You’ve announced it after Mass. You’ve advertised it in the bulletin. You’ve shouted it over a dull roar emanating from the floor at the end of a Life Night. “Don’t forget…Bible Study this week. Bring a friend.” The Bibles are put out. Maybe some candles are lit. The lights are on, but unlike Baby Jesus’ problem…there’s plenty of room at the inn or, in this case, your meeting space. (Cue: chirping crickets sound.)
A handful of teens trickle in. The same teens that show up for everything else you offer beyond Mass and the Life Night. No matter what you do, you just can’t get “over the hump”. What’s the problem here?
- Teens say they want a parish Bible Study but then they don’t show up, regularly.
- You give your time to plan it and execute it, but end up feeling…well, (almost) executed.
- What now? Do you keep offering it? After all, one soul is better than none, right?
If you’ve ever faced this dilemma, you know well the challenges not only with getting teens excited about Scripture, but with gathering them to read Scripture, at all. Let’s look at 5 biggest mistakes that most commonly occur at parishes or among Bible Study leaders – and some suggestions to rectify them:
- You go too long.
Many times, Bible study leaders arbitrarily select a meeting time and running time. “Ninety minutes sounds good.” God is timeless…the teens are not. If you meet for an hour, be sure a good portion of that is for fellowship and group prayer (introductory or petitionary). If teens aren’t used to reading and praying Scripture at all, what makes anyone think they’ll jump right into a 60 or 90 minute format? Just like working out, stretch first and take it slow. Build up to a longer meeting time by, first, leaving the teens wanting more.
- You give no context to the Bible verses.
Put simply, content without context is pretext. This is where the many leaders go wrong: they haven’t done their own homework. Offering a thematic Bible Study doesn’t mean opening a concordance, finding all the verses that have the thematic keyword and then sharing them aloud. A leader is better off utilizing two or three verses, put in their proper context, than five or ten with no background.
If you use a verse from the Prophet Jeremiah, you better know a little about the brother if you want his message to be heard by the modern teen. If you want to quote Deuteronomy go for it, but first set the backdrop for Moses’ “second law”. And for the love of Him, when we dig into a Gospel account, let’s be sure we’re taking the time to till the soil of the teenage hearts, before we cast the seed (proclaim the word). Before you give the lines, set the scene. Describe the crowd, the tone, the situation and the “mount” before you deliver the Sermon (Mt 5).
- You ask the group the wrong questions.
Life-giving discussions are easily sidetracked by a lack of guidance. The role of the leader is not to offer every answer, but to facilitate fruitful conversation. That being said, open-ended questions are the easiest way to cause side conversations and digression.
Passive questions like “what do you think” will bring passive answers (cue the crickets again). Questions posed to the group should be discerned ahead of time or prayerfully during the course of the discussion. Leaders need to listen not only to what the teens are asking aloud, but also asking through their discomfort or disinterest (shown through body language).
In addition, begin with questions that allow the teens to find a commonality with the characters within the passage. It might be difficult for some teens to relate to David’s courage in battling an intimidating foe, for instance, but almost all of them can relate to David giving in to lust with Bathsheba. What would be a modern equivalent to David’s wandering eyes during Bathsheba’s swim? Can anyone say, “Internet”?
- You read a long passage out loud.
If it’s a long passage, be sure the person proclaiming it has practiced it. In fact, if it’s a really long passage (i.e. The Fall in Genesis 3, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Bread of Life discourse, St. Paul’s discourse on love), you’re better off having them read it on their own, silently, first. Next, address the group by paraphrasing it and then focusing in on a few lines at a time, whatever “jumped out” at them, individually. Then, after everyone has solid footing on this rock you’re gonna climb, spend time (exegetically) on the points you wish to convey, guiding the discussion in bite-size pieces. The Neverending Story was an ‘80’s movie, it’s not a suggestion.
- You don’t know where you are going.
This might sound obvious, intuitive or even trite, but it needs to be said. What is your goal? What’s the difference between a Bible discussion and Bible Study? What level of study are your teens desiring? What are they needing? Are these two realities consistent? Teens might “want apologetics” but is that what your ministry needs right now?
Develop their hearts first, their heads second. As their leader, you know what they need most. Outline your goal for yourself and for those on your Core Team. Your goal, starting out, might simply be to help your teens overcome intimidation when opening the Bible or to gain confidence when reading a specific Gospel. Maybe your goal is to get your young people to begin reading Scripture daily.
Whatever it is, define your goal, write it out for all in leadership to see (Hab. 2:2) and put together a plan that powered by the Holy Spirit you will achieve.
Thank you, in advance, for all you do to open God’s living Word to and with our young people. It’s hard work, but the gift you are giving them will remain with them long after they’re sitting on the floor of your parish center.
You can do this.There are a thousand ways to improve, so take them one at a time. The best way to avoid unnecessary Bible Study suffering is to share your own sufferings, antidotes, failures and successes. Help point out the potholes on the path to Heaven! Send us an email with your experiences and input: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Slaughter, Youth Minister at St. Vincent dePaul in Rogers, Arkansas wrote:
Amy Dorscheid, Youth Minister at St. Andrew Church and Church of the Annunciation in Rochester, New York, wrote: