The Bible seems to have all but disappeared in today’s culture, and our youth and children’s groups often don’t fare much better. Youth for Christ’s Laura Hancock explores how we can reinstate a love of scripture, both for ourselves and for the children and young people we work alongside
Around two years ago we opened a prayer room at our youth drop-in where young people who have no belief in God could come in and connect with him through prayer and conversation. We were expecting very little take-up and anticipated it shutting within the year due to a lack of interest. It turns out that was not the case. While we do have off weeks, there is often a frustrated young person outside the prayer room banging on the door because the group in front is taking too long. I have learned a lot about young people and spirituality from this room. Mainly I see that there is a generation desperate to connect with God but absolutely no idea how to do it.
Young people finding the courage to pray is one thing, but a young person even considering picking up the Bible and learning about God for themselves is totally different. The Bible is often either considered a stale, academic text that has something to do with RE or so outdated and intimidating that the thought of reading it, let alone God speaking through it, is laughable. Unfortunately, this view is similar whether that young person knows Jesus or not. The greatest sadness for me is that the attitude of young people who follow Jesus is incredibly similar to that of those who don’t. As youth and children’s workers today we care for a generation that sees the Bible as having little relevance, minimal authority and absolutely no gravitational pull. But is this statement just as true for youth and children’s workers?
I didn’t know where to start and I didn’t understand why what I was reading mattered
If I’m being honest, I hated reading the Bible as a younger teenager. I loved reading, just not reading that. I found it dry and tough going. I didn’t know where to start, and even when I did I didn’t understand why what I was reading mattered. There were moments when I took part in the classic ‘open the Bible and put your finger on a verse’ trick and it worked out pretty well, but on the whole I’d rather have been doing something else. What changed for me was a two-part journey.
First, I had to catch why it mattered. This was different from being taught why it mattered. I’d heard that thousands of times, but I had to see it lived out. I saw youth workers and role models around me who genuinely loved the Bible. They seemed to hear from God when they read it and learn more about who he was. I wanted my relationship with God to be like theirs.
But the second part of the journey was working out what that looked like for me. I asked one of those youth workers to pray for me. I wanted to love the Bible but I just didn’t, so we prayed that the Holy Spirit would do something in me that connected with God’s word. As I pushed into this and explored what it looked like for me, a fire was lit.
It was in the following months and years that this amazing book began to change me. I began to find that there was no other book like it, and that in the micro the Spirit of God in me uses the Spirit-inspired words to challenge and shape the fabric of who I am. As I read and meditate on it, it challenges, reshapes, encourages, cuts to the heart of my bad attitude and yet supports and sustains. In the macro, I love to read the Bible and be reminded of the story I am a part of: that we, as individuals and as a species, have a significant part to play in bringing creation back to the creator. The Bible provides the rhythm for the narrative we are invited to take part in.
One of my favourite habits is reading the Bible from cover to cover, and then just starting again. Now don’t get me wrong, it takes me years. I’m not good at this stuff! But the picture that is painted and the narrative that can be captured is stunning. It breaks my heart that so many Christians have never read the whole Bible and are missing out on the fullness and beauty of the story they are a part of. I’m really aware that it is more important to get the Bible through you than for you to get through the Bible, but so much is missed when we don’t see the bigger picture. It might be that you want to do it with a children’s Bible just to get the aerial view, or maybe you could start with a book like Storylines by Mike Pilavachi. Wherever you start, my encouragement would be to just start with something.
If you want children and young people to love reading the Bible you must reflect the kind of passion and proximity that’s going to catch on
Sometimes getting the most out of your Bible depends on the type of person God created you to be. Here are different ways to connect:
- If you're creative you could write, draw and imagine.
- If you're reflective make time to stop and think.
- If you're active take your Bible with you and explore it when you're exploring.
- If you're a talker get a group together to chat about a passage.
