Why I Love Teaching Through a Book of the Bible

Since last Fall, we (our high school ministry) have been going through the Gospel of Mark on Sundays, and we’ll continue to do so until we get through the whole thing. We’ve taken a couple of breaks for short series, but have stuck to the schedule for the most part. By the end of the summer, we’ll be halfway through, and my goal is to be done with the book by next summer.

It’s been great to go through the entire Gospel of Mark. I like this approach in teaching our students, and here are some big reasons why:

It forces me as a pastor to work through some tough topics personally and publicly. When I only teach topically, I typically stick (sometimes subconsciously, sometimes not) to my “sweet spots.” Teaching exegetically through a book makes me consider and teach on some issues I might not have ever thought of addressing. In the case of working through a Gospel, I am forced to deal with some parts of Jesus’ life and teaching that perhaps I’m a bit uncomfortable with. This past Sunday, we were in Mark 6:1-6 where Jesus is mocked by his hometown and couldn’t do as many mighty works there as other places. Definitely not a quick and clean passage!

It helps me keep the focus on Jesus. This is certainly true since we’re studying an inspired biography of Jesus. But when I’ve gone through a book in the past–whether as an up-front teacher or a small group leader–I really see how all of the Bible (including the “boring” parts of the Old Testament) point to Jesus. When teaching on topics, I can start to focus on the accoutrements of the Christian faith, rather than the central thing–Jesus. It doesn’t have to be this way when I teach on topics. It’s just something I’ve noticed about myself.

It teaches students to see Scripture as a narrative, rather than a book of isolated verses and advice. When I teach only on topics, I can give the impression that the best way to read the Bible is to interpret it two or three verses at a time. Sometimes, it’s important to really focus on just a couple of important verses, but when we start to do that often to support our view on a particular topic, we just end up getting into proof-texting, and that’s terrible exegesis.

I’m not suggesting that we need to only teach through books of the Bible. Certainly there is a time or a place for addressing a particular topic and seeing what the Bible has to say about that topic. After all, to do so is simply pastoral theology, which is a good thing. However, I do think there are some great benefits to working through a book over a period of a time. If you’ve never done it, I’d suggest trying it out, perhaps starting with a section of a book (like Matthew 5-7, which is the Sermon on the Mount) or a minor prophet.

QUESTION: What do you think the pros and cons are to teaching through one book of the Bible over a longer period of time?

Posts of 2010: Helping students read the Bible in a Google world

Note: During the week of Christmas, I’m reposting the most popular posts on Jesus and Teenagers from 2010, as well as some of my favorites. Enjoy!

November 18th: Helping students read the Bible in a Google world (Original Link)

A recent article in the L.A. Times highlighted how libraries are struggling to remain relevant in the digital age. Personally, I love books. And while I love to read good-old-fashioned ink on a page, I realize that I am a digital reader. I may not have ever picked up a Kindle, but most of my non-book reading occurs online. I haven’t picked up a print newspaper in months, but I keep up-to-date on local and national news via my online reading habits. And when it comes to reading articles on youth ministry, I mostly read blogs from on-the-ground youth pastors, though I do subscribe to two youth ministry magazines.

The article got me thinking about how we read the Bible, and how we expect students to read the Bible. Sure, there are a lot of digital options for reading the Bible, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t resulted in more people reading the Bible. How can you help your students to Read the Bible in a Google World?

Talk about the Bible
As you teach, share with students about what you are reading in the Bible on your own, and ask your leaders to do the same. Talk about what you find funny, confusing, or even frustrating about certain Bible passages. Of course, this needs to be something that flows out of your everyday life. If you’re not reading the Bible for your own spiritual growth on a regular basis, your students probably won’t either.

