So the resources are ordered, the parish hall is booked and parents have begun dropping teenagers off at the parish for your teen Bible study. Teenage souls are assembled and Bibles are sitting on a cart in the corner … now what?!? What can you do when the video is not playing to keep this ark moving forward through teenage storm waters?
1. Don’t go too long.
Many times, teen Bible study leaders arbitrarily select a meeting time and running time. “Well, I have the hall for two hours, so two hours sounds good,” we think to ourselves.
God is timeless, yes … but teens are not. If teens aren’t used to reading and praying Scripture at all, what makes anyone think they’ll jump right into a ninety-minute or two-hour teen Bible study format?
Just like working out, stretch first and take it slow. Build up to a longer meeting time for your teen Bible study by leaving teens wanting for more. I like to keep teachings to thirty minutes, leaving ample time for fellowship (prior), small groups and prayer (during) and hospitality (afterward).
2. Give context to the Bible verses you are sharing.
Put simply, content without context is pretext. This is where many leaders go wrong: they haven’t done their own homework. This is also why resources are so important—Leader’s Guides are created to make a Leader’s life easier.
The more you can set the scene, the more willing a teen will be to enter into it. If you use a verse from the Prophet Jeremiah, you better know a little about the brother if you want his message to be heard by the modern teen. If you want to quote Deuteronomy, go for it, but first set the backdrop for Moses’ “second law”.
And for the love of God, when we dig into a Gospel account, let’s be sure we’re taking the time to till the soil of the teenage hearts, before we cast the seed (proclaim the word). Before you give the lines, set the scene. Describe the crowd, the tone, the situation and the “mount” before you deliver the Sermon (Matthew 5).
3. Ask questions differently.
Life-giving discussions are easily sidetracked by a lack of guidance. The role of the leader is not to offer every answer, but to help young souls ask the right questions—and to facilitate fruitful conversation.
Open-ended questions are the easiest way to cause side conversations and digression with teenagers, so beware of them. Passive questions like “what do you think” will bring passive answers (cue the crickets again).
Questions posed to the group should be discerned ahead of time, or prayerfully during the course of the discussion. Leaders need to listen not only to what the teens are asking aloud, but also asking through their discomfort or disinterest (shown through body language).
4. Shorten your proclamations.
If it’s a long passage, be sure the person proclaiming it has practiced it. Don’t just hand a teen a Bible and ask them to read it cold—they should never feel like Daniel being tossed to the lions.
In fact, if it’s a really long passage (i.e. The Fall in Genesis 3, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Bread of Life discourse, St. Paul’s discourse on love), you’re better off having the group read it on their own, silently, first.
Next, address the group by paraphrasing it and then focusing in on a few lines at a time, whatever “jumped out” at them, individually. Then, have a teen who has practiced it—in advance—to read it in their own voice aloud for their peers.
5. Develop their hearts first, their heads second.
As their leader, you know what they need most. Outline your goal for yourself and for those on your catechist/core team. Your goal, starting out, might simply be to help your teens overcome intimidation when opening the Bible or to gain confidence when reading a specific Gospel. Maybe your goal is to get your young people to begin reading Scripture daily or to understand the fundamentals of salvation history (always the best way to start, in my opinion).
Whatever it is, make sure it’s clear, and measure your decisions and outline (for the night) around that end. Judge your “success” by the depth of their sharing rather than by the laundry list of facts they share.
A Word of Encouragement
Thank you, in advance, for all you do to open God’s living Word to and with our young people. It’s hard work, but the gift you are giving them will remain with them long after they’re sitting on the floor of your parish center.
You can do this. There are a thousand ways to improve, so take them one at a time. The Encounter and T3 studies I’ve authored through Ascension are the culmination not only of some successes but the result of countless failures I’ve enjoyed over the years. I continue to learn from them. I pray these resources will help you avoid making some of the same. God bless our (collective) efforts!
This article was first published on The Great Adventure Blog on January 16, 2014 as “Avoid These Awkward Mistakes: 5 Tips for Leading a Teen Bible Study”. It was modified on October 9, 2018.
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About Mark Hart
Mark Hart is the best-selling and award-winning author of more than a dozen books and is the author and lead presenter of T3: The Teen Timeline(a teen Bible study program), Encounter (a pre-teen Bible study program), and Altaration. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he serves as executive vice president of Life Teen International.
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