some time ago, i did a blog interview with josh griffin on thedownload youth ministry blog about young teens and bible reading. thought i’d share it here:
Research shows that a large percentage of churched teens rarely read the Bible outside of church. Why do you think that’s so?
A secondary reason is the busyness of the lives of teenagers these days; but the primary reason is that the Bible feels inaccessible to teens. They would say–if they’re being honest–that it’s “boring.” But what they really mean, if they had the words, would be, “I don’t know how to read it.”
Why do young teens have a hard time reading and relating to the Bible?
Of course, there’s a language issue. But I think the main hurdle for young teens is that reading the Bible feels more academic. They try it once or twice, but feel like failures when they don’t connect with what they’re reading.
How have changes in youth culture affected the ability of Christian teens to understand, relate to, and engage with Scripture?
One of the primary shifts in youth culture over the past couple decades is a major shift in how teenager understand truth. Mostly gone are the days when rational arguments trumped. Today’s teenagers and young adults have grown up in a world where their experience informs their understanding of what’s true. This shouldn’t unnerve us as Christ-followers; instead, we trust that the God who wants to reveal himself will meet teenagers in the living Word of God.
What are some of the spiritual challenges a young teen faces in today’s culture?
While I could answer this question in dozens of ways, I’ll go with this: today’s teenagers have an extremely heightened need for belonging. A desire for belonging is a good thing, and part of our being made in the image of God. But the challenge for today’s teenagers is that they usually learn their identity through their places of belonging. And, clearly, this can be problematic when their places of belonging tell them lies about themselves.
You’ve been involved in youth ministry for a few decades now. Is nurturing the faith of young teens more difficult today?
In many ways, yes (though not in every way). Certainly, our pluralistic culture has mostly eliminated the “base line” of basic assumptions we used to be able to make about teenagers’ knowledge of the Bible and basic beliefs. In many ways, the biggest issue I see is the extreme isolation of teenagers in our culture today: they spend all their waking hours in homogeneous groupings, and rarely spend time with adults. That brings all sorts of challenges with it that are difficult for youth workers who want to help teenagers grow into adults with a vibrant faith.
What are some of the challenges faced by parents, youth workers, and pastors?
As a parent of teenagers myself, I am constantly encouraged by our culture to treat my teenagers as if they are little children. This has a counter-intuitive negative impact on teenagers, extending adolescence (now understood to be a 20 year life stage!), and damaging their growth, including their spiritual development.
What are some ways that parents can help their teens understand the Bible?
This isn’t rocket science. A parent who wants to help their teens understand the Bible has to first model a life of being formed by God’s Word. Then, we have to be intentional about regular and ongoing spiritual conversations. Research has shown us the importance of teenagers verbalizing what they believe. Parents can have an amazing ministry with their teens by providing safe and supportive opportunities for that verbalization.