Engaging Bible Study with Teenagers
Rev. Joe Sinclair, our partner in ministry for youth and social media ministry
In my early days of ministry, I was attending a conference on how to lead youth in Bible study, and the conference leader, Phil Stone, made a presentation that changed my approach to small group Bible study for teenagers. I knew that teenagers learn best by what they discover for themselves, but what changed for me that day was the definition of the teacher:
Learning is discovery. Teaching is facilitating discovery. A teacher’s task is to set up experiences so the learner can discover for himself or herself the Bible truths that are life changing.
I was challenged to think of the teacher as a "coach" whose task is "to set up experiences so the learner can discover the life changing truths for themselves.” There are several books about how students learn, theories of teaching teenagers and creative Bible study methods on the bookshelves in my office that have helped me discover more about that simple philosophy. When you understand how most of us truly learn, we learn and remember best from experience. I love to read. I love to listen to sermons and lectures. But what impacts my life, what I remember the best, are the experiences where I discovered something for myself. Whether it be a chemistry experiment, music, a drama, or a Bible study, I learn and retain the most when I am actively involved! And I am much more likely to believe something that I have discovered for myself than something that someone else tells me! When I discover something for myself, there’s a greater chance the experience will have an impact on my life.
Engaging students in Bible study can be as simple as having students pair up and discuss a passage or idea from the Bible study. I like to group three to five students together in a small group and assign them a portion of the Bible study to work on. I could stand a lecture, which I do sometimes, but have found there is energy in the room that comes from guiding students to dig in themselves.
If you use a guided curriculum, and I suggest you do, take ideas from the curriculum and consider how to set up experiences for students to discover the truths for themselves. Some passages are good for discussion, others are designed for digging in. Here is a process I learned and have used many times to engage learners.
The Engagement Process – Five step process
- Read a portion of scripture from the Bible. I like to see students opening up their Bibles! Have them read aloud the passage of Scripture and maybe from more than one translation. Sometimes I like to play the portion from a mobile device while they listen and follow along in their copy (especially when there are several difficult names or words to pronounce.)
- Research the passage using a commentary, Bible dictionary or handbook, concordance, study Bible or other resource. Having them do a word study can be a great experience. Exposing them to a variety of Bible study tools can equip them for a lifetime of Bible study. I also like to take advantage of tools they can find on the internet. Helping them find reliable resources on the internet is important! Almost everyone teenager today has a smartphone in their hand. We should teach them how to use it for Bible study! Discovering the answers to a few questions you have provided keeps them focused on the learning goals of the session, but it also equips them for digging in when they are doing Bible study on their own. Take ideas from your teacher’s guide and a few of your own. Remember the saying, you can give them a fish or you can give them a fishing pole and teach them how to fish for themselves!
- Create. Here is where the fun part, or creative part of Bible study guides students to share their discoveries and begin the process of applying what they have learned. You can give specific instructions as to what you want them to create: a drama, poster, cartoon, news report, poem, song, game, puzzle, debate, or other creative idea. You can allow them the option of picking an idea of their own. The goal is to get them actively involved in working out a way to demonstrate what they have discovered using a variety of methods to express themselves. You will be amazed how creative they can become when you give them a suggestion!
- Practice and Present what they have learned in a 1-3-minute presentation. This gets students talking about the Bible. Allow them time to dig in and to be creative – usually I give 15-20 minutes, depending on the length and difficulty of the passage. Listen and encourage the students as they share their presentations. Make comments at the end to help connect their presentations to the main truths you are focusing on for the day. As the leader ties together the student presentations, add to what they have presented and guide students to see how they connect with real life. Sometimes you will need to provide additional insight, clarify something they have shared, or maybe even make a correction.
Sometimes, I may need to say something like, “I appreciate what you guys have discovered in the few minutes I gave you this morning. I had the whole week to study this passage, and here is something else I discovered, and add to the study”
. Or “I had the whole week to study this passage and I see how you came to that conclusion, but I want us to consider another possibility this morning.”
It’s an incredible experience to see students who will dig in and enjoy discovering the truths for themselves and then be able to affirm them as you share what you learned as you prepared to lead them.
Resources you may want to consider:
The thoughts above are from Rev. Joe Sinclair, our partner in ministry for youth and social media ministry. Joe is an associate pastor in Garner, North Carolina. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at 919-417-6140 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Teaching for Change, Eight Keys for Transformational Bible Study with Teens, Ken Coley, 2016, Randall House Publications
- The 7 Best Practices for Teaching Teenagers the Bible, Andy Blanks, youthministry360, 2012
- Teach, The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Teaching Students the Bible, Allen Jackson, Clarity Publishers, 2008
- The Youth Workers Guide to Creative Bible Study, Karen Dockrey, Broadman & Holman, 1999.
- Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, Rick Warren, Zondervan, 2006
- Bible Study, A Students Guide, Jon Neilson, P&R Publishing, 2013