young teens more difficult today?
In many ways, yes (though not in every way). Certainly, our pluralistic culture has mostly eliminated the “base line” of basic assumptions we used to be able to make about teenagers’ knowledge of the Bible and basic beliefs. In many ways, the biggest issue I see is the extreme isolation of teenagers in our culture today: they spend all their waking hours in homogeneous groupings, and rarely spend time with adults. That brings all sorts of challenges with it that are difficult for youth workers who want to help teenagers grow into adults with a vibrant faith.

What are some of the challenges faced by parents, youth workers, and pastors?
As a parent of teenagers myself, I am constantly encouraged by our culture to treat my teenagers as if they are little children. This has a counter-intuitive negative impact on teenagers, extending adolescence (now understood to be a 20 year life stage!), and damaging their growth, including their spiritual development.

What are some ways that parents can help their teens understand the Bible?
This isn’t rocket science. A parent who wants to help their teens understand the Bible has to first model a life of being formed by God’s Word. Then, we have to be intentional about regular and ongoing spiritual conversations. Research has shown us the importance of teenagers verbalizing what they believe. Parents can have an amazing ministry with their teens by providing safe and supportive opportunities for that verbalization.

5 thoughts on “young teens and bible reading”

  1. Another way to help teens understand the Bible might not have been stated because it’s so obvious. Nevertheless – read the Bible WITH them. :) Let teens see their parents struggle with reading a boring passage, or wrestle with a real issue together. Not to mention, flavor their lives with relationships with other older Bible-centered older people. Good stuff fo’ sho’.

  2. I was surprised by Josh’s comment, “As a parent of teenagers myself, I am constantly encouraged by our culture to treat my teenagers as if they are little children”. Can you give me some real time examples of that? That perspective collides with mine, in that I see teens being treated as adults, which they’re not. Walking through the high school halls of my freshman daughter’s school sounds and looks more like college to me…..your thoughts?

  3. toni — first, i wasn’t clear: josh asked the questions and i answered; so that’s my response.

    there’s been a massive move in our culture (in parenting, in education, in laws and community practices) to limit and restrict teenagers (and increasingly, young adults)l, removing choices and any real responsibility. psychologists call this ‘infantilization.’ it’s ostensibly born out of a desire to “protect them;” but is anchored in incorrect (and i would suggest, harmful) assumptions about the capacity of teenagers.

    what you’re seeing in your daughter’s high school is teenagers exercising their desire to NOT be children (and not treated as children).

  4. Marko, some great thoughts and truths presented here. I especially like the questions at the end about how parents can play a role in their teens spiritual life when it comes to reading the Bible.

    One big issue I’ve noticed in today’s Student Ministry is that many parents have this idea (whether they get it on their own or have been presented this idea by their church) that when teens enter the Student Ministry, the Youth Pastor becomes the primary spiritual guide and the parents take a back seat. And that could not be more wrong and counter to the Bible. God calls parents to raise their kids. As Student Ministry Pastors, we are to come alongside the parents and help during this stage of life, but we are not to take over. Parents, Student Ministry Pastors, and Teens all need to make sure that is understood when the teen enters the Student Ministry at their church.

    I also believe, and I know that you do as well, that teens are capable of so much more than our society wants to give them credit and responsibility for. Teens can read and understand scripture just like you and I, as long as we train them how to just like you and I were trained. To that end, I created a program for my teens called “CRAVE” that gives them the skills to study scripture that I learned when I was in college. It’s very hands on and requires them to be committed and do work, which they are more than able to do. Many of my students who have gone through this program are now leading Bible Studies with their peers and teaching lessons in our Student Ministry, which is awesome! And they’ve told me they are able to do that because they now can read and understand the Bible, and are then able to turn it into a lesson or discussion for others.

    Thanks for sharing this interview!

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