How to recover from handling Scripture poorly in your ministry

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Aug 15, 2018

I love God’s Word. And I want leaders like you and young people like the ones in your ministry to feel the same.

I keep my favorite Bible on the bottom shelf of our living room coffee table. Most mornings, in between exercising, checking email, and getting our family ready for the day, I sit in our living room for at least a few minutes and center myself in prayer and Scripture. Time in God’s Word is a priority for me.

Which is why it’s surprising that I’ve often handled Scripture so poorly in youth ministry.

Far too many Sundays to count, I figured out on my own what students needed to hear in my teaching, and then looked for a Bible verse that would affirm my main point. (In case you’re wondering—yes, that’s called “proof-texting.”)

This is embarrassing to admit, but there was also the season in high school ministry when I joked with other youth pastors about writing a book called How to Give a Youth Group Talk Without Using the Bible.

Who needed the Bible when we could come up with creative talk ideas on our own?

But probably my lowest point in engaging students with Scripture came during a busy season in middle school ministry. I was a full-time seminary student and part-time middle school pastor, which left me not very much time to prepare my Sunday and midweek talks. So, I turned to published worksheets that were touted as “easy to prepare.” Typically, the day before I had to speak, I would work from the worksheets and craft my talk in less than ten minutes.

Once, I used those worksheets to create an entire talk in a drive-through line at a fast-food restaurant on my way to church. I placed my order, and while waiting for my fries and burger, I got out the worksheet and a pen and made a few notes. Ninety seconds later, I tossed the worksheet in the backseat, pulled forward to pick up my dinner, and headed to church.

As a reminder, I was a seminary student while all this was happening. I was spending twenty to thirty hours per week studying God’s Word for my master’s degree and it was changing my own life. But I had no idea how to help the power of those same scriptures change the lives of the teenagers I saw every week.

That’s why I’m so grateful for this new FYI resource from our friend Matt Laidlaw. I needed this tool when I was a hands-on youth leader.

I’m betting you do too.

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It has always bothered me when teachers and leaders suggest that our job is to “make” God’s Word relevant for young people. God’s Word is already relevant to young people. Our job is to help that relevance shine forth. You will get better at that task thanks to Matt’s fresh insights and real-life ministry examples of how he finds the intersection between students’ current lives and Scripture’s timeless stories.

This book is a bit different from FYI’s typical resources. While it’s grounded in research, it’s also heavily influenced by Matt’s own experience reading the Bible and teaching it to students. Your story and your context are likely different from Matt’s. I know mine are. But I found many elements of Matt’s narrative that converged with mine, and those that didn’t have stretched me to see my story in new ways. I’m optimistic the same will happen for you.

Our team is hopeful that you will use and re-use this book over the years as it inspires you to …

  • Dream new dreams for your youth ministry teaching and small groups.
  • Look for new meanings and insights in familiar Bible passages.
  • Equip every volunteer, teacher, and small group leader to better connect the dots between students’ questions and the Bible’s responses—even if those responses pose more questions.
  • Give students a vision for how they can encounter Scripture during their own personal times of reading and reflection.
  • Empower parents to have better discussions with their kids about Scripture.
  • Carve out time in your busy schedule to journey through Scripture—even (and maybe especially) when it’s not to prepare your next talk, but rather for your own growth.

Thanks to this book, that last hope has already happened in me.

I feel more inspired to carve out minutes and hours to sift through the phrases and pages of the Bible passages that I love. I’m guessing the same will happen for you. As a result, I hope your students will fall more in love with the Bible, too.

Get the book

*Adapted from the foreword to How We Read the Bible: 8 Ways to Engage the Bible with Our Students, by Matthew J. Laidlaw.

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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