Helping Young People Understand the Bible – Not Just Read It.

Getting young people to independently open the Bible and read it for themselves is half the battle, but it isn’t the whole battle!

The second half of this battle is helping young people independently examine and understand the Bible – and this is frankly where most of us wimp out!

Not training young people to exegete-read the Bible (that is seek to swim in it’s depths and find treasure) is like buying them a guitar in order to introduce them to Brit-Pop; it’s only going to go so far!

Young people need to know how to read their Bibles so that they,

  • Can develop a personal relationship with God that’s independent of their youth/church community,
  • Have more to offer in their youth/church community life,
  • Will grow in their personal holiness and faith,
  • Can keep a growing check their own sin and personal habits,
  • Will learn to recognize and discern God’s voice more clearly and notice when it’s missing,
  • Won’t fall victim to spoon feeding and won’t be dependent on fallible teachers,
  • Can pick a better Church when they are at uni etc.,
  • Can survive when not able to find good Bible teaching.
  • Will simply live life to its fullest the John 10:10 way!

We need to teach young people how to read the Bible – not just to read it.

I offer a mix of four random things to help us do this:

  1. Model it in Bible studies
  2. Get them to do it in breakout pairs/groups when in Bible studies together
  3. Help them one-to-one
  4. Get them to read a book like ‘Dig Deeper’ by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach

I will attempt to do longer posts on each of these, but here are some mini-summaries for now:

1. Model it in Bible studies.

Teach and display where and how you made points from the Bible when you make them  //  ask questions that make them look at the text itself, even if the answers are obvious  //  ask them to summarize the main points, identify characters, examine the context etc.  //  print out copies of the passage for them to go through highlighting things like verbs, nouns, speeches, connectives, etc. that might be useful in the study  //  get them to ask their own questions of the text itself and answer those together first.

2. Get them to do it in breakout pairs/groups.

Give each breakout pair/group a section of the passage to study together then summarize their findings to the whole group  //  make sure they’ve got space to write, scribble, & highlight (printed off passages are great)  //  give them specific questions to answer in their group from the passage like ‘what is the main point,’ ‘what shocked you the most,’ ‘what did you learn that you didn’t know before.’  //  allow them the option of feeding back in creative ways (pictures, drama, song) as long as it communicates the actual passage itself.

3. Help them one-to-one.

Get alongside them for 20-40mins JUST to read the Bible with them. Pick a book and go through it verse by verse, word by word  //  start each new meeting with them summarizing the passage from the last meeting  //  get them to delve into why specific words we’re chosen etc.  //  look at tools like ‘context’, ‘purpose’ and ‘order’ in the passages you choose. (N.b. I usually find 1-2 verses a week works well for most growing Christians)

4. Get them to read a book like ‘Dig Deeper’ by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach.

Buy the book for them as a gift, and make sure you’ve read it yourself!   //  They should read a chapter a week & do the examples  //  ask them questions on it & ask to see their examples  //  give them new verses to work on that need the tools explained in the book to understand

This book can also be a good group study tool, and is useful training for Bible study leaders.


Teach them to get messy! I don’t care if they need to underline every single word in a different colour, allow them to draw in their Bibles. They should do whatever helps them slow down, ask questions of the text, and highlight key sections. At the end of the day I’d rather a young person come with a tatty, Biro-blessed, dogeared Bible than a pristine one that’s obviously never been touched.  Teach them to get personal with the Bible and get messy with it. Bring out the highlighters in droves (you can always buy a new one for them!)


From Youth to Leader, by Ben Slee


Guest post by Ben Slee, London Based Worship Pastor and Song Writer.



Tim asked me if I could write a brief note on the thrills and spills of growing from a youth group member into a youth group leader, based on my own experience, mistakes, God’s grace, and some general observations.

If you’re in the same boat I’ve been in, full of steep learning curves, new responsibilities, joys and ‘huh?’ moments, I hope and pray you’ll find the following thoughts on how to make that youth-to-leader transition useful.

Shiny new responsibilities
One of the first things you’ll notice is the new responsibilities; not just the obvious ones like opening the doors and packing things away, but the things that are easy to forget. For instance praying through the week for those in the group, learning to faithfully model what’s in God’s Word to them, and trying to include everyone, not just those you’re closest to.

