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The Famine Blog

Limiting Spring Break Burnout

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Bobby Benevides

IT’S SPRING BREAK (or, depending on your area, it just was, and you can store up the truths of this post for that quickly approaching summer break)! That means, a period of time where kids are available for activities and hangouts. A perfect opportunity for you and your leaders to reach out to young people for coffee chats, ice cream, and other interesting events. It is prime time to experience sporting events, ultimate frisbee, backyard cookouts, campfires, and much more. It’s a great time for youth pastors and leaders to build relationships and memories with students and help parents who are unable to get the time off from work (you know that’s a part of it right?)

Although this is an opportune time for events and activities, there is also a high probability of burnout during this time. As youth workers, we want to be available and we want to take advantage of open doors into the lives of our students, especially during warmer weather. We plan for basketball and barbecues. We get pumped for bonfires and Frisbee. Yet, in all the excitement, we often forget about our own health.

It is vital for you as a youth worker to be a part of your student’s life and activities. It is important for you to build these relationships and memories. However, it is also important for you to find balance and be willing to say “no.” It is hard, but is so necessary. Spring break can be busy, but you need time for you. Choose your activities wisely.

Your students aren’t just learning about Jesus from you. They are learning margin. They are learning how to create boundaries. They are learning how to maintain sanity in a busy life. So many of our kids are overwhelmed by their calendars and they need someone to show them how to live with healthy time constraints.

You will have kids ask for you to join them for movies, all-nighters, or concerts. If you can, do it. However, if you know that you are tired, don’t be afraid to say you’re tired. We all need rest and you deserve it too.

So, what should you do when you have said no? Pray for the kids and their families. Lay down. Read. Spend time with friends or family. Do something that allows you to breathe, something that rejuvenates your spirit.

Your ministry can only be healthy if you are. Limit your Spring Break burnout by creating healthy space for yourself. Your students will benefit more from a whole and healthy version of you, which means you will make it to the end.

Ready to Go?

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Kim Collins

I am a lifer in the church.  During the first twenty years of my life, if there was a church function, I was there.  As my mother fleshed out Christ for me, I grew from a church baby…to a child…then to a tween who began to intentionally flesh out Christ for others. And that continued through my teens, my twenties, my thirties and now in my forties.

I answered the call to vocational ministry at the age of 36.  What was I thinking starting another vocation at that age?  And of all things, ministering with children and youth?  I spent quite a bit of time in prayer, wondering, “Why now, Lord?  Am I too old?”  And after more time in prayer and beginning seminary, I answered the call to ordained ministry at the age of 38.  Again, “Why now, Lord? Am I too old?”  And each time I have written a paper or went through an interview with my denomination, I have often wondered if I am too old.

HOWEVER, for every time I have asked or wondered, the Lord blesses me with a wonderful moment in ministry.  Like the time a mother told me that her child asked her if I really meant it when I told him I loved him.  She replied, “Yes, Pastor Collins really loves you.”  To which the child replied, “Good!  I love her, too.”  The mom went on to tell me how much her family has been embraced and nurtured by the church.

Or the moment a high school student, after spending the year keeping a blessing jar, sent me a note at the end of the year to share a few ways in which she had spiritually grown and what she learned.  And then there’s the time a mother came to me asking me to pray with her regarding some decisions she had to make; wow, what a sacred trust!

There are so many wonderful moments in ministry that are written upon my heart.  So, I’ve learned to stop asking “why” or if I’m too old, or if I’m _______ (fill in the excuse blank). Instead, I’m learning to answer, “Here I am Lord, send me.”  Age has nothing to do with calling – ordained or laity; after all, Abram was seventy-five when God called him (Genesis 12:1-4).  And what did he do?  He went.  Abram is a wonderful example of radical obedience to God, and faithfully going where he was led.  As Christians, that is what we are called to do: GO!  Our faith is active, not stagnant.  We listen to the Lord calling us, knowing that when we go and minister in the name of Jesus, there are blessings upon blessings.  We step out in faith, trusting in the One who created us to also guide us on the path, and, realizing that sometimes the path is a new direction.  God can (and will) use anyone for ministry; we just need to be prepared to answer and go.  Where is God calling you to go today, my friend?

