Having a mom with a graduate degree in literature certainly has its perks.
She introduced me to Jane Austen via the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries. I was reading C.S. Lewis’ adult-level fiction at age eleven. When I would ask what book I should read next, she would point me to the shelf full of Brontë and Dickens. She challenged me to read at a much higher level, and much sooner, than I surely would have done otherwise.
That experience had a profound impact on the way I read, write, and interact with literature. But what impacted me even more as a child and teen was the way I was challenged in my Bible reading. It looked different at different stages, but both my parents challenged me and my brothers to go against the flow, to work hard, and to engage with the Word at a deeper level—even when we didn’t want to.
Teenagers need to be challenged. We need to be held to a higher standard and given higher expectations than our culture often provides for us. This is especially true in our spiritual lives. We need to be challenged to love the Word, to spend time in it, and to dig deep and discover the truths it contains. Here are three practical ways you can do that for your teens.
1. Give Them Questions to Answer
At one point, my mom gave me and each of my brothers a notebook and told us to separate it into three sections. Each section was headed by one question:
- What do I learn about God?
- What do I learn about myself?
- What should I do?
After we read a chapter of the Bible, we would write down the answers to each of those questions in the correct section.
Asking questions forces you to think about what you’re reading. Questions slow you down and draw you into the passage. They also provide a level of accountability—you can’t just skim through a chapter and say you read it.
What I most appreciate about this approach, though, is that it puts first things first. As a kid, I often skipped to that last question: “What should I do?” But the Bible is not primarily about us. It’s about the God who gave it to us. When you start by asking, “What do I learn about God?” you put the focus of your Bible reading in the proper place.
2. Give Them a Plan
One reason we often fail to read our Bibles is that we don’t know where to start. Do I start at the beginning? What about when I hit Leviticus? Maybe I’ll just stick to Psalms for now . . .
Without a plan to follow, it’s easy to just hop around to our favorite passages, or never leave one book. After all, Psalms and the gospels are easier reads than 2 Chronicles!
Bible reading plans can help avoid both of these difficulties. Many plans will take you through the entire Bible by having you read from different books at the same time—thus showing how the disparate sections of the Bible fit together to form the overarching narrative of redemption. Bible reading plans can help you get a “big-picture” view of the biblical story.
There are many good Bible reading plans out there, and different plans are better for different readers. Help your teens find the one that’s right for them, and avoid making it an opportunity for legalism—it can be easy for us as teens to view daily readings as just one more thing to check off the list, an indicator of how much God really loves you. Of course, discipline is an essential part of our Christian life, but it should be motivated out of love for God rather than guilt or shame.
Encourage your teens through a sense of excitement and love for the Word rather than through guilt. You might even consider joining them so you can share the journey!
3. Give Them Responsibility
My mom used to make me teach her the math concepts I was learning.
Looking back, I’m not sure which one of us was learning more at that point. But for all that my mom and I share a deep dislike for math in general, I know I grasped the concepts better when I had to explain them to someone else.
Some wise person once pointed out that when you can teach something to someone else, you know you’ve really learned it. Likewise, giving your teens the opportunity to teach or to share what they’re learning can be a good challenge and motivator for their own Bible reading and study.
Whether it’s assigning them to lead family devotions, teaching children’s Sunday School at your church, or helping with a VBS or summer camp for younger kids, challenge your teens to build up others in the Word.
Obviously, the level of responsibility will vary with your teen’s maturity level. A lot of wisdom (and perhaps the input of your church leaders) should be involved, especially if they’re going to be teaching younger kids. Nevertheless, teenagers thrive when we’re challenged and given responsibility. It might be as simple as asking them to share something with your family, but give them the opportunity to learn the Word better by teaching and serving others.
Lead with Love
All of these are ways my parents helped lead me and my brothers in our interaction with the Bible growing up. However, few things will challenge your teens more than your own love for the Word. Ask them what they’re learning in their Bible reading and share what the Lord is teaching you as well. Maybe even join them in their own reading and study. Show them how God’s Word is an essential part of your own life.
Lastly, don’t be discouraged if your teens don’t want to follow, if they have no desire to rise to the challenge. There have been many seasons throughout my teen years when the only thing that kept me in the Word was habit instilled by the rules of our house over the years. But even the Scripture I encountered begrudgingly, against my will, worked in my life. God can use his Word in any heart, even those that are apathetic or resistant. Don’t give up. Keep praying, and keep challenging your teen with the Word of God. God can use that Word in ways you can’t imagine.