Their nimble thumbs blaze across miniature keyboards with the ferocity of a jungle cat.
The light in their eyes reflects the illuminated screen before them.
They have no time for face-to-face conversations—not when there are virtual conversations offered through the family’s unlimited text-message plan.
Brothers and sisters, I give you the modern teenager.
So, just how do you break through the technological barriers of this tech-savvy teen subculture? What role (if any) does sacred Scripture play in the life of Catholic adolescents?
Do modern teens actually want to pick up a Bible and read or have conversations with mouths instead of thumbs?
Actually, Teens Want Scripture, Really Bad.
Many adults today tell me that the “average teenager” couldn’t care less about the Bible. Extensive firsthand experience, however, demands that I humbly reply, in text-happy vernacular, “lol”.
I led my first teen Bible study almost twenty years ago and, while teen culture has dramatically changed, their desires have not.
Teens want truth, and the Catholic Church has it. Sacred Scripture powerfully shatters the fetters of this screen-based culture with life-altering immediacy. The key to helping teenagers engage the Bible with reverence is in the approach, one that unearths its timeless relevance in a timely way.
The Catholic youth ministry landscape continues to change. For a long time, there was an obvious void in high-quality, teen-friendly Catholic Bible study materials. Most Catholic catechists were forced to seek Protestant materials and then attempt to “Catholicize” the lesson plans. Sort of a “remove David, insert Mary” or “downplay Paul and focus on Peter” type of strategy.
Forced to do this myself early on, I’m embarrassed to admit how poorly it worked.
The rise of quality parish-based youth ministry and solidly Catholic youth events, however, have created a new hunger for effective and engaging Catholic resources. There are increasing opportunities for Catholic youth to dive into the Word of God (Jesus) through his word (the Bible) like never before.
Reliving the Texties
Here are just a few of the inspiring trends I’ve witnessed over the past few years:
The sacred art of reading and praying the Scriptures is timeless, to be sure. What I’ve been astounded by, however, is how practical and engaging it is for the modern teenager. I teach lectio divina to Catholic teens and adults every chance I get.
I can honestly say the teen response often leaves me speechless.
Their insights are profound.
Their spiritual depth is staggering.
They have authentic approaches to difficult truths that are admirable.
Teens are capable of more than many give them credit for; they just have to be led into the Word properly. The parent or catechist must demonstrate that the biblical truths they teach are practically applied, first in their own daily life.
There’s a reason that this form of prayer is centuries old … and that it is gaining steam with the young Church.
DVD Bible Study Series
For a screen-happy generation, the convergence of Scripture and technology is a visually stimulating new approach to ancient truths.
I cannot begin to describe how humbling and inspiring it is to receive emails and Facebook posts telling me that my T3 ( The Teen Timeline) and Encounter series are being used in so many youth rooms, classrooms, and family rooms around the globe. The interactive DVD study and supporting student/leader materials systematically walk teens through the Bible with humor and depth. They also inspire teens to stand within their culture and circles of friends and live as a dynamic young Catholic seeking sainthood.
Young souls are rising to the challenge!
Liturgy of the Hours
A few years back, our staff at Life Teen prayerfully decided to teach teens at our summer camps and conferences how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and to include it in our daily schedule of activities.
The response has been overwhelming.
Teens of all ages — even middle-school youth — get up early at camp to join together in the universal prayer of the Church. Nightly, hundreds gather again to pray the Scriptures. Many of us initially feared that teens might not engage. We’ve since found that, for this generation—so hungry for community and so in love with music—the Liturgy of the Hours (in particular the Psalms) is an intriguing and attractive entry point for prayer.
Lectionary-Based Bible Study
As we all know, the Church in her wisdom gives us the three-year Lectionary cycle. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of free podcasts to help people of all ages better prepare for the upcoming Sunday Mass. Many families I know have begun praying the upcoming Mass readings together in the preceding days with the help of such podcasts and other quality books and vlogs like Encountering the Word.
The fruit is tremendous.
Not only are families spending more social and prayer time together throughout the week, but the Liturgy of the Word at Mass is coming to life for them like never before.
The Original Text Message
I share these few examples not to sell resources but to offer hope to any parents or other adults beginning to lose it. It’s important for parents to know what’s out there and what is working.
Teens do care about Scripture, even if they don’t know it yet.
Spend some time online or at your local Catholic bookstore to see what’s available. Ask your parish youth minister or diocesan office what might be available in your area, but please don’t ever write off the modern teenager as “uninterested.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
If a teen isn’t in love with the Bible, it’s only because he or she hasn’t had the right experience of it yet.
Give your modern teenagers the sacred Scriptures. They are God’s original text message.
This article was first published May 14, 2014 on The Great Adventure Blog.
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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.