Shame Versus Delight: Encouraging Teenagers to Read the Bible

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The Bibles are scattered across the chairs, silent under fluorescent lights. Like badges of honor or tickets of entry, they proclaim that this is a Bible study, this is youth group, this is church. Every one of them could tell a story.

As a parent or a youth leader, you might wish you could hear it. How often are those Bibles actually taken off their shelves and read? How often are those leather covers opened and their contents devoured like the bread of life they are?

It’s a trope that many teens who come to youth group regularly don’t care about much more than the snacks and the games. They don’t even want to read their Bibles—much less engage in the daily struggle (and struggle it is) to come back to God’s Word again and again, to dig in and learn and grow.

As a teen myself, I believe we can do better. We need to do better. Many already are—if you were to open some of those Bibles, you would find them marked with favorite verses, records of the struggles and defeats and victories of the Christian life, of dependence on God’s Word for strength, comfort, and guidance.

But how can parents and youth leaders encourage this kind of love for the Bible? How can you help your teens grow in grace through God’s Word?

Give Them a Vision of What Bible Reading Should Be

“In some countries people die for owning a Bible. Why aren’t you reading yours?”

“How many of you read your Bible this week?”

“If you don’t read your Bible every day, are you even a real Christian?”

Statements like these are often made with the best of intentions. God’s Word is essential to our growth as Christians, and pastors and leaders want to encourage teens to read it. However, guilt-driven motivation rarely works in the long run.

If we’re going to read our Bibles, it needs to be driven not by guilt, but by desire.

Give us a true vision of what Bible reading is supposed to be. Teach us to read God’s Word in order to gaze upon His face, to know and love our Savior better. Show us how seeing who God is and what he has done leads us to trust him more. Don’t lead with shame, but with delight.

And no, many of your teens won’t feel that delight—at least at first. But encourage them to stay faithful even in the dry seasons, to keep reading their Bible even when they don’t feel like it, and trust that God will still use it in their lives.

Give Them Your Own Story

Along those lines, don’t just tell students how important the Bible is. Show them. Share your own need and love for God’s Word.

We all learn a little better through stories. Sharing how God is using his Word in your life can help teens understand its importance in a real, concrete way. It can help us see how God uses Scripture in his children’s hearts. And it gives your exhortations the weight of legitimacy, by showing that you practice what you preach.

Obviously, there’s a level of sharing that’s appropriate. Some struggles don’t need to be aired publicly. But it’s still important to tell your kids, or the teens in your youth group, how God has and continues to use his Word in your life. Not only does it encourage us in our own walk with the Lord, it shows us we’re not alone.

Give Them Opportunities to Encounter the Word in Community

One of the most joyous ways to read and study the Bible is in community with other believers. Group Bible studies offer many benefits, even (and especially) for teens. These are just a few:

  • Accountability. It’s easy to say you’ll do something, and simply put it off so long you never follow through. Reading and studying our Bible is the same. When a group study involves homework, however, we have to get it done in order to be prepared for the next meeting.
  • Fellowship. Some of my deepest and best friendships have been formed in the context of Bible study. Whether it’s peers or older folks in the church, studying the Word with other believers offers the chance to grow and learn together. And those gospel-centered relationships will be deepened and enriched in the process.
  • Protection from theological error. I fully believe teens are old enough to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15); and if they don’t know how, they should be taught. But all of us are prone to misinterpret verses or impose our preferred meaning on the text. When we study together, it provides the opportunity for others to correct any errors.

Bible studies can take many forms. You might use a guided study or choose to do it on your own. As a youth leader, it might look like an organized once-a-week class, or it could be an informal meeting with a few kids. As a parent, it might look like inviting a few of your child’s friends to your house once a week, inviting your teen to join you in your personal study, or even encouraging them to start their own group. For a church, it might simply look like inviting teens to join your adult Bible studies.

We Need the Word

As teenagers, we need God’s Word. And we know it.

No, we might not act like it at times. But the teen years are some of the most tumultuous of our lives to date. We’re encountering questions, doubts, struggles, trials, and hard choices. We need guidance and someplace to rest the soles of our feet in the midst of it all.

Sure, it’s just growing up. And it might just be the best opportunity you’ll ever have to point us to the truth.

We need the Word, and we know it. So encourage us to read it to see God; share how he’s used it in your own life; and give us the opportunity to study it together.

Watch what God will do.

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