By Sara Barratt, Crosswalk.com
When I was eleven, my parents gave me my own study Bible.
Of course, I’d had other Bibles before. But to me, this Bible symbolized adulthood. It was big and leather-bound and had notes at the bottom of every page. Maybe some parents wouldn’t entrust a Bible like that to their eleven-year-old, but looking back, I consider it the most important gift my parents ever gave me that could come in wrapping paper.
Nine years later, it’s still the Bible I read every day. It’s beginning to fall apart, but I don’t plan to purchase a new one, because it was with this Bible that I learned to follow Jesus.
Your Teen Needs the Bible
Five Minute Devos for Teens...
One Minute Prayers for Teens...
Resources like these flood the Christian market. They accomplish what they intend—to get a quick dose of Scripture and biblical encouragement in front of a busy teen.
But teens need so much more.
In a culture of shifting morality, confusing choices, and peer pressure, teens need solid biblical literacy to help them navigate a broken world with clarity and truth. Biblical ignorance equals a shaky foundation, one which can’t weather the storms of cultural pressure, anti-biblical worldviews, and simple questions such as “Why do you believe in God?” and “What is truth?” The Bible holds the answer to those questions. It’s the firm foundation that can withstand those storms.
Yet many teens never dig deep into the Word. In my own life, personal Bible study has kept me strong and helped me navigate the questions and confusion that comes with being a teen in a rapidly shifting culture.
Why Do Teens Need Biblical Literacy?
1. To know who God is—and how to follow Him.
The Bible is a book about God. But so often, we make the Bible a book about us. We handpick verses that seem applicable to our lives and focus on them. As we do so, we miss out on the purpose of the Bible and dilute our understanding of who God is. If we don’t know who God is, we won’t know how to follow Him.
2. To grow in spiritual maturity.
It’s possible to have Biblical literacy without spiritual maturity. Anyone can have head knowledge without growing in heart knowledge. But it’s not possible to grow in spiritual maturity without growing in Biblical literacy. By knowing who God is, we grow in our understanding of who we, as His followers, are called to be. Biblical literacy and spiritual maturity go hand in hand.
3. To navigate our cultural moment.
The Bible enlightens our cultural moment. The words “abortion” and “transgender” may not be found within its pages, but even so, Scripture is relevant to these issues and so many more. The Word of God does not bend and change with the culture; nor is it crammed into the mold of one particular society.
Instead, it sheds light beyond the culture by sharing unwavering truths about who God is, who we are, and how to worship and follow Jesus Christ. These unchanging truths enable us to live beyond our cultural moment and answer our cultural questions by being rooted in the firm foundations of biblical truth.
4. To learn and understand absolute truth.
The Bible is a book of absolute truth. It’s inerrant and infallible, because it contains the very Words of God. Yet teenagers are growing up in a post-truth world—one that may admit the reality of truth, but elevates feelings and personal preference above absolute truth.
Without truth, we don’t know right from wrong. We don’t know how to live. But with Jesus, who is, “the way, the truth, and the life” we have a model. For Christian teens to stand strong, we must know and love the truth. In order to know and love the truth, we must know and love the Bible.
5. To understand the gospel.
The story of salvation is the thread running through all of Scripture. In the Bible we find the holiness of God and the depth of our sin outlined in humanity’s fall. We find the grace and mercy of God in sending Jesus to die for our sins. We anticipate the hope of a new heaven and new earth in the picture of future restoration.
These things have the ability to transform the way we live. A teen who understands and lives the message of the gospel is one who will walk in the power of a life transformed by Christ.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Ben White
How Can We Teach Teens Scripture (and Equip Them to Study it on Their Own)?
It’s not hard to see that teens need Scripture. What’s harder is getting teens to fall in love with studying the Bible. But it’s entirely possible.