On Your Way to Easter Sunday, Don’t Miss Good Friday

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Becky Gilbert

Growing up, Easter was just another holiday. New clothes, new shoes, dinner at Grandma Brooks’ and fun with my cousins. Yes, we did go to church, too. The hymns ‘Up from the Grave He Arose’, ‘Majesty’ and ‘Because He Lives’ will always bring to my mind rural Pennsylvania churches that we attended when we had Easter with my Grandparents.

Fast forward several years. My calling to be in ministry with youth led me to a denomination that follows the liturgical calendar. Although I was in my twenties and had finished Seminary, I was experiencing my first season of Lent and at the end of Lent, Holy Week. Being a highly educated Seminary graduate, I thought that I knew all that it was possible to know about Jesus and his life and death.

Holy Week is an amazing time. On Palm Sunday, we echo the praises of the people who saw Jesus enter Jerusalem. Children and sometimes adults enter the sanctuary with palm branches they wave the branches and sing and you cannot help but imagine how joy-filled the people in Jerusalem must have been. On Thursday, the church family joins together for a Seder meal. I must admit, at first I did not know what to think about this idea but as the Seder meal is shared and the story of the people of God is retold, it becomes a beautiful celebration of how God has cared for his people throughout history.

Good Friday. The first Good Friday service I experienced left me awe-struck. My eyes began to tear up when I entered the sanctuary and saw everything covered in black. It was so final. It was eerily quiet. For a few minutes, I could sense the despair that Jesus’ death caused. Then the scripture was read:

 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)

Hearing those words again, in that dark, quiet, desperate place my heart gained a new understanding of just how much Jesus understands the times in our lives when we feel lonely, full of despair, sad, overwhelmed by grief, or abandoned. In that moment, Jesus knew what it was to be separated from God.

Finally, it was Sunday! Resurrection day! I can only imagine that hope that must have been in the hearts of the women as they realized that Jesus was no longer dead. New day, new life, new hope. Jesus has overcome death. He is no longer separated from God and because of his resurrection, neither are we!

Now, I do not claim that my denomination has it all figured out or that these experiences are the only ones that can help you grow. I am grateful for all I learned from the rural churches of my childhood and the suburban church of my youth these were the places I began to hear God’s call on my life. Good Friday experiences, like the ones I have been a part of, have helped me to continue to ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling…’. When we understand the darkness of Friday, the hope of Resurrection Sunday is even brighter.

 

Holy Week Justice

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Tash McGill

It’s Holy Week, my favorite time of the liturgical year. I love that the Passover has begun for my Jewish friends and life is sliding towards a few days of rest and reflection. In my part of the world (New Zealand), everything closes on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In a largely post-Christian culture, these are sacred days. Stores don’t open, restaurants stay closed. Only churches, hospitals and gas stations stay open – so you can get to church and the hospital. But the innate sacredness of Holy Week is still there, just under the surface. There’s something about this time of year that is held dear.

‘Sacred’ has a variable definition – for some, it’s sacred family time before the school term break. For many youth groups, Easter is the highlight of the event season with youth camps and special events happening all over. For others, it’s just a welcome respite from the beginning of the year.

On the first night of Passover, my friend Kate wrote that this is the annual reminder that where this is still slavery, there is no justice or freedom. This sentiment is thousands of years old but is still as true today as it ever was. Across the world this Holy Week, thousands live under slavery and fear while we will gather our youth ministries for Easter pageants and Easter egg hunts in the church yard.

On Easter Sunday, we will break bread and share wine (more likely, grape juice) and remember that Christ is risen and we hold within us a promise of justice, of peace, of freedom. We eat and drink, sharing in the world’s most hopeful meal. One that was formed from another, older sacred meal. Both carry the cry for justice, the prayer of hope.

When we participate in the 30 Hour Famine, we participate in this sacred, hopeful prayer. We willingly experience hunger because of those who experience hunger. When we share in the communion meal, we ought to come to it as hungry as we come to that first meal after Famine. Hungry not just for nourishment, but for the risen Christ to restore justice and freedom to the earth.

The Passover meal became the hopeful prayer of the Jewish people and their expression of that prayer – that God would rescue them from oppression and slavery. This Easter, I pray you and your ministries would engage again in a holy hunger for freedom for slaves and from oppression. Read again the story of Holy Week, of the Jesus who threw merchants and money traders from the temple grounds. The Christ who offered sanctuary and redemption to the thief next to him and shared a meal with his disciples. As you share a sacred meal together, may you pray for peace, freedom and justice.

