1.29.2013

Getting Students Into the Word: A New Bible Class Approach (At Least, For Me)

In my years of youth ministry, one of the most alarming trends I have noticed is how little most teenagers actually know about the Bible. Sure, they’ll know some major characters and a few significant doctrines, but on the whole, it isn’t pretty.

And this is a big deal, because how can we claim to live by the Bible (which we do), if we don’t know what it says?

I haven’t done extensive research, but I suspect that there are several reasons for this trend:
  • Kids don’t actually read anymore. Seriously. Between TV, game consoles, the Internet, and iPhones, most young people find plenty to occupy their time without ever picking up a book.
  • Christian parents do less Bible study and teaching in the homes with their children. Families have busy schedules between school events, sports, and TV shows, and family devotional time tends to get squeezed out. Besides, what’s the point of having a youth minister if he isn’t going to teach our kids?
  • More and more, Bible class curriculum tends to be topical rather than textual. This isn’t always a bad thing, but taken to the extreme, all your students get are a lot of words on morality and only a little of the Word.
  • A significant portion of church members and families don’t even bother going to Bible class in the first place (this varies from church to church, but at our congregation, roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of our people don’t attend Bible class on Sunday morning).
All of that to say, this issue is something that I’ve become very convicted about over the years, and as a result, I have put a lot of emphasis on and effort into teaching the Bible to my youth group kids and getting them to read Scripture for themselves. This past quarter, we tried something a little different on Sunday mornings which actually turned out quite well, and I just wanted to share it very quickly. 

I got the idea from a friend in youth ministry, who pointed me to a new rendering of the NIV translation of the Bible that has the chapter and verse numbers removed to make the text more readable. Of course, the original manuscripts of the Bible didn’t come with chapter and verse markers; those were added later to help organize the material and make it easier to reference. Without the chapter and verse numbers, I found the text much less choppy, and it read much more like a story. Biblica, the company which released this new format, provided a free sample of the books of Luke and Acts, and this is what we studied over the past quarter.

Using the free PDF download of Luke-Acts, I worked up a cover, an introduction to our study, and a reading schedule for our students, and bound them as individual books (they were about 100 pages long). Then for the whole quarter, our Bible class consisted of us talking about the things they read from the previous week (Bible stories and events they had never read before, things they liked, things they didn’t understand, things that bothered them).

Obviously, for this class format to be successful, the students actually needed to have read ahead of time. Especially since my youth group is currently skewed toward younger ages, I was a little concerned about them remembering to actually do the weekly reading assignments. To encourage this, I kept track of those who had done their reading assignments from week to week, and promised that we would take a reward trip at the end of the quarter for those who had done their homework throughout (yes, I absolutely believe in rewarding people for good behavior).

On the whole, I was pleased with the results. I had six students (out of 15-20) who read their assignments almost every week and qualified for the trip, and several others who missed the cut but still read about half the time. The quality of our class discussions fluctuated based on how many people had read, but on the whole, the students had a lot to talk about, as many of them were reading these chapters in depth for the first time (if that seems surprising to you, re-read my lamentations at the beginning of this post).

Currently, I don’t think this is a sustainable class model year round, as the level of readership tended to decline as the quarter progressed and the freshness wore off. Still, I think it’s something that I’ll try for at least one quarter a year.
Our group at the Oklahoma Aquarium as part of the reward for doing their Bible reading.

2 comments:

Rachel Gould 1/29/13, 10:59 AM  

Your observation that students are reading less in general is dead on. During my time teaching English classes at both the high school and college levels, I was appalled at the lack of effort by most of the students, and the poor comprehension levels of some of those who did attempt to read. I applaud your efforts to help your teens connect to the stories, therefore, because I think that is the only way to get them in the text. Although I am obviously a proponent of reading, you might also consider using film from time to time. Specifically, I'm thinking of the production of The Gospel of John, which you can find on Youtube. While I wouldn't agree with all of the rendition, I personally found it engaging - as have most people I have known to watch it - since the Biblical people I was used to reading about suddenly became physical in a sense, making the stories become life. Just a thought.

Luke Dockery 1/30/13, 9:20 AM  

Rachel,

Thanks for the comment; it's good to hear from you.

I have seen part of The Gospel of John, liked it a lot, and have actually intended for a while to show it to my kids. I’ve never considered doing it in class—not because I have an objection to doing so, but just because I would have to show it in a bunch of 30ish minute segments. I'm sure with a little thought and planning that could be done very effectively though—thanks for the suggestion. I also didn't know it was available on YouTube…thanks for that tip as well.

I did show them The Nativity Story in conjunction with a lesson at our Winter Retreat; that worked quite well.

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