I was recently reading over Paul’s charge to the young pastor in 2 Timothy 4, and had one of those “aha” moments. You know, where you’ve read something in Scripture dozens of times, but something suddenly jumps out as especially significant for the moment, as if the Holy Spirit just gave you an extra jolt of discernment to allow you to see.
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
The dictionary defines endure as “suffer something difficult or painful patiently.” Paul uses this same word elsewhere to speak of bearing another’s burdens.
Healthy teaching from Scripture is equated to a burden to be endured? I can certainly see how studying the Bible could be equated to suffering (and I’m sure many students would agree with me). But clearly this isn’t a bad kind of suffering or endurance, as Paul is pointing out that some will not endure, that they’ll choose the easier path of listening to whatever they want to hear.
Here’s the reality: learning to love Scripture is a discipline. It requires patience, failure, struggles, moments of elation, and…well…endurance. Yet we live in a culture of the immediate. Young people don’t have to wait for much of anything any more. In a world of Google, fast food, text messaging, and microwaves, the idea of enduring healthy teaching is a hard sell. Thus, many youth pastors will take the route of spoon-feeding Biblical truth to teenagers, doing the hard work themselves (or not; they’ll just buy the right curriculum to do it for them. [Not to bash on curriculum–it can be beneficial–but not when it replaces the pastoral charge to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” and our own personal discipline in Scripture]). They teach students what to think instead of how to think. I’m not sure that’s fostering the discipline of endurance, if we’re working students’ mental and emotional muscles for them. It works in the short-term, but won’t produce long-term fruit.
How can students learn to endure Scripture? Some thoughts:
Just keep starting. Encourage students to pick themselves up over and over again, to dust off their Bibles and just keep going for it. Be their cheerleader and advocate. Redefine failure as “giving up,” not “struggling.”
Give space to wrestle with Scripture. It’s not enough to just “tell” students what Scripture says; they have to wrestle with it themselves in a safe and communal environment. That requires me getting out of the way and allowing the Holy Spirit to work, trusting that He will do the transformation. My friend, Brian Berry, has a fantastic post on fostering this kind of environment in one’s program. His idea of “mingle time” is one I’ve incorporated in my own ministry, and it’s been a phenomenal shift for us.
Think long-term. A healthy habit in Scripture isn’t something that will happen overnight. It won’t automatically make one’s life easier and happier, with less problems and more successes. Paul includes “endure suffering” in his charge to Timothy; life with Scripture isn’t easier, but it is better and more meaningful. I know it sounds cliche, but the analogy rings true: this is a marathon, not a sprint.
It took two decades for me to fall in love with Scripture, and I’m still far from perfect. Give students a sense of hope, that they can endure healthy doctrine, and that you’ll do it alongside them.