ENGAGE: YOUTH MINISTRY AND THE STUDY OF GOD’S WORD

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One of the major changes that happened in my life when I became a Christian in my early teens was my interest in knowing the Bible. My curiosity compelled me to read through the Bible several times while I was in high school. I was helped by mentors in the church, the pastor, and my youth pastor to understand basic Christian teaching and to answer questions that I had. I had family members who gave me daily devotional books and study Bibles as gifts for Christmas or for my birthday.

Curiosity, interest, and reverence for the Word of God is something to be prayed for and modeled before the youth. One of my main ministry goals is to instill in our youth a curiosity that causes them to study the Bible and a conviction that it is the authoritative Word of God. Ministry priority number one is clarity of the Gospel message, followed closely by trust in and obedience to the Scriptures, because the Holy Spirit will use the Word of God to mature and disciple our youth for the rest of their lives.

So how does one teach the Word of God in such a way so that it engages the youth? How does one foster curiosity and reverence for the Word of God so that motivates students to read and study on their own? The main method given in Scripture is expositional preaching and teaching, which is instruction that lays out the meaning of the God-inspired text plainly (1 Tim 4:13; 2 Tim 4:2). The expounding of the Bible provides the truth that edifies and matures young Christians into Christian adulthood. Commitment to expositional teaching will instruct students on the authority of the Bible, theology, how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied, and the teachings of Christ which will cultivate devoted, committed, and mature Christ followers.

Making truth that is expounded during preaching and teaching times engaging has several different components. Prayer is primary, that the Holy Spirit will be opening young eyes and minds and hearts to receive the Gospel, truth, insights, wisdom, and applications from Scripture (1 Cor 2:1-16; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 John 2:20, 27). The Holy Spirit actively brings understanding, conviction, and a heart that yearns to learn and study more. The biblical teaching concerning the nature of the Word of God and how it should be viewed by believers is extremely high (see Ps 119), therefore it is right to pray that this same exalted and reverent view becomes pervasive among God’s people. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent who makes the Word of God engaging and transformative.

Teaching the Bible to junior high and high school students is a joy and challenge. Plenty of energy is expended in keeping the youth focused on the message and explaining the Bible and theology to them in understandable ways. One of the delights I have as a teacher of God’s Word is the opportunity to ask and answer challenging questions from the Bible. Most of my lessons and the lesson sheets I hand out have questions based on the text that include factual questions, meaning questions, and application questions. I’m not after what the Bible means subjectively to various students, but what God intended by the language and context of the Bible passage at hand. But I certainly do want the students to learn to think critically about the Bible and to apply it specifically to their own lives. I also invite any question they may have that is relevant to the lesson because it is often an indicator of where they are in their biblical understanding and spiritual maturity.

Another way to engage students in the study of God’s Word is gathering together in small groups with leaders who have relationships with the students centered on Christ and God’s Word. This is an extremely helpful practice to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly” among the students and to direct them to discipleship relationships where the commands of Christ are taught clearly (Matt 28:19-20; Col 3:16-17). Within this is the training of small group leaders as well, as they guide discussion on context, observations, meaning, and application from the passage. I usually plan on having a small group time regularly in youth group if there is time, with prayer suggestions, questions, and applications from the passage on sheets I hand out.

Small groups ideally foster rich interaction with the Word of God on a personal level. It is my prayer that these groups and the discipleship relationships that come out of them include personal sharing, confession, accountability, admonition, and encouragement. These small groups should foster a transparent atmosphere of trust where honesty about questions, doubts, sins, and struggles are welcomed. The Word of God does the work of God through the Spirit of God, but we cannot overlook how this happens within the context of deep discipleship relationships.

What are some practical steps I have taken to guide the youth in the study of God’s Word? First, in every teaching time I strive to model my reverence for the Word of God, my commitment to getting the meaning right, and the necessity of applying what is learned. These attitudes and practices are both “taught” and “caught” in the sense of young people absorbing positive practices and attitudes in studying, revering, and living out biblical truth. These attitudes and practices are also what I require of anyone who desires to serve as a student leader in our youth ministry. Second, I have endeavored to give every one of our students a plan to read through the Bible in a year and to get students who do not have quality Bibles a study Bible. Again, I was greatly aided by family members giving me study Bibles and devotional books, which is a ministry practice I want to emulate.

Third, I have been moving forward with trying to meet with every student individually once or more each semester (with another ministry leader present for the girls). These times have been very profitable for clarifying the Gospel, taking prayer requests, answering questions, handing out Bible reading plans, etc. I want to start challenging individual students to read certain portions of Scripture and then to come back and tell me what they learned and what questions they have. I particularly want to focus on the reading of the Gospel accounts or Proverbs. Fourth, as mentioned above, I hope to have more small group Bible study times as a part of our regular youth group time. The youth are naturally inquisitive, and yet they are also naturally prone to have questions they are too afraid to ask in large groups. This also offers the opportunity for our youth helpers to personally connect with students and become fellow teachers and guides in biblical instruction.

- Pastor Spencer Carpenter