Towering Cedars, Eventually

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Russ Polsgrove

My first paid youth ministry job was a church that had not had a full time youth worker for the eight years prior to my arrival. Although I was greeted warmly by most of the teenagers and families in our church, some people did not like me. At all.

There were a few teenagers who for some reason just didn’t want me to be there, and they were determined to do anything to get me to leave. My office was huge, but because of limited space in the building it doubled as a college-age Sunday School room. The computer sat on a desk in the corner opposite couches and a coffee table. It wasn’t really a bother considering I wasn’t in there during Sunday School.

Until one morning.

Being in a small town, there were multiple doors, no security system, and lots of keys dispersed among members and former members of the church. It was quite common to walk in at any hour of the day or night and see people milling about. One of the teenagers REALLY didn’t like me, and used the easy access to sneak into my office on a Saturday night. So when the teacher for the college class came in Sunday morning he saw my computer screen turned around to face the door. The screensaver was changed to a myriad of expletives to describe just what some people in the church thought of me. I was hurt, I was embarrassed, and I was angry.

At the time I was reading in the Psalms, and this one came to light.

My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the defeat of my wicked opponents.
But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
(Psalm 92:11-12)

I’ll be honest about my thought process. That teenager was my enemy, my wicked opponent. I was the godly who was going to flourish like a tree. In my head it was that simple. At the time I took great comfort in the fact that I was the better person.

I worked for that church for five years. It was the most formative ministry experience I’ve ever had, but I never had an honest conversation with the teenager who did that. In fact, I’m not 100% sure who did it. I can narrow it down to three or four, but we eventually just moved on as the self-righteousness subsided in me.

A few years after I left (about 7 years after the expletive filled screensaver) I got a Facebook message from one of the teenagers who assuredly hated me at the time. He told me he was sorry for the way he treated me when I first moved to his town, and he was thankful I was part of his church and part of his formation. Two weeks after that I randomly bumped into another one of the students that had become a college student. He echoed almost the exact same sentiment.

I started thinking about Psalm 92 again, particularly the image of a tree. A tree isn’t strong and towering the second it’s planted. It has to grow. A lawnmower would kill a sapling, but would be destroyed if it ever went up against a towering cedar. In order for trees to get strong, they have to grow.

When we think of our ministries, we often think this is what we’re doing. This is what we talk about when we reference the long view. We “plant seeds” with the hope that one day our teenagers will grow into committed followers of Jesus. But when I think about growth, I think about myself. I was the sapling that needed to understand that teenagers will be teenagers. I was the sapling that needed to grow into a person of perspective. I was the sapling that needed to trust that the work I was doing was valuable and noble and a calling. I was wasting time by being angry and self-righteous towards some teenagers who were working through their own personal spiritual growth.

I don’t think I’m a towering cedar now, but I like to think I’d handle that situation much differently today. I wouldn’t be immune to the pain, but I wouldn’t pretend to be better than they are. They’re just growing.

And so am I.

The Three Kinds of Relationships That Fill Up Our Days

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

by Matt Wilks

The ability to manage the different relationships you will face both inside and outside of the church will be a challenging juggling act for you. You will be faced both with people who long for a relationship with you and with others who will frustrate you as you try and build a relationship with them.

Many of the relationships you develop will lead to lifelong memories of people who stepped into the gap with you, or people who valued your contribution to their life. These people will make up the art of your life, a collection of images, stories and memories that define who you are. At the end of the day ministry is all about relationships and helping one another be all God has created each of us to be.

There are three groups of people who will come across the calendar notifications on your iphone on a regular basis. Take a moment to evaluate the different kinds of relationships that you have.

Draining Relationships
In ministry, the people who need extra grace will always find you. God will never give you more people who need extra care than what your ministry can handle. These people are some of the main reasons why your ministry exists, so try to never view them as a burden in your ministry.

The “draining” people in your life need to have boundaries that are clearly set for them by you. Make sure to have a set amount of time you will give to them each week and do not let them dominate your schedule.

