In writing that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16a), Paul reminds us that God inspired the Bible. He also notes that the Spirit uses Scripture to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:15b). The focus of the Bible is the gospel—the good news of God’s gift of salvation in Jesus. This salvation is a gift (we can’t earn it), and we receive and continue to experience this gift as we place our trust (faith) in Christ Jesus.
Within this essential Christ-centered, gospel-focused context, all Scripture (including the Old Testament, to which Paul refers) is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (3:16b-17, NRSV).
A disciplemaking youth ministry cooperates with the Holy Spirit in this equipping by skillfully and persistently presenting the gospel through the teaching of Scripture. As young people encounter the gospel, many who are lost are found; many of the found begin to grow; and many grow to where they become equippers of others—ably using Scripture to advance the Lord’s disciplemaking good work on earth.
As youth ministry workers and parents, our challenge is clear. We must present the gospel through the teaching of Scripture in ways that engage our children, teens and college-age young adults. Thank God that we have access to many great teaching resources to assist us. If you haven’t done so recently, why not visit a good Bible bookstore to examine some of what is available? If you’re looking for resource recommendations, check out the age-graded resource page on the GCI Generations Ministries website at http://www.generationsministries.org/age-graded-resources.html.
Let me hasten to add, however, that there is no magic teaching resource or method. More than any specific resource or approach, we who are teachers (including parents) need a profound and continuing personal encounter with the Word of God. Effective teachers prayerfully spend time getting to know God in the Scriptures, and then share how his Word has impacted their own lives. This is essential because our goal is to see Scripture transform lives, not merely inform minds.
We, as teachers, must personally study the Bible and allow it to transform our lives. Filled with God’s Word, we then seek to teach effectively the gospel-centered message of Scripture to our students.
Let me share an approach that I have found to be useful in teaching youths of all ages (adults too!). It’s a way to structure your lessons with your students in mind. This approach is summarized in the acronym HBLT, which stands for hook, book, look, took.
With any audience (youths in particular), you have only a short time to connect. The purpose of the hook is to grab attention. In designing your hook, ask yourself, how will this lesson be relevant to my students? How can I help them become excited about this lesson?
Start by connecting with the real interests and needs of your students. What’s on their minds? What are they struggling with? What are their joys? Their sorrows? Their frustrations? Connect using a hook—often in the form of a story, perhaps a piece of music or a testimony from one of the students or from your own life.
The focus of our teaching must be Scripture. Our goal is to get youths into the Word so that the Word might get into them. But a note of caution—the Bible is diverse; it covers a lot of territory and spans thousands of years. All Scripture has tremendous teaching value—but remember the purpose for all Scripture—it is given to us to lead us to Christ. Jesus himself told some experts in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament): “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).
Scripture is a tool of the Spirit to bring us to Jesus. To study Scripture apart from this purpose is to miss its message. So get your students into Scripture, and get them connected with Jesus’ life and his gospel. To do so is to have what might be called a Christ-centered, gospel-focused approach to teaching. That’s what we want because that’s what our students need.
As you discuss a particular passage or story from Scripture, make it interesting. Make it an experience—not merely a presentation. Remember how students learn at various age levels and teach in ways that will involve and excite them at that age. Drama is a wonderful tool. Rather than merely reading a passage of Scripture, lead your students in enacting the scene.
Don’t be afraid to help your students memorize passages of Scripture. Young minds are like sponges, and helping them soak up Scripture will help plant gospel truth into their impressionable minds.
The purpose of the look step is to provide a bridge from Scripture into the lives of the students. It’s vital for students to understand how the wisdom and power of Scripture applies to the real issues they face day to day. By constructing this bridge, you’ll help students understand that Christ is the living Savior who cares about them personally and that his way is relevant to their daily lives.
A helpful approach is to share your personal stories (and those of others) to illustrate how the gospel has changed your life. It’s also helpful to engage them in a group discussion of how the passage of Scripture being discussed relates to contemporary life.
In the final step, the teacher moves from illustration to application. An encounter with the Word of God is not complete without an appropriate response. The teacher invites a response by presenting example applications of what is being addressed in the passage being discussed. Multiple examples are best, because it is rare for one application to be universally relevant. By offering multiple examples, students are encouraged to be open to the work the Spirit will do to apply the teaching to their individual lives.
To help in the application process, it’s effective to provide follow-up opportunities to implement the lesson learned. For example, a service project might be conducted through which students live out a teaching on serving others.
As youth ministry leaders and workers, let’s commit to growing in our ability to establish and maintain the ministry foundation of the communication of the Word. As we do, we’ll see our students become more and more Word-directed in their daily lives. In this way they will mature as disciplemaking followers of Jesus Christ.