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Whiteboard Wednesday: How to Get Teenagers Excited About Reading the Bible

There was a time when Bible-reading seemed, well, normal… No more.

As a first-year college student, I quickly learned that all of the Christian upperclassmen I looked up to owned Bibles that looked like they’d been through a crop thresher. They were marked-up, flagged, underlined, highlighted, dog-eared, and encased in leather-like covers imprinted by swords and flowers and crosses. Today, the only teenagers who carry their Bible with them in their backpack are, likely 1) a little strange, or 2) camouflaging it to look like a “regular” book. Bible-reading is a private thing, at best. Even more, a recently released Barna survey reveals that most kids brand the Bible as a boring, confusing, finger-pointing source of guilt.

The age of dog-eared pages has given way to the age of stuck-together pages, still crisp from the printing press long after the Bible was gifted to them. It’s a slow death from disinterest, in an era when Harry Potter promises more transcendent truths than the Headwaters of all Truth.

It’s ironic, then, that when the teenagers in my small group rave about their favorite teachers at school, I hear them talking about their elevated expectations. I mean, the teachers who earn their awe think nothing of asking them to dig deep, think creatively, and exercise a nimble mind. They don’t just read hard books, they learn to think critically about them in a vigorous conversational environment. They don’t just parrot back their subject’s themes, they make short films about them. 

And the Bible is too hard to understand and too boring to read? That’s not on the Bible—that’s on us… 

Today we unveil a new weekly feature—Whiteboard Wednesday. Here, with help from my partner-in-crime Becky Hodges, I’ll target surprising solutions to common challenges in youth ministry—born out of my weekly experiments in engaging my own group  of teenagers in a grand pursuit of Jesus and his Word. This week, we explore ways to overcome the common hurdles we face in creating a rich Bible-reading environment for teenagers. You can do this…


  1. Frame it as the story of God, not a book of recipes. The great 20th-century philosopher Marshall McLuhan proclaimed: “The medium is the message.” He means, the way a message is delivered has at least as much power as the message itself.  And because, long ago, the original text of the Bible was broken up into chapters and verses, kids experience it (naturally) as a reference book more than a gripping narrative. So, when we teach or study or quote the Bible, we train ourselves to think like a storyteller, not Julia Child (or Bobby Flay). We pay acute attention to context and setting and tone, because that’s what storytellers do. And God is an unsurpassed storyteller, writing narratives that transform us from the inside out. [This conviction is exactly why we’ve partnered with Biblica to bring you the New Testament re-structured to read like a story, without all the recipe-like chapters and verses. It also includes real margin notes from real teenagers, along with student-produced illustrations that flesh out its meaning. This Bible is a GREAT way to get your students into the New Testament in a whole new way. It’s called Pierced, check it out.]
  2. Invite fearless conversation. Every day the best teachers are asking your teenagers to critically pick apart arguments, sub-texts, theories, and historical narratives using all the horsepower their brains have to offer. It’s ironic, the kids in my group tell me, that until they stumbled into our crazy little home-based youth ministry outpost (called “Pursuing the Heart of Jesus, Not His Recipes”) that they rarely experienced the church expecting the same high standards of them. It’s a letdown. Creating an atmosphere of highly charged engagement isn’t rocket science—it’s possible, when we exercise a few simple-to-learn skills. One-way conversations about how to live their faith and what they “should” do to grow in their faith give way to pursuits and adventures and experiments. Vigorous dialogue communicates respect, and opens up safe places for teenagers to share their doubts and questions. They take responsibility for their own faith development, and feel much more comfortable cracking open the Bible.>>Looking for a curriculum that is Bible saturated, invites teenagers to go deeper and emphasizes their participation? Check out LIVE.
  3. The irresistible Jesus. Jesus is like a black hole in space—his “mass” is so heavy that he draws every object into his orbit that happens to cross his “event horizon.” I mean, the goal of Bible-reading in youth ministry is to reveal the centrality of Jesus through the whole of the narrative, so that kids draw more and more near to his gravitational pull. The Trinity has decided on this as their strategy—the Father tells us to “pay attention” to his Son, and the Spirit’s job description is to help us understand the Son’s heart. The Old Testament points to Jesus, the Gospels describe him, and the epistles show us what life looks like when we’re guided by him. The whole of the Bible is important—and you can help them see the revealed Jesus from the Old Testament God through the New Testament with a little help. This is why we created the Jesus-Centered Bible—with close to 700 references in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus (called out in blue text and caption boxes), it’s easy for teenagers to make connections they’ve never seen before. For more on this, check out Season 2, Episode 9 of our Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus podcast, with special guest Tim Levert.

Podcast: Reconciling Old Testament God vs. New Testament Jesus

Resources from this video episode:

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Whiteboard Wednesday: How to Get Teen...

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