(All these ways are explored in Good News Bible: The Youth Edition)
State of play
Today, churched and unchurched children and young people face similar issues, in that many neither read from or listen to the Bible to engage with the wider story of creation they are playing a part in. Neither understand the complex yet beautifully simple story of hope and love that weaves throughout these 66 books, or how it relates to their circumstances today. They haven’t grasped what the Bible is communicating about the God who not only created them but continues to want to create in and through them today.
According to the 2015 Talking Jesus research, 27 per cent of people said that the Bible positively influenced them when becoming a Christian, and Youth for Christ’s study Gen Z: Rethinking Culture stated that 73 per cent of young people still read on a daily basis. So surely our task of helping a generation fall back in love with the Word of God is not only important but achievable, especially when the Holy Spirit gets involved.
As leaders we care for a generation that desperately needs the truth, peace, purpose and intimacy with God that the Bible provides. In a generation where thousands of voices are clamouring for our attention 24 hours a day, the Bible provides a foundation of truth with which to filter those that tell us how we should live, what success looks like, how we should spend our money, what it means to love and be loved and – significantly for this generation – the truth of where their identity lies.
Against a relentless onslaught from marketers, online influencers, friends, teachers, family and social networks telling this generation who they should be, all accessible through an unending flow from their mobile devices, this generation desperately need to familiarise themselves with who they were created to be and who the God who created them says they are. With a quarter of young people questioning their purpose, the Bible explains why they were created. What this generation takes in will determine the trajectory of not only their individual lives but our entire world. Let’s raise up a generation that is rooted in the truth about who they are created to be, and that has the tools to interact with God and his Word for themselves.
This was the hope of Youth for Christ and the Bible Society when creating Good News Bible: The Youth Edition. Our hope was that, whether totally cold to faith or committed to Christianity but biblically illiterate, a young person might be able to engage with God through the Bible for themselves, regardless of how that works best for them. So what is our role as youth and children’s workers in bridging the gap?
One thing we can do is recognise the role we have to play in helping children and young people find a way to engage with the Bible that works for them. This might be listening to it, drawing in and around it, meditating on it, studying the context of it, chatting it through, something totally different or all of the above.
In Good News Bible: The Youth Edition we’ve given this a good shot, but when you really know and care for a child or young person, you can help them with this through a bit of thought and creativity, whether they know Jesus yet or not. We can all provide tools and spaces for young people to reflect on and apply the Bible in community. As they start to engage with the Word of God together something begins to happen. Curiosity begins to catch, no matter where they are at with God or whether they agree with what is being said. This might be time designated during youth sessions, accountability groups, online chats in WhatsApp or Messenger, or group FaceTime calls between friends. We need to teach children and young people the wider narrative of the Bible.
We need to show them what to be looking for, how to dig into the really tough bits and what to do when they don’t get what they’re reading. Our job is to give them the tools to feed themselves. Finally, and most importantly, we need to fall in love with reading the Bible ourselves.
We care for a generation that sees the Bible as having little relevance, minimal authority and absolutely no gravitational pull
When you look at your youth or children’s group, are its members modelling what you really feel about the Bible? When was the last time you read the Bible and truly loved it? If you want children and young people to love reading the Bible you must reflect the kind of passion and proximity that’s going to catch on. It starts with you. I have made a commitment to always use a paper Bible where possible. Why? Because that way young people can have no doubt about what I am doing or reading. I take it with me wherever I go, and I want our young people to see that the pages have been read. Not because I want to show off or make them feel bad (I’m very real about how bad I can be at this!), but because I want them to see that what God says, who he is and the unchanging truth that he gives us through the Bible has been, and continues to be, key in my relationship with him. I want to demonstrate to the young people in my care that this is a book that not only brings truth to my life but brings hope to humanity. It brings purpose and direction to the story of their generation, whether they know God yet or not. But it starts with me.
Laura Hancock is director of church resources for Youth for Christ and a volunteer youth worker at Life central Church in Halesowen.