From Skeptics to Self-feeders

By Tim Downey November 9, 2017

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” –Hebrews 5:14

Many students consider the Bible outdated, irrelevant, and of questionable origin. Rather than changing these views, many well-meaning leaders only intensify them by mismanaging Bible study. Instead of preparing students for long-term, independent Bible reading and study, many youth workers use displaced verses here and there to support their teaching topics or only use the Bible to teach behavior modification, not spiritual transformation. As a result, students (and adults) wind up viewing the Bible as a restrictive piece of literature. They admit that it may have a few positive clichés like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but otherwise, they think it has little value.

As youth workers, our job is to recalibrate students’ view of God and his Word to align with the truth. Here are four basic tools I’d like to recommend for when students study the Bible:

1) Read It

There is no substitute for spending time reading the Bible. Students should submerge themselves in Scripture, soaking it all in. Reading a daily verse is better than nothing—but just barely. Can you imagine students picking up their favorite novel, reading one sentence, and then closing the book? Would they stop watching their favorite movie after watching only two minutes? If we want our students to understand the Bible, they must read it.

2) Read It in Context

Plucking a verse or even a paragraph out of the Bible is like eating a crouton and calling it a salad. If we want the Bible to make sense to students, then we must read it within its proper context. Encourage students to read an entire book of the Bible from beginning to end. They don’t have to read it all in one setting, but they should at least read a chapter at a time. (Unlike a single verse or paragraph, a chapter designates one complete unit of thought.)

3) Read It Culturally

BibleStudy_quoteImagine Neil Armstrong as he embarked on his first moonwalk. As his foot touches the lunar dirt, he says, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Or, picture Martin Luther King Jr. standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of 250,000 civil rights supporters. He clears his voice and says, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Why do these scenarios seem so bizarre? Because cultural context is crucial! The Bible is God’s Word to humanity, but it was also written within particular cultures, settings, and languages. Help your students understand the background of what they are reading by pointing them towards tools like Studylight.org or BlueLetterBible.org.

4) Read It Carefully

Whenever your students hear an unfamiliar reference or read a word they’ve never seen before, they immediately pull out their smart phones to look it up. We have to train students to do the same thing when reading the Bible. Many students will shut down if they encounter something in Scripture they don’t understand. This shouldn’t be a problem anymore! It only takes a few seconds to look up the answers and learn. Of course, we should also be able to point students to more trustworthy resources than Wikipedia for the tougher questions they’ll encounter. But a simple Google search can get students past smaller roadblocks like unfamiliar words.

While there’s much more I could say on this topic, these four things are a great start to getting your students on the road to Biblical literacy. After teaching adolescents for over 30 years, one thing about this process has become crystal clear to me: there is only one Master Teacher, and I’m not him. No matter how effective, persuasive, and inspiring my teaching might be, nothing comes remotely close to what the Spirit can do in the lives of students when they know how to feed themselves with God’s Word. So set your students up to succeed by giving them these four tools for a lifetime of maturing in Christ.

About the Author

Tim Downey

Tim Downey is an Associate Professor of Youth Ministry, specializing in the areas of discipleship and leadership at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. For 30 years, Tim has served the Christian community as a youth pastor, missionary, college professor, and international speaker. He and his wife, Kaye, have three daughters and one granddaughter. Tim…  Read More