When I tell people (particularly those engaged in youth ministry) that I spent my high school years attending three Bible Studies a week in which we actually studied the Bible, they often respond by saying kids are different now. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have shortened their attention spans so that they have trouble sitting through a half-hour verse-by-verse exposition of God’s Word. Teens in the 21st Century need games to work off their energy and snacks to look forward to after sitting through a 15-minute topical teaching.
A few years ago, for instance, a youth group leader from another church told me that their group only has actual Bible studies twice a month, and even on Bible study nights they reserve time for games and refreshments. A second leader from that same youth group explained to me that kids need to burn off some energy before they can be expected to settle down to listen. Other youth leaders have told me that we must help kids understand that Christianity can be fun.
I definitely believe Christians enjoy life more than non-Christians do. But I also believe teenagers need to be taught that following Christ isn’t primarily about having a good time. Persecution awaits all Christians on some level, and our teens require the sort of ministry that prepares them for that eventuality.
Verse-by-verse Bible Studies would bring kids to passages that teach the harder aspects of being Christians. As an example, a study on Matthew’s gospel would lead to Christ’s warning on the cost of discipleship:
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” ~~Matthew 16:24-28 (ESV)
Granted, teachers can contextualize this passage by applying it to pressures high schoolers face in public schools and from non-Christian parents. But even within that context, they learn the seriousness of being Christians. And such a serious matter demands more than 15 minutes sandwiched between hilarious games and high calorie snacks.
The youth leader I mentioned at the start of this blog post felt frustrated that the kids in the youth group exhibit a growing disrespect towards the youth pastor when he tried to teach the Word. She couldn’t understand why the kids can’t sit quietly through a 15-minute Bible study. When I stated that I sat through much longer Bible Studies as a teen — with only a few songs and a time to share insights from our personal Bible reading — she protested that most of the kids would stop coming if her church tried that.
Her words saddened me.
One of the things I most appreciated about the Bible Studies I attended as a teenager was that they weren’t age-specific. Most of us were high school and college age, but a few eighth graders came as well as a few older adults. I loved being expected to understand the same teaching that the adults received, and I liked being expected to behave as an adult. That degree of respect from the leaders actually encouraged me to take God’s Word seriously. It gave me a desire to study it and apply its principles.
Western culture tolerates Christians less every day.Therefore our teenagers need solid Bible teaching that prepares them for the various levels of persecution that knocks on our door. Dare we waste time entertaining young people when they need equipping?