How do we engage young people with the Bible? Is it important that we do? What is the point?
This weekend I was away with a group of young people from Bolton (and their excellent leadership team) looking in more depth at the Bible (a follow on from last year’s event). It was a great weekend – we had hailstones, horizontal rain, gale force winds and snow – and we were miles from anywhere (well, actually we were about 5 miles from Sedbergh but it FELT miles from anywhere!). Self catered, and in a converted barn with dormitory accommodation (and 4 leader’s rooms) the Tarn Centre is a terrific venue and lends itself well to this sort of programme with this sort of group. But it was interesting to see how the various age groups responded to the various methodologies. The group ran in ages from 11 through to 20 and planning the programme was a little like organising the world’s longest all-age service – with the same concerns about compromises and content! Do I aim for the lowest common denominator,; knowing that this would mean that the older ones got really bored? How about only using material (Bible stories) that I was fairly sure they would all know (and the massive assumptions that THAT makes)? In the end, I offered a pick and mix approach that , hopefully, allowed everyone to engage at some level with the activities. I can’t pretend that it worked perfectly, but no-one rebelled (they’re far too well mannered for that) and they all engaged in everything. So, was it a successful weekend? Well, in some ways yes (for the reasons above) but it left me feeling as though I hadn’t quite got it right. In the evaluations at the end it was clear that the younger ones had enjoyed the ‘getting crafty’ bits whilst the older ones had found the ‘research and review’ aspects more satisfying.
What was most gratifying about the weekend was that the group had chosen the Bible as the theme for their weekend in the first place! There is sometimes a feeling that young people aren’t interested in the Bible, that they consider it meaningless, irrelevant and a waste of space. In my experience, this is just untrue. They know that it is an important book for them and they want to know more. When they are provided with the opportunity to engage with the material in a way that is relevant to them and is sensitive to their abilities they not only get a lot from that involvement, but so does the person leading them. In fact, it would be truer to say that I was not leading them in Bible study – I was a fellow explorer.