Now that you’re someone with some spiritual oversight over these guys, it’s so important that you invest time in the week praying into the group and your role in it, as well as your other prep.

A shift in focus
When you start leading, there should be a subtle shift in focus. You’ve gone from being there to have fun and to serve to being there to serve and have fun! Like I say, it’s subtle, but you and your group will benefit from being aware of change in dynamic.

Of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep developing your relationships with the group, but they should respect you first as a leader, then as a friend.

Lead by example in your pursuit of God
All of this stuff is academic if you miss this: Keep growing in God as your #1 priority. For me, my youth group was hugely significant for my spiritual development as a teenager, so when I stepped into leadership it was really important for me to continue getting fed with God’s word.

If you can, find someone who’s a bit older than you with some leadership experience to guide you through what to expect and how to deal with any situations that come up. But crucially, keep reading the Word, keep praying through stuff, and if (like me) you’re running sessions at the same time as Church is happening next door, make sure you get to another service that day.

Let me encourage you that it’s a very rewarding journey you’re taking. Growing up through a group means you can relate to its current members in a special way, which means you can apply God’s Word to their situations specifically. It’s hugely rewarding to see these guys and girls you’ve known for a while growing deeper in Christ and seeing Him working in their lives.

Open Theism and Youth Work

I believe that it’s really really important as Youth Workers to have some knowledge of Open Theism, or at least some of the tricky theologies associated with it.

Why? – Because as Youth Pastors, we’re probably the worst people in the world for dumbing stuff down! And when we dumb certain things down, we run the risk of saying the same things as Open Theists say and worse, we start teaching people to read their Bible’s like Open Theists do. This builds shaky foundations for our teenagers.

So what do Open Theists believe?
Norman Giesler probably put it best in the title of his book; ‘Making God In The Image Of Man.’  But here’s some more specifics:

– Love is God’s most important quality (as shown in the metaphor of a loving, responsive parent – not an all powerful king)
– God is open and flexible (He takes risks, learns, changes His mind, doesn’t know the future exhaustively, and we His people can exert influence over Him)
– God is in some way dependent on His creation (give and take relationship)
– Humans have libertarian free will (near autonomous free will – i.e. choices are completely undetermined)

How do Open Theists read the Bible?
– The beliefs above (I believe) are not derived from the text, but applied to it. For instance, they decide that ‘God is open’ then interpret passages through that lens. Put another way they read that choice into scripture. This dramatically changing verses which make God out to be all-powerful, or all-knowing.

Why is this important for youth workers?
Well the beliefs seem ‘nearly right‘ don’t they?

I mean, God certainly is love isn’t He? The Bible says so after all! Yes – but does the Bible say that love is more important to God than Grace, Mercy, Wisdom, Joy etc.?

God is revealed as a loving parent too isn’t He? Yes but He is seen as an all-powerful King & Lord far more. We shouldn’t prefer one and ignore the other – we certainly shouldn’t interpret the majority through the minority.

God is open to some degree isn’t He? Yes He hears and responds to our prayers, calls us to repent, and He forgives us – but does that mean He didn’t already know in His infinite power and might the outcomes and processes of our prayers, choices, sin etc.?

Humans are free aren’t they? Yes they are responsible for their actions and make true, active choices. Humans however, are still determined by sin, the world, other people,  time, space, motivations, personality, and most importantly by God Himself who has a plan for each of us, and a grand plan for creation.

Nearly Right
So the beliefs sound nearly right, but by getting them wrong huge holes are punched in the fabric of good theology. This in turn breaks down the foundations needed for faith-growing in developing believers.

We might be really clear in our heads and hearts what we believe, and we might have great theology too. We may think that we’ll never neglect the important clarity of the above beliefs so that we start sounding Open Theist.

Lets face it though, its easy sometimes to drop the one-liners; to just say to our teenagers ‘because God gave us free will‘  or  because God made a mistake‘   or   ‘God had a -plan B-‘  or  ‘because God is Love‘   or  ‘because you can’t understand that verse without knowing A, B, or C – but we’ll look at that another time.

There may be nothing wrong with these statements, but in isolation without exploration, and when repeated often enough without clarification they end up building foundations that simply will not do.

So what should we do?
It’s important when we’re teaching that we make every effort to keep tipping our hat to, and making room for some good foundation theology.

