Somehow (YouthWorker.com’s twitter feed?) I stumbled across this article the other day. Now, it comes as no surprise to me that more than half of graduating students wish they had had more Bible in their youth ministry years. My own experience has been that students desire greater depth, even when it doesn’t seem like they do.
However, I’d like to push back a little on Barry’s proposed solutions. Essentially his solution to this dilemma is to start teaching the Bible more, and specifically helping our students to understand and apply it to their lives. That’s an excellent goal, and something we surely need to be more concerned with in youth ministry. However, I think the actual problem is deeper.
Let’s take a step back. Students want more Bible. Awesome. But we need to first ask why they aren’t currently getting enough. Then we can worry about how to correct the lack. I’d suggest that we don’t help our students engage Scripture thoroughly enough for two reasons.
First, in many youth ministries, the idea of teaching the Bible in any depth is reserved for the truly committed students. The rest, we assume, don’t actually want to learn about God. We’re just happy they come for the entertainment. So, we need to adjust our philosophy. If our philosophy of youth ministry is to attract a ton of students with games, video, lights, lasers, pizza, t-shirts, electronic dance floors and cupcakes we probably aren’t going to have the time or energy to help guide them toward a serious engagement with Scripture (or, ya know, God). I’ve blogged elsewhere about attractional youth ministry, so I won’t further belabor the point here.
The second reason I’d suggest students in youth ministries don’t engage Scripture as deeply as they might like is that we–as youth workers–don’t engage it as deeply as we should (I’d actually propose a third reason, which is that sometimes students only realize they wanted more Scripture in retrospect, thus they don’t take advantage of the opportunities they do have, but that’s more an issue of statistics and the limits of self-reporting). We don’t know Scripture that well ourselves, and so the idea that we might actually delve deeply into it can be disconcerting. I know I’ve probably beaten this horse to death already, but youth pastors ought to have a strong education in Bible. If we don’t know the Story, there is no way we can help our students to know God’s story.
I realize that the idea of formally studying Bible is all good for those who are just now entering the field, but somewhat harder for those of us who already have our degrees and are doing youth ministry. To those of you who are deciding what to study in college, let me plead with you: study Bible. At least minor in it. Even better, major in biblical studies or theology and minor in youth ministry. Then go to seminary. For those of us who are already past that stage, let me plead with you: study the Bible. Buy good commentaries and consult them regularly as you prepare lessons. Read through the Bible, and then do so again. Read scholars, not only other pastors. Push yourselves, don’t simply remain comfortable. Learn to use tools like Logos or Accordance. Devote substantial amounts of time to studying. Take a class on the Bible at a seminary, especially if your church provides you with money for continuing education. Do anything realistically possible to give yourself a better grasp of Scripture.
I know all of this takes time. I know we are already short on time. But maybe that gets back to my first point, we need to change the philosophy that governs our ministries. If we don’t have time to devote ourselves to prayer and studying Scripture, maybe we’re missing the point of ministry. If we want to help students delve deeply into Scripture than we need to delve deeply into Scripture for ourselves. We can’t teach what we don’t know.
Once we’ve confronted our own philosophy of ministry and our own study of Scripture, then it will be time to actually teach students the Bible. The statistics don’t lie, students want to learn the Bible. They want to confront the difficult questions. As the ones who serve as spiritual mentors and guides to students, we ought to be prepared to help them do exactly that.