The issue with draining people filling up your calendar is that you can end up depleting your relational tank, leaving you with nothing left to contribute to others (including yourself and those critical non-ministry relationships family and friends). Simply evaluate what percentage of your past week was spent with draining people.

Neutral Relationships
In our weekly routine of life, so much time is spent with neutral people. These types of people dominate our calendars and neither contribute or take away from our energy levels. The issue here is less about whether these relationships are life-draining or life-giving, but more about the quantity. Large expectations of time spent with neutral relationships can crowd out the space you need for live-giving relationships.

Evaluate your past week, what amount of time was spent with neutral people.

Refueling Relationships
Unfortunately in our ministry calendars, we often think of the need we have for meaningful relationships last. Our calendars are chock full of relationships where we give and give, yet very few relationships that will refuel us. These relationships are relationships that speak into who we are and give us the strength to work through the struggles that come into our weekly routine of being a youth worker.

A refueling relationship is a relationship where we leave with a smile on our face, or feeling full, and we feel ready to take on the challenges of the day. These relationships are not necessarily dependant on the quantity of time, but rather the quality of the time.

Refueling relationships are relationships we must proactively put into our calendar.

People have the ability to bring you the most joy as well as the most pain. As we deal with people, we open ourselves up to pain, rejection and frustration, but we also open ourselves up to joy, redemption, and restoration. You and I have been given the opportunity to be Jesus to a world that needs to see love and hope and a future. So monitor the mix of time you spend in these three kinds of relationships, so you are able to be your best self and give most productively.

My prayer for you
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
Exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full or let me be empty.
Let me have all things or let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to Your disposal.
And now glorious and blessed Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
Let it be ratified in Heaven.
(John Wesley)

An Open Letter to Youth Pastors and Leaders

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Aaron Wolgamott

To every Youth Pastor and Adult Leader serving in Youth Ministry…

This is more of a letter than a blog post. It’s a letter from my heart to your heart, from one who loves students and sees the immense value of youth ministry to another who loves students and sees the immense value of youth ministry. It is a letter to remind you of what really matters the most in youth ministry.

It’s students. Students matter the most. Not the programs, the big events, the games, the coolness factor of the youth room, or even how great the lessons and small group discussions are.

Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with programs, events, games, lessons and small group discussions, or even creating a cool youth room where students can feel comfortable. When done well, they can all be a valuable piece of a quality youth ministry. But ultimately, the teenagers themselves are what truly matter.

You can have a successful youth ministry without a cool youth room, crazy fun games, big events, or fancy and well-organized programs. Lesson and small groups I will say are a must at some level…but remember that even those are only successful if the students know that you care about them and really do want to help them and listen to them.

The students are by far what matters most.

Make sure you take the time to listen to your students. Listen to them as they share their dreams, ideas, struggles, and fears. Listen to them and talk with them about their doubts and questions about faith and this life. Allow them the freedom to share whatever is on their heart with you.

Find ways to be involved in their lives in little and big ways. Show up at their games and activities to cheer them on and show them support. Grab a bite to eat with them so you can build a relationship with them. Let them know you are there for them if and when they need you to be. And then when something major happens in their life that brings their world crashing down, be there for them.

Don’t just preach at them; rather, invest in their lives and disciple them. Show them what scripture teaches, but also help them apply what scripture teaches in their everyday life. Be transparent (appropriate transparency, obviously) with them about what you’re learning in your life.

Make the youth ministry about them. Let them know in tangible ways that they’re what’s most important in the ministry, and that you truly care for them. Tell them you are proud of them. Show them you care about them. Treat them with respect. Pay attention to them.

Here is why I’m writing you this letter, reminding you of this truth…

Because I’m now on the other side. I worked in youth ministry since I was a freshman in college, and was full-time since graduating college 14 years ago (18 total years in youth ministry). But I am currently on sabbatical from ministry, so I’m not the guy planning the events and seeking to invest in students’ lives.

Now I am the parent praying and desiring that you will care for and invest in my own teenagers’ lives. And while I know that as their parent I have a God-given responsibility to raise my children, I also understand that my children need more than just me to invest in their lives. Having other solid Christian adults in their lives who care about them and invest in them is crucial. I know it was for me when I was growing up. My youth pastor had the single biggest influence on my life, and I am forever thankful for him investing in my life.

