When Youth Don’t Want to Read the Bible

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This series asks youth workers why teenagers don’t feel comfortable reading the Bible. Authors share observations from their experience and offer solutions to help students feel more comfortable opening the Scriptures.  

A youth pastor’s job doesn’t revolve around making the Bible cool. Fun tricks, tips and gimmicks to encourage consistent Bible reading are not our thing. The youth pastor’s job is to awaken affections and to create new tastes. That is to say, our job is impossible. 

In my experience, students just don’t want to read the Bible. And there are really no legitimate excuses. We make time for the things we care about. And many students prove by their actions that they just don’t care about reading the Bible. This isn’t a deficiency in method. This is a heart-level distaste for Scripture and God’s commands that runs straight back to Adam. Yes, they know they are supposed to read it, but Jonathan Edwards was right — there’s difference between knowing honey is sweet and tasting it. 

This often means I am discouraged; I thought that if I preached winsomely and compassionately enough my students would devour Scripture like all those pizza rolls. But you cannot create desire for the Word anymore than you could have raised Lazarus from the dead. Pastors can’t control or change hearts — only Jesus can. And all attempts to change hearts without His resurrection power will be clumsy and inadequate. If we want our students to want to read Scripture we must:

1. Pray for our students

All too often I neglect praying for students as part of my week. If the creation of new tastes is a God-originating procedure, I must begin by learning to depend on Him for my students’ sanctification. The Lord’s prayer begins with “Our Father” for a reason. It shows us that our relationship to God must be one of child-like dependence. If we spend more time coaching and passing out Bible reading plans than in prayer, we say that we consider our efforts are more efficacious than God’s fatherly care. Pray for your students more than you work for them.

2. Remind our students of God’s grace

Paul Tripp says that we will never find joy in our Bible study until we understand that reading God’s Word is not first a call to duty but an invitation to receive a wonderful gift. Our Bible is a gift that needs to be unwrapped. It presents a feast, and we need to eat. We must remind our students that unlike any other gift we have ever received, this gift actually changes us (John 17:17). It strengthens us when we are tired (Isaiah 40:29-31). And it blesses us when we read it (Psalm 1). 

3. Remind our students of Jesus

Our students will never want to read Scripture if it’s all about teasing out principles to live by and recounting vague, religious-sounding stories. Our students must be reminded that the Bible is offering communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ.

An open Bible offers an encounter with a person, not a principle. Until our students know that this book reveals a man who lived, breathed, died and was resurrected for them, it will remain history and fantasy. The “Walking Dead,” or whatever is on TV, will always seem satisfying. We must tempt them with the deep, rich fudge of Jesus, and let the skim milk of entertainment grow sour on the counter. 

4. Tell our students to pray for themselves

“I know I am supposed to want to read my Bible, but I don’t. I don’t even want to want to. I’m fine with it, though I know I’m not supposed to be. What do I do?” Sure, no student says it that way, but I know you know many who are asking something similar. Into that despair we get to minister the Gospel. While our youth are not powerful to change their own hearts, Jesus is. In fact, He rose again to prove the power He has not only over death but over dead hearts. We get to measure His power in our lives by the resurrection, and He promises to resurrect their faulty desires — all they have to do is ask. 

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