Teens Love Jesus, but Not Reading the Bible
When I was a kid, my attention span was as short as they come. Before ADHD was a household term, there was “Jonathan.” My reputation wasn’t good. Half my Sunday school teachers wanted to pump me full of Ritalin, the other half wanted to pump me full of cyanide. I couldn’t concentrate and wouldn’t shut up.
Ask me to read my Bible? Booooooooooooring!
I could blame chemical imbalance, but a lot of it was a lack of discipline for me. When I would sit down to read… uh… I’m sorry… what was I saying?
Sadly, this affected my relationship with God. I loved dialoguing with people about God. I loved listening to stories about God. As I learned about the 12 guys that actually got to hang around and talk with the person of Jesus, that excited me. I thought, I’d love to do that. I’d love to just sit with Jesus, walk with him, watch him, and learn from him.
This is when my Sunday school teacher would chime in on cue: “You can sit and listen to Jesus, by reading your Bible.”
Seriously? Read?!! That’s all you got?
For those of you academics who read Dickens and Conrad for fun, or enjoy dissecting the theology of Tozer just for kicks, maybe you won’t understand this. But I really struggled forcing myself to just sit down and read.
I liked fiction as a kid. I enjoyed Twain, Hemmingway, even Dostoyevsky, but not half as much as I liked Spielberg, Lucas and Hitchcock. So when it came to the Bible, I liked Geneses, and Exodus was okay, but every time I got to Leviticus, I bailed! I could handle the Gospels and Acts, but come Romans, I wonder what’s on TV?
I’m not alone.
I meet kids all the time that struggle picking up the Bible… just for fun. Sadly, they really miss out on getting to know Jesus better.
Sometimes we bribe our youth. “Just 10 minutes a day, and then you get to go to Six Flags at the end of the year.” It might build a habit (I’m really not knocking the idea), but, might it also just be teaching them that Bible reading is a mere task to be checked off every day as completed? “I did my 10-minutes. Now it’s time to watch Jersey Shore!”
How can we possibly help kids that would like to know Jesus, but struggle digging into His love letter to us? After all, it is “studying” His word, and dare I say, how many teenagers really likes ‘studying?’
In my 20-years of youth ministry, 18-years as a father, and 41 years as a hyperactive, unmedicated individual, I’ve observed three motivating factors that have actually influenced me and others like me to dig into God’s Word.
3 Motivating Factors: The Three E’s
Earlier this year my daughter Alyssa had an opportunity to share with her friend. A casual conversation about life segued into a serious conversation where her friend finally asked Alyssa about her faith. Alyssa confessed to me later that day that she really didn’t know what to say. She talked about her love for God, her relationship with Him, and how she put her trust in Jesus, but really, the more she shared, the more she realized that she didn’t have a lot of the answers that her friend was looking for.
Something happened. Alyssa was motivated to study God’s Word like I’ve never seen before.
She’d come into my room with her Bible, “Where is it in the Bible where it talks about Jesus being the only way to heaven?”
The questions kept coming. “Is it true that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong? And if God is such a loving God, why does he allow so much suffering?”
Now she had me reading my Bible more!
Alyssa’s ongoing dialogue with a few of her friends drove her, not only to study the scriptures, but to seek wisdom from spiritual mentors in her life—people like her youth pastor, her grandpa, her mother and I. As I write this, Alyssa is reading Lee Strobel’s insightful book, A Case for Faith. She started with Josh McDowell’s book, Answers to Tough Questions, and then picked up the student version of A Case for Faith. Now she’s reading the full version.
My friend Greg Stier once told me, “If you’re looking for a tool that will not only help you do outreach, but will also help your believers grow in their faith, try equipping your kids to reach out to their friends. Nothing will drive them to the Word more when their friends start asking them questions that they don’t know the answers to.”
Acts 2 is a pretty exciting passage of the Bible. A huge crowd gathers, tongues of fire appear and then people starting speaking in different languages. Thousands were saved that day and were eager to grow closer to Jesus. Acts 2:42 summarizes what these people “devoted themselves” to doing every day.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Did you catch the second one? Because the second one is a huge help to accomplishing the first one.
Don’t underestimate the power of “fellowship.” It works like this. Young people are searching for a place where they belong, where people know their name, a place where if they go missing—they are missed. God created us with this desire for relationships. (That’s why most of the Bible is about our relationship with God and our relationship with others. It often uses other words to talk about these two categories, words like “righteousness,” doing right by God, and “justice” doing right by others.) And God’s people can provide encouragement and accountability to stay in God’s word.
My junior year of high school I started meeting weekly with a mentor and we began to go through the book of I Corinthians. Each week we got together at a restaurant and talked about a chapter of this letter from the Apostle Paul. Had I not had these meetings, I probably wouldn’t have been in my Bible as much as I was. But thanks to the accountability and encouragement from this mentor, I actually looked forward to reading and studying I Corinthians so I could talk about it with him the next Tuesday night.
Bible studies, discipleship meetings, accountability groups… these are all great ways to encourage young people to keep reading and learning together.
I wonder what podcast Jesus would have listened to? I wonder if he would have had a podcast? (I’d subscribe!)
We aren’t limited to just reading words off of a page in the 21st century. We can listen to words and listen to amazing teaching from people around the world. Just as people gathered in the synagogues and the temple to hear teaching 2,000 years ago, people can put the little white headphones in their ears today and have access to libraries of Biblical teaching.
I have to admit, I have grown a lot through podcasts. Some of my favorites are Tim Keller’s and Andy Stanley’s podcasts. Those guys can preach the Word.
But what about young people? Are there some good podcasts available for them?
A couple years ago my friend David and I noticed how many kids carried iPods, even to church and youth camps, while very few of them carried Bibles. We thought, “Why not use this medium to share a lil’ bit of scripture with them every day?”
So we started a little podcast called, “A LIL BIT,” which you can see at www.ALilBit.com (Sadly, because of budget, we aren’t adding new episodes to this right now, but there are over 100 audio Bible studies on this site right now.)
At the beginning of these weekly podcasts we do something; we ask them, “Open your Bibles to…” We realize that some young people might be driving or not have access to a Bible while they’re listening, so we often qualify, “If you don’t have your Bible handy, no worries. We’ll read the passage for you. But we encourage you to pick up your Bible later and read these words with your own eyes.”
This podcast has one goal: To let young people taste and see that the Lord is good. We want them to experience the truth of the scriptures and begin to dig in by themselves. We actually give a reading assignment and a challenge at the end of almost every podcast so they’ll be able to read by themselves and apply what they learned throughout that week.
It’s amazing to think that iTunes has so many ministry opportunities.
Short attention spans, busyness or just a lack of desire, these are all common excuses that I use to not read my Bible. Evangelism, Encouragement and my set of little white Earphones have all helped me dig into the word.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.