Last week, I had a meeting with a group of Boy Scouts who are preparing to receive their religious emblems at Easter. It was my job to teach them a lesson on how to pray. I brought them to our Eucharistic chapel, taught a lesson on prayer and then I gave them some time to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I sat back and observed as the ten middle school aged boys prayed, meditated and sat down and opened the Scriptures on their own. It was amazing to watch a group of 11 year-old boys engage Scripture and prayer as a means of listening to God.
Just an hour earlier, these same boys were participating in our Edge middle school program. I watched as a group of middle school boys were doing a 60-second skit that re-enacted the story of the Good Samaritan. They decided to put their own spin on it and somehow interpreted vomiting, monkeys and cannibalism into the story of the Good Samaritan. They must have been reading a different translation of the Bible than I had.
Why do I tell this story? Sometimes, when ministering to middle school youth, we get caught up in their immaturity and fail to grasp their religious potential. What we see is an 11 year-old boy that constantly goofs around and never takes the faith seriously (somehow, all of our skits at Edge always end in a story of cannibalism). However, middle school youth have great faith formation potential. They are still relatively innocent and full of grace. They absorb more than they let on. They are still very curious and willing to try new things.
Why focus on Scripture with Middle School youth? It is God’s revelation to us. Scripture tells the narratio – the story of Salvation History. Ignorance of this story is basically ignorance of the entirety of Christian belief. Even more, Scripture is the language of the Church. The Word of God provides a language with which we may speak to God. Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the ancient monastic practice of Lectio Divina, the early Church fathers, all speak a language to God using Scripture. To not emphasize Scripture in middle school youth ministry would be to not teach young people to speak to God.
How do you teach Middle School youth to love Scripture? A few practical tips:
Integrate Scripture into YOUR Daily Life.
We cannot teach middle school youth to read, pray and love Scripture unless we read, pray and love Scripture ourselves. You cannot bring someone to a place where you have never gone. If you are a youth minister, Core member or parent that has the responsibility to catechize youth, then you have a responsibility to know and pray the Scriptures. If the Bible intimidates you, it’s time to face your fears and start reading. Take a Bible Study to learn more about the Scriptures. Practice Lectio Divina and Liturgy of the Hours in your prayer life. Audit a Distance Education Scripture course from the Augustine Institute. The possibilities are endless.
Integrate Scripture into your Edge Ministry.
I have a rule in my Edge program that anyone that gives a teaching must quote Scripture at least twice and have the youth open their Bibles and follow along at least once. I am a big believer that the only way to learn how to read Scripture is to open up a Bible and dive in. You can also use Scripture in small group discussions by having mini-Bible studies at each Edge Night. Also, consider doing an entire semester or year on the Scriptures. It is important to develop a foundation of salvation history in the youth from a young age.
Have Bibles for every participant in the Edge.
One of the first things that I did when became a youth minister was approach the Knights of Columbus and ask them to donate 150 Bibles to our youth program. This way, every young person that walks in the door will have a Bible to use. At any given Edge Night, we never have more than 75 middle school youth. I have twice as many Bibles as I need so that I can give Bibles away to youth that do not own their own personal Bible.
Make the youth learn to navigate a Bible.
When I start a teaching, I will ask the youth to open their Bibles to the story using the book, chapter and verse (i.e. John 3:16). We have a rule that no one is allowed to shout out the page number. By forcing the middle school youth to find the book of the Bible on their own, they become comfortable navigating a Bible on their own.
Do a Bible Study for Middle School Youth.
Middle school youth are not too young to do Bible studies. Some mature middle school youth – that have supportive parents who will drop them off- will participate in a Bible Study. The T-3 timeline is a resource that is adaptable for this age group.
Incorporating Scripture into your Edge program can only strengthen your ministry and prepare your middle school youth for a life of growing to know and love the Bible.