I was a Youth Pastor in a former life, but let’s be honest, do you ever really stop being a youth pastor?
I trained myself to chug a gallon of milk, even slurp down a Big Mac combo smoothie without flinching, let alone spewing my guts out. Youth pastors are like an elite group of agents, whose training and skill prepare us for no other mission field than connecting with teens.
These days, I find myself between ministry and marketplace as the Chief Creative Officer of The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance, a game that, like Narnia did for my generation, seeks to connect young people with the story of God in a unique and approachable way. I still haven’t had the opportunity in any of our partnership meetings or strategy sessions to chug a Big Mac smoothie, but I’m always on the lookout!
Let’s talk about the Bible that parents read, and I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s the same one students read. However, my prayer, and probably yours too, is that students don’t read it the way those before them have.
Why do students feel like their parents Bible is boring? And, why do teens often feel like there’s a disconnect between the story of the Bible and their own lives?
Here’s what I struggled with when I was a kid…
1) My Parents’ Bible Wasn’t Exciting
Here’s the thing. Everything we see on TV, everything we read in the weighty tomes of Game of Thrones – it’s ridiculously paced, it’s racy (in more ways than one.) It engages a primal desire for adventure. When I was a kid, I didn’t sense that in the flannel graphs of my Sunday school or the stories of blonde haired, blue eyed Swiss Jesus. The story was moderated for me. Reformatted to fit my screen. In the moderation and the reformatting, the Bible lost something – it lost its grasp on my attention and its grasp on my heart.
The Bible is more compelling than Harry Potter, than Game of Thrones. Youth Workers: if we want to help teenagers read the Bible for themselves (and not read it in their parent voices), we need to tell the story of the Bible better.
2) My Parents’ Bible Confused Me
I didn’t understand my parents’ Bible. It was full of big words that no one ever really explained to me. Similarly, we don’t often talk about what the Bible is. We throw big words around like inerrant, and ‘living’ – but what does that even mean? We talk about the Bible as true, but we often forget it is historic. There is never any mention of genre. There is never a mention of the power of a narrative.
For me, my parents’ Bible was never shared with me as a historic and literary masterpiece, a grand narrative spanning generations while immersing me through intimate letter, poetry, laments and stories.
Our job is to tell the story in a logical way, and in a way that connects with where teens are right now, in the way they think, in the way their see the world. Not tell the story in the way their parents (or even you) understand the Bible. Had someone done that for me when I was a kid, it may have made more sense.
3) My Parents’ Bible was Full of Rules.
I was taught that the Bible was full of “Do Not’s”. This isn’t about the old adage of rules vs relationship. This is about the Bible as a grand story of redemptive power and love. When teens grasp that, they’ll understand the context for the stuff about the rules. They’ll learn that to know the story is to also know that those rules were simplified and personified in the personhood of Jesus.
To know the story is to know why we cannot cheapen grace. Or sanctification.
The Bible often lays dusty in our hands and in the hands of our kids (and parents), but it shouldn’t. My prayer is that it will come alive – come alive in our hands and in the next generation we serve.
That’s where you and I come in. We work, strive, sweat, flex our creativity, do whatever we can to help teens understand the Bible as their Bible, not their parent’s dusty old book. We teach so that truth comes alive, so that facts and rules have context and so that teens grasp the power of the resurrection in their own lives.
So, as we sit with young people, slurping down slushies (or Big Mac smoothies) remind them today of the power of the story of God. The Bible. Captivate their biblical imaginations and let them in on the secret: it’s not necessarily the book they thought it was.