1. Lead by example.
If you’re a parent or youth worker, you have the ability to lead by example. Do you love the Bible? Do your teens see you reading and studying it? Can they observe how it’s changed your life and how you live it out? Do you treat the Word of God with reverence and respect? It’s deeply impactful to see an adult regularly applying these practices in ways that are accessible and approachable. As teens see your love for the Bible, you’re taking the first step for them to love it too.
2. Study corporately.
I remember my mom regularly reading the Bible out loud to my sister and me and talking to us about Scripture as we were growing up. Come alongside your teen in studying the Bible. Meet with them every day or once a week to read it together and/or discuss what you’ve been reading.
Make the Bible an ongoing conversation in your home. For youth leaders, do Bible studies with your youth group that dig deep into Scripture. Instead of thinking teens can’t handle intense Bible study, come alongside them and learn together.
3. Raise expectations.
When my parents gave me my first study Bible at the age of eleven, there was an expectation in place. They expected that I wouldn’t waste the gift, but instead use it well. I would read it, study it, and take care of it. Their expectations set me up for success. Because they raised the bar, I rose to the challenge.
What do we expect from our teens? Do we expect them to be able to study the Bible? Or do we expect them to think it’s a boring book that isn’t relevant to their life? Do we expect them to be able to glean truths from Scripture? Or do we think the only thing they can handle is a spoon-fed message in a light devotional?
4. Cultivate the right heart (instead of just striving for the right actions).
Actions matter—but heart attitude matters more. Instead of simply telling teens what to do, discuss why. Talk about why the Bible is the inspired Word of God, why it matters, and how it transforms us. Allow teens to wrestle with hard questions, and point them to Scripture as their guide. Cultivate the right heart by making the Bible less about a checkmark on a to-do list and more about an intimate relationship with the God who loves them.
5. Teach them the tools.
Studying the Bible is intense work that requires correct tools. I’ve talked to teens who desire to better understand the Bible, but they don’t know how. Let’s not hinder our teens from growing in biblical literacy because they lack the tools they need.
Tools like comprehension, interpretation, and application. Being able to read a text through the eyes of the original readers, understanding how cross-references work, and how to consult trusted commentaries. If you want your teen to study the Bible, you must become a teacher who is equipped in the tools.
This process isn’t easy, especially if you’re a new student of the Word yourself, but there are many resources available to help you and your teen along the journey. You don’t need to have a Masters of Divinity to teach your teen Scripture. All you need is to be present in their lives and committed to learning together.
Becoming Teens of the Word
Lest I make it sound like teaching teens to study the Bible is comparable to teaching them algebra, let’s not forget that it’s the Holy Spirit who enlightens our eyes and enables us to glean truth from Scripture. Pray for God to light a spark of passion in your teen’s heart for His Word.
Like I say in my book, Love Riot: A Teenage Call to Live With Relentless Abandon for Christ, “I don’t want to make this sound like a ritual or a dry, educational process. I don’t want you to think of reading your Bible simply as a discipline and not as a joy. As you dig deeper into Scripture, consistently letting its words wash over your heart, that’s exactly what it becomes: a joy... It’s not always fun or easy.
But I can tell you with 100 percent certainty it’s always worth it. Ask God to give you a fiery passion for His Word. He will. And when the fire dims and flickers, ask again.”
That’s what God can do in the heart of your teen. Ever since the day I received my first “adult Bible”, this truth has been ingrained in my heart: God’s Word has the power to change a life.
It changed mine. And it can change your teen’s life too.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Angelica Reyes
Sara Barratt is a 20-year-old writer and lead editor for TheRebelution.com, a growing online platform that reaches more than half a million Christian teens, parents, and youth workers each year. She's a frequent speaker on topics including using your teen years for Christ, purity, and fighting modern-day slavery. She has also written for The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, Girl Defined, and Lies Young Women Believe. She lives in Michigan with her family. Click here to visit her website, Facebook and Instagram. Love Riot can be purchased anywhere books are sold!