A young boy was walking around the playground pulling a piece of string. His teacher approached him and asked, “Why are you pulling that piece of string?” The boy replied, “Because it’s a lot easier than pushing it.”
When it comes to encouraging young people to read God’s word, it’s a lot easier to lead from the front than to push from the back. When adults engage in regular personal Bible study, teenagers can much more easily develop a life long habit themselves.
Having said that, even in churches and families with good adult role models, teens can often be confused about personal Bible study. Ask them to list their favourite activities, and personal Bible reading is rarely one of them. But ask what will help in their Christian life, and studying God’s word will almost certainly come top. So how do we help teenagers see that what is good for them is also enjoyable?
Four positive message teens need to hear:
1. The Bible is about Jesus.
If we approach the Bible thinking it’s about us, most of it seems completely irrelevant. The exasperated teen asks, “How do these levitical laws or endless genealogies help me do my Maths homework?!” As a result, the Bible either lies unread, or passages must be twisted to be about us—making Bible study very hard work indeed!
The message of the Bible is ultimately the good news about Jesus! Paul tells Timothy the holy Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3 v 15). When teenagers read God’s word from this perspective, it makes a lot more sense. Paul then adds that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. Bonus!
2. God loves you, whether or not you read the Bible.
It’s easy to give the impression that reading the Bible earns God’s favour. You’d think this would increase teen Bible reading, but actually the opposite is true. Young people end up thinking: “Because I haven’t been reading God’s word, He’s not very happy with me. So I’ll avoid God and feel like a fraud in Christian company.”
To get back in God’s good books (pardon the pun!) then takes a major act of recommitment. Just notice how personal Bible reading spikes after a Christian residential trip, then declines as the “recommitment experience” wears off.
We shouldn’t read the Bible so that God thinks we’re great, but so that we remember that He is! We’re saved by faith, not by Bible reading. Picking up the Bible up after a long break doesn’t require any act of recommitment on a teenager’s part at all.
3. Bible times don’t need to be quiet times
You can act out Acts, declare Deuteronomy, and sing the psalms. You can read out loud, draw what you read, write songs as a response. Good Bible study notes will help teenagers engage with God’s word in creative ways. Using multimedia resources may help too.
This stops personal Bible reading being seen as having to be quiet, so making it suitable only for one personality type. Teens often see Bible study as something other people do, or that they might do when they’re older, because literal “quiet times” simply aren’t where they’re at.
4. Two key ingredients: routine and variety
Young people often have the best intentions when it comes to reading God’s word—but never quite get round to it. It really helps them to identify a pattern they can stick to. Encourage them to work out exactly when they’re going to read God’s word each day (avoid the “when I get into bed at night” idea—sleep will win!). And be realistic—better that a teenager reads their Bible four times a week for the rest of their life, than aims for seven, manages four, becomes demoralised and gives up.
All teenagers are different! Some will want to use Bible study notes each day (see below for some great resources for this) for the rest of their lives. Others will find it easier to use other approaches, such as the Swedish Bible-reading technique. Many will want to do a few months one way, then a few another, and so on. That keeps Bible-reading fresh, which is great!
Swedish Bible-reading technique
Read a passage and then scribble down four things:
1. The main thing about God that’s struck you from the passage.
2. Any questions you have about what you’ve read… and your best guess at what the answers are
3. The main application (a change in attitude or action) for you
4. Someone you’re going to tell about what you’ve read about God.
Buying people Bible study notes is a great way to encourage people to study their Bible! Hopefully, if some of the common misconceptions about Bible reading have been addressed, the notes won't be received as a heavy moral duty or be seen as a chore!
Engage notes for older teens
Discover 11 to 14 year olds