Foundation stuff isn’t necessarily just the Gospel, but is key information about God that is so solid it gives young people real boundaries and structure to build their relationship with God on. This will stay with them long after they’ve left our ministries. A well prepared foundation will last a thousand bad Bible studies in the future!

Here are some foundations to keep putting down.
– You gotta know Jesus! That He is God, lived sinlesly, died in your place, and rose from the dead kicking death’s ass.
– God is Big, Huge, In Charge, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, Unstoppable, and never makes mistakes.
– God is also Intimate, Close, All-Loving, Forgiving, Full of Mercy, Grace, and is really Patient.
– God has an unshakable plan for the world, and a really key place for us in His plan
– Only faith in Jesus can save us from sin and Hell. We can’t work our way there, no-one else can do it for us, and no other path gets there.
– We must repent, believe, an be baptized.

The best thing about these is not only do they fit together, but taught properly, they make us (and our teenagers) go wow! Seriously, what’s cooler? That God keeps making mistakes, listens to us fart about and changes his mind to make us feel warm and fuzzy, or that the infinite, huge, all-powerful creator of the universe who has a master plan for this world knows loves you intimately, and has made a specific role for you in His story.

Just a thought.

Further Reading
Its worth reading more on this. Not only will the following two books give you a Biblical critique of Open Theism, but will more importantly build good foundation stuff for you to teach about God, life, us, the world, and God’s plan.

– No Other God by John Frame
– God’s Lesser Glory by Bruce Ware

– & The book of Romans…. over, and over, and over again!

If you want to know who the key advocates of Open Theism in the academic and pastoral world are at the mo then you probably want to check out: Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, and John Sanders.  The last two btw, have written some other brilliant, worthwhile stuff on other topics.

Depression, Stress & Discouragement in Youth Work


It’s been some emotional roller-coaster this whole youth ministry thing. I’ve been in both the deep end, and the shallow kiddy-pool of my heart-spine.

I’ve struggled with mild discouragement, bouts of depression, and prolonged stress at different stages of my career so far. It can sometimes be very difficult to distinguish whats actually affecting me, what set of emotions are in play, and how they need to be dealt with (i.e. pain killers, peace n’ quiet, counseling, a holiday, a good knock to the head, a grin-n-bear it week etc.)

In Doug Fields book Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry he dedicates a whole chapter to dealing with discouragement. On p.47, Steve Geralli gives a helpful reminder in a little aside box saying,

“Be aware that depression can mask itself as discouragement. Some signs of depression include irritability, sadness, exhaustion, low self-image, destructive self-criticism, shame, guilt, and loss of pleasure and fulfillment. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms for more than a couple of months, consult a professional therapist.”

Steve’s comments are really useful. Depression can easily be mistaken for discouragement, and sometimes vice versa too. In fact in my last year of my previous job I was diagnosed me with stress, but until I saw my GP I was treating it as simply discouragement – these things can easily get muddled together.

So just some preliminary thoughts:

– Don’t be surprised by depression, discouragement, or stress. Youth Ministry is about 80% less about fun n’ games than we thought it was!

– Don’t worry at other people’s surprise. Youth Ministry is 100% less about fun n’ games than they think it is!

– Keep a positive check on your ministry / life / spirituality balance.

– Don’t be afraid to talk to a GP for clarity’s sake. Especially when experiencing things like fatigue, lack of motivation/enthusiasm, difficult sleep patterns, sudden weight loss/gain, increased irritability etc.

– Try to keep in context the cross we carry, the sacrificial life of a minister, and what it means to share Christ’s sufferings.

– Memorize some fighter verses.

– Read daft books & watch daft films (harry potter & the simpsons have gotten me through a lot).

– Take your holidays. Spend fun time planning them (book early).

– Take your days off & sometimes take them away from your work areas/towns/city/planet.

– Laugh for no reason.

– Wake up at 1am just to go and buy cake from the supermarket.

– Keep letters that have encouraged you in a journal. Delete the stupid emails.

– Don’t be afraid to call some emails and conversations you’ve had stupid.

– Make to do lists an hour before you sleep. Include conversations you need to have, emails you’ve got to send, people you need to beat up (kidding). Just get it outa your head!

– Tidy a room or two. Wash some dishes. Take a shower.



Depression, Stress & Discouragement in Youth Work