I’ve been thinking lately about the best ways to help students engage Scripture. It seems as though each time I speak or facilitate a training seminar or workshop, I am asked about the best ways to get students to read their Bible.
I hear comments like, “My students just don’t want to read the Bible. They say it is boring,” or “Our students won’t read the Bible unless there is some prize at the end of it.” I have even heard, “Our students are so indifferent. Most of them wouldn’t know what the Bible was if it hit them on the head.” (To which I replied, “Well, maybe that is because that is what you are trying to do with Scripture. That is, beat your students over the head!”)
I haven’t got the secret formula bottled up and hidden away in my youth ministry laboratory or anything ridiculous like that. I do, however, have a few thoughts on how to engage students in the Bible.
4 Basic Tips for Engaging Students in the Bible
1. Start with the fundamentals. Help your students know that the Bible is quite simply about: 1) God, 2) humans and 3) how humans interact with God and each other for the sake of the world. For example, the creation narrative is not a science thesis; it is a biography of God.
2. Stop proof texting! Using the Scriptures without thoughtful consideration of the verse’s meaning as understood within a greater context is not helpful. If you think reading a verse here or there or using a verse to prove your teaching point is helpful, think again. I think it may do more harm than good. Teach from a narrative perspective—not from your pet truth. When teaching from a particular passage, be sure to give the greater context for the passage. Context is everything!
3. Begin engaging students with experience, not authority. Before I go on, let me make it clear that I absolutely believe in the authority of the Bible. I believe the Bible is true. Now with that said, I don’t think that students process information through the lens of authority. I believe that students process and learn through their own story and experience—all of life’s encounters (with self and others). If you want to engage students in the Bible, provide experiences that engage them in actively living the Bible, all the while helping them reframe their own story within the context of God’s story.
4. Provide a hermeneutical practice for your students. In other words, help them interpret the Bible and find meaning and application through an exercise that helps them better understand the context of a passage. Examples of this would be to use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture>Tradition>Reason>Experience) as a means of interpretation. You might even just guide them into the rhythm of asking a series of questions such as, “What does this passage tell me about God? What does this passage tell me about myself? What does this passage tell me about others? What does this passage tell me about the world?”
No doubt, students need to more deeply engage the narrative of God (as do adults, by the way!), but consider your methods, practices and habits up to this point. Evaluate if the reason your students aren’t interacting with the Bible is because of your own our confusing and vague methods.
Do any of you have tips for helping other youth workers (or parents or pastors or whomever) engage students in the Bible?
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on churchleaders.com in 2010.