Teach students how to read the Bible
If you’ve never really read the Bible, just opening it up can be intimidating. Walk your students through how to read the Bible. What are the Old and New Testaments? What’s the difference between an Epistle and a Gospel? What’s helpful to know as one reads through the book of Proverbs? A little guidance can help a student feel more confident about reading through the Bible on his or her own. If you’d like a refresher on how to read the Bible, check out Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

Actually open the Bible during youth group
Okay, I understand. Students are forgetful and don’t remember to bring their Bibles. On top of that asking everyone take out their Bibles can make those who are visiting or don’t have Bibles feel like outsiders. But what does it teach students when the only time they see Scripture in a youth room is up on the screen on a Keynote* slide? An easy way to do this in a non-threatening way is to have Bibles available before people need them. Remind everyone a couple of times before the teaching time that they’ll need a Bible, and set the Bibles on tables where everyone can get to them. In addition, buy some nice study Bibles to give to folks if they don’t have a Bible at home. People know they are free to take a Bible if they need one, and I love it when Bibles “walk off” on their own. Getting Bibles in students hands in the youth room or in small group is one step closer to getting them in their hands at home.
*We actually use PowerPoint at our church. But I like Keynote better and bug our tech guy weekly to switch us over to Macs.

Challenge students and help them set goals
It’s tough for even committed believers to stay constant in their personal reading of the Bible, so why would we expect it to be different for students? Help students by providing short-term and long-term reading plans. Have them pair up to remind each other each week to read a certain portion of the Bible. If a student has a lot of questions, tell him or her that you’d be happy to meet for two or three weeks to answer any questions they have (according to wise one-on-one meeting policies, of course). Last year, we offered different “discipleship scholarships” where students could lower their price for our summer trip, and one of them was to read through the entire New Testament over a two month period. Did some students do it out of obligation or as a way to earn some money for our summer trip? Probably. But most students loved reading the whole New Testament, and they probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

Drown yourself in the Word
Don’t just read the Bible to prepare lessons or small group discussions. Drown yourself in it. Ask God to give you a passion for his Word, and commit to spending more than just a few minutes reading it each day. As you gain a passion for God’s Word, it will likely rub off on your students, too. Plus, you’ll begin to see the world as God sees the world, and you’ll be a better leader for it.

What are your ideas for helping students read the Bible in a Google World?

Helping Students Read the Bible in a Google World

A recent article in the L.A. Times highlighted how libraries are struggling to remain relevant in the digital age. Personally, I love books. And while I love to read good-old-fashioned ink on a page, I realize that I am a digital reader. I may not have ever picked up a Kindle, but most of my non-book reading occurs online. I haven’t picked up a print newspaper in months, but I keep up-to-date on local and national news via my online reading habits. And when it comes to reading articles on youth ministry, I mostly read blogs from on-the-ground youth pastors, though I do subscribe to two youth ministry magazines.

The article got me thinking about how we read the Bible, and how we expect students to read the Bible. Sure, there are a lot of digital options for reading the Bible, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t resulted in more people reading the Bible. How can you help your students to Read the Bible in a Google World?

Talk about the Bible
As you teach, share with students about what you are reading in the Bible on your own, and ask your leaders to do the same. Talk about what you find funny, confusing, or even frustrating about certain Bible passages. Of course, this needs to be something that flows out of your everyday life. If you’re not reading the Bible for your own spiritual growth on a regular basis, your students probably won’t either.

Teach students how to read the Bible
If you’ve never really read the Bible, just opening it up can be intimidating. Walk your students through how to read the Bible. What are the Old and New Testaments? What’s the difference between an Epistle and a Gospel? What’s helpful to know as one reads through the book of Proverbs? A little guidance can help a student feel more confident about reading through the Bible on his or her own. If you’d like a refresher on how to read the Bible, check out Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