Keep your eyes open, so you can see what is going on in their lives and thus be able to care for them accordingly. Train yourself to properly and effectively connect with and invest in your students. Make that the priority…because students need you to.

When I was in youth ministry, I knew all that I’m reminding you of. I knew the importance of it, and I’m not suggesting you don’t know the importance of it yourself or that you don’t seek to do any of what I’ve shared. But now that I’m on the other side, I see the importance of it from a fresh perspective. So, I’m reminding you of all this once again.

Sincerely,

A parent first, and former Youth Pastor second

Before and After

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Daniel Kiefer

Before and After experiences are a part of life. There is before and after your driver’s license, before and after college, before and after kids, before and after supper, and before and after Jesus. Life changes all the time, and change usually comes from a before and after experience. The biggest life change comes after we meet Jesus.

The cross is no different in this experience. Think about what the cross symbolized before Jesus.  It was the means of capital punishment for the Romans. Those who were crucified carried a stigma of being outcasts and criminals with them as they were lead off to be crucified. The cross was a symbol of death, torture, rejection, shame, guilt, hopelessness, and punishment. But when an innocent Jewish carpenter was sentenced to death by way of the cross, people began to see the cross in a different way. After Jesus believers see the cross as a symbol of life, love, acceptance, forgiveness, innocence, freedom, transformation, and hope. Jesus steps in and creates a before and after experience. He drastically changes how people view the cross.

Murderer, zealot, informant, persecutor of the innocent, liar, cheat, foul mouthed, and violent are words and phrases that could be used to describe a man who had his life radically changed after he met Jesus. Saul (or as he is known in the New Testament: Paul) persecuted Christians, looked on as Stephen was stoned to death, sought to stamp out the Christian faith. Then, one day Paul met Jesus. He had a before and after experience with Jesus and was changed forever. Paul became a great leader of the early church. He lead countless people to Christ and wrote 13 letters to believers that are now in the New Testament. Paul describes how his life changed after Jesus in Philippians 3:7-14…

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (NASB)(bold emphasis added)

Paul’s life was radically different after he met Jesus. Paul no longer lived his life for himself but he left everything behind to follow Jesus. All Paul wanted to do after he met Jesus was get to know Jesus more and tell others about him. He was Saul before Jesus and Paul after Jesus. Jesus dramatically changed Paul.

So many people have a before and after story with Jesus, the woman at the well: Peter, Zacchaeus, the blind man, the deaf man, the lepers, Nicodemus, and countless others. All these people have a before and after story with Jesus. Over and over again we see Jesus meeting someone and their life is radically different after they meet Jesus. What is your before and after story with Jesus? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (ESV)

If you are a follower of Jesus, he has made you a new creation.  You now have a before and after story. How has Jesus changed you? How does he want to continue changing you? What victories do you have over sin? How are you different? Who can you share your before and after story with today? As we begin to contemplate the story of Easter and how this event changes everything, what a great opportunity you have to share about resurrection and your before and after story. Before and after Jesus has the power to change any story.

Will You Wait for Echoes?

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Sean Garner

I was thinking about big expansive places the other day. Those places (whether deep, broad or wide) only God can design; architects imitate, electric toys mimic and even cheap dollar store microphones give a joyful attempt…but they can’t quite match. Those places, whether deep in the ground or out in the open, are the place where echoes thrive.

The amazing thing about echoes is their ability to entertain us for long stretches of time. Those of us who’ve had the experience can become utterly fascinated for hours by simple cries into the darkness.

Think about it.

Even if you’ve never had the experience yourself, it’s a typical archetype: someone standing in a cave, or among the hills or near some cavernous expanse and yelling “Hello” which morphs over space and time into “Hello… ello… low… low… low…,” slowing winding down to reveal a completely different expression.

So, let’s get spiritual: in the simplest of terms (I mean really basic, don’t-go-too-deep terms), 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that spiritual truths are really only discerned by those who, in essence, have their spiritual radar ready to receive them. We assume, of course, because we’re reading this amazing blog, our antenna are up and always ready to receive. But what if our attention span, not our antenna, is the problem?

Some of us miss transformation in our ministry (or, in our careers and in our personal lives) because we never yell into the cavern. We like safe and quiet places where risk is low, the grass is soft and the sky expands ever before us. The rest of us, who thunderously shout into the dark places love to see what God does with our minuscule efforts, then we walk away victorious.  But what if we’re not waiting long enough, not listening close enough, not sitting humbly enough to hear the echo in return?

