It’s no secret by now that youth workers’ dirty little secret is that they don’t study the Bible. This issue isn’t limited to a particular denomination or group. From mainliners who don’t pick up the Bible to evangelical fundies who like cherry picking, the Bible is neglected, and I think in large part it is because of where we, as youth workers, start.
Other Starting Points
Youth workers typically start in two places and as you’d guess, neither of them are the Bible. One of the starting points for youth workers is the good ol’ curriculum. We’ve invested anywhere from $30-$499 of the church’s money on these bad boys. We’ve gone to a conference or workshop and picked them up. We believe that this one is the next best thing that our youth group needs to catapult it to the next level (or get it out of the gutter). With our confidence in our curriculum and our lack of confidence in our role as pastor/teacher/disciplemaker of teens, we spend a majority of our time in preparation for youth group with our fancy curriculum.
Another one of the starting points for youth workers is “the big idea.” There are those youth workers among us who are dreamers, visionaries, entrepreneurial adventurers. They eat, drink and sleep ideas; wonderful and mind blowing ideas. They can’t get enough of them because they get their energy and passion from these ideas. And they collect them everywhere they go. In conversations with other youth workers, from books, videos online, comic movies, the latest meme, at big fancy conferences and from experts in other fields, youth workers who love the next great idea start here and typically stay here. Sometimes, they will get the feeling that they need to mention the Bible, so off to a quick Biblegateway search or Bible app keyword look up. And with a quick copy and paste they get their one or two verses that support their big idea.
Four Problems With Not Starting With the Bible
1. We Distrust God. This one might be the hardest one to swallow, but I know this one deeply. On one hand, we don’t believe we’re worthy to study God’s word and really hear what God wants us to say. This might come from a lack of experience or education. Either way, we don’t trust that God has called us to be the pastor of the teens we lead and that God can actually do that work in and through us. On the other hand, we don’t believe that God can capture the imagination of teens in and through his word. Seriously, we think we need to spice up or make the Bible interesting. If you want to make it interesting, just read the parts on rape, incest, murder plots, savage genocide, bears killing teenagers and tent pegs in the head. The Bible’s got more scandal then a tabloid, and God’s used it to reveal himself for more years than we’ve been alive. Let’s trust God can still do that work.
2. We Neglect Our Students. If we neglect being in God’s word, teenagers see it. We communicate to them that the Bible isn’t really that important if we have a shallow engagement with it.
3. We’re Going to Burn Out. If we aren’t nourished by a deep and meaningful engagement with God’s word then we’re going to run out of ideas, curriculum and passion. We will spiritually dry up and have nothing to give because we’ve not been cultivating a habit of drinking from the fountain of wisdom.
4. Our Imagination Gets Co-opted. Neglecting the Bible as our center of authority means that we’ll allow another narrative to form and shape us. Walter Brueggemann has already named those narratives.