Actually open the Bible during youth group
Okay, I understand. Students are forgetful and don’t remember to bring their Bibles. On top of that asking everyone take out their Bibles can make those who are visiting or don’t have Bibles feel like outsiders. But what does it teach students when the only time they see Scripture in a youth room is up on the screen on a Keynote* slide? An easy way to do this in a non-threatening way is to have Bibles available before people need them. Remind everyone a couple of times before the teaching time that they’ll need a Bible, and set the Bibles on tables where everyone can get to them. In addition, buy some nice study Bibles to give to folks if they don’t have a Bible at home. People know they are free to take a Bible if they need one, and I love it when Bibles “walk off” on their own. Getting Bibles in students hands in the youth room or in small group is one step closer to getting them in their hands at home.
*We actually use PowerPoint at our church. But I like Keynote better and bug our tech guy weekly to switch us over to Macs.

Challenge students and help them set goals
It’s tough for even committed believers to stay constant in their personal reading of the Bible, so why would we expect it to be different for students? Help students by providing short-term and long-term reading plans. Have them pair up to remind each other each week to read a certain portion of the Bible. If a student has a lot of questions, tell him or her that you’d be happy to meet for two or three weeks to answer any questions they have (according to wise one-on-one meeting policies, of course). Last year, we offered different “discipleship scholarships” where students could lower their price for our summer trip, and one of them was to read through the entire New Testament over a two month period. Did some students do it out of obligation or as a way to earn some money for our summer trip? Probably. But most students loved reading the whole New Testament, and they probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

Drown yourself in the Word
Don’t just read the Bible to prepare lessons or small group discussions. Drown yourself in it. Ask God to give you a passion for his Word, and commit to spending more than just a few minutes reading it each day. As you gain a passion for God’s Word, it will likely rub off on your students, too. Plus, you’ll begin to see the world as God sees the world, and you’ll be a better leader for it.

What are your ideas for helping students read the Bible in a Google World?

YouVersion Bible App

I love using the YouVersion Bible app (free) on my iPhone. In fact, LifeChurch.tv has a lot of free resources available. Here’s their new video promoting the Bible app:

Pentecost: Acts Chapter 2

Acts 2:1-41, from the English Standard Version:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,
   blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
   the sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
   before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

   “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand,
   until I make your enemies your footstool.’

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Immerse Journal: Doctrine as a Scripting Agent

I appreciate where Justin Spurlock is going with this article in Immense Journal. I, too, have a sense that we need to help students be shaped by truth. The premise of this article is essentially that we continually allow our lives to be scripted by media, advertising, demands on our life from other people, rather than from Scripture. Certainly a creative way to look at it. See what you make of it:

The church also seeks to help students believe—believe in God, believe in the church, believe in themselves. Often we feel helpless and ill prepared for such a task. Not only are our students formed and pressured by culture—the busyness, the stress, the lack of time, the need to perform, etc.—but we also feel ourselves as leaders being formed and pressured by it as well.

In the midst of all of that clutter, our church doctrines sometimes seem rather flat. A doctrine of salvation, for instance, might feel dreamy at best when placed in the context of other seemingly more urgent issues of the moment. We’re unsure of how to grapple with some sort of salvation doctrine that’s all encompassing to our worldview and behavior patterns. We ultimately opt for a flimsy doctrine of salvation that’s essentially fire insurance for the afterlife rather than taking on the bold task of allowing God’s grace to change our current rhythms, practices and beliefs—to bring about salvation in the present not only for ourselves but also for those around us. That will only happen when we allow Scripture and its doctrines to script our life stories.

What does it mean to immerse ourselves in the story and teachings of the faith? How can we help our students re-frame their lives around the doctrines of Christianity?

Revised Common Lectionary – Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18, ESV:

The Resurrection
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

The Daily Office Reading – April 3rd, 2010

Note: There is no Gospel reading on Holy Saturday, the period between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. I have substituted one of the epistle readings for the day.

Romans 8:1-11, ESV:

Life in the Spirit
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Daily Office Reading – April 2nd, 2010

John 13:36-38, ESV:

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

John 19:38-42, ESV:

Jesus Is Buried
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.