Waiting for the echo is the most important part!  Why yell into a cavern, across the valley or among the mountains if not to hear their reply? If we speak too soon our words simply garble on top of one another, great thoughts will wind themselves up among the crowded wall of noise and even the most perfect echo gets lost among the overgrown forest of words.

So in the hours, days and weeks that follow an impactful event (it’s okay, we don’t mind, call it a spiritual high) like the 30 Hour Famine or your most recent retreat or a great summer mission trip, have you listened to how the Holy Spirit has made the message change into something new?

The problem with any rally call for a cause or a movement is that if we simply repeat the same message over and over again, it loses its impact. But… God has perfectly designed the world so that—given the space and time—he can transform it into something beautiful.

These echoes are so much shorter in length than all the work you put into the 30 Hour Famine! But when we let them ring, they pull teens, leaders and communities into the beginning of a lifetime commitment for change that we couldn’t stop even if we tried that feeds itself with each repetition. They become words that THEY own, rather than words that we give them.

Maybe the words that were poured out at this year’s Famine are changing to a smaller concept that pours out of the conversations your group is having with one another, repeating itself over and over this spring and summer… Grace? Compassion? Humility? Justice? Patience? Passion? Purpose? What is the conversation that comes AFTER a big event that may be the echo that you’re looking for.

Look for the content that is bouncing among the heart of your group—a simple, slow word that repeats over and over again. After the event is done, this could have them sitting on the hillside listening to the call of God for a very long time.

Are you patient enough in your ministry to perceive it?

“Let those who have ears hear.” Luke 8:8

Getting More Honest with the Bible

BY 30 HOUR FAMINE TEAM

By Jake Kircher

One of the things that I have loved about the 30 Hour Famine is the chance to engage students with the Bible. This is especially true when it comes to what the scriptures have to say about social justice, helping the poor, and feeding the hungry. It’s so important to help our students understand the importance of God’s Word and how it can help us to live the best life possible. However, I’m also learning that to do that, we need to get more honest about the Bible. Here’s what I mean by that:

In our “I want it now” and “quick and easy” culture, we often apply these same philosophies to faith and to reading the Bible. We say things like, “Just read the Bible and do what it says,” making scripture seem easy and self-explanatory. For many of us, especially those working within certain denominations, we have quick answers to the many questions that teens ask about the Bible and present our “clear” interpretations of it.

But the fact of the matter is that the deeper that you get in to the Bible and the more closely you read it, you quickly realize that it’s not that easy. On top of that, when we present it like an easy button, we actually set teens up for failure later.

There are lots and lot of questions to be explored in the Bible. Some of them are popular, like, how do we reconcile the angry, “kill everyone” God in the Old Testament to the loving, sacrificial God of the New Testament? How do we deal with the miraculous? Or, are the Bible and science incompatible?

But others are much more below the surface and can easily be missed when we just teach teens to “read the Bible and do what it says.” What do you do when history or archeology disagree with an account in Scripture (see Luke 2:1-7)? What do we do with translation problems where there is lots of disagreement over the meaning of a word? What do we do when there is evidence that scribes later changed the original language in a text (see Mark 1:40-44)? How do we handle apparent contradictions in the Gospel accounts? And how do we understand the context of what we’re reading so we know we are applying it to our lives accurately (see 1 Corinthians 14:34-35)?

It’s questions like these and not being honest about them that can set our teens up for failure later: If they don’t know how to critically think through these issues, it’s easy for them to either embrace fear and ignore important questions like this (which then leads to spiritual isolation as they only surround themselves with other people who think like them) or they embrace cynicism and walk away from their faith all together.

Dr. Peter Enns shares that “the Jews viewed the Bible as a problem, as an ongoing discussion to enter in to.” Our job as youth workers needs to be inviting our students in to that conversation. We need to teach them how to read the Bible and how to get below the surface. We need to point them to resources (there are tons available online) they can use to better understand and explore Scripture. And we have to be honest that the Bible isn’t always easy and that the difficulties aren’t something to be afraid of or cynical of, but can actually lead to a deeper and more meaningful faith.