The situation may have comic possibilities for Leno, but for preachers working to craft a biblically based sermon, the situation is confounding. If parishioners can’t follow references to significant people, places or things in the Bible, they may miss or misunderstand the whole message. Tony Campolo, founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education and author most recently of Red Letter Christians: A Citizens Guide to Faith and Politics, recalls referring in class to the book of Proverbs and hearing a student ask, “Do we have that in our library?” Wallace Adams-Riley, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, says biblical illiteracy is such a big problem that a lot of ministers “don’t even know where to start.”
Much of my philosophy of ministry is based on Ephesians 4:11-13, and so in many ways I view being a coach as part of my role as a youth pastor. In a lot of ways, studying the Bible is like practice. It has fantastic merits in its own right and can often be really enjoyable. Some of my favorite memories in college soccer were having a great time working hard at practice (maybe the fact that my playing time was also very minimal contributes to this). However, practice requires discipline and sacrifice. How does a good coach get players to practice? By creating a culture where good practice is valued. Yes, many tools help, but in the long run, punishments (running extra sprints), rewards (also known as bribery), or other enforcers will fizzle out.
So, how do I create a culture of practice and discipline in youth ministry? I’m honestly not sure. I suppose by highly valuing it myself–one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had ran every run and sprint with us. And by continually teaching students to value it. If I say I want students to learn how to be learners–especially of Scripture–but I don’t build our ministry to help them be successful in that endeavor, then anything I say up from up front about it is moot.