The first time a pastor I worked for told me we were doing an Easter Vigil, I looked at him blankly and questioned, “What is that?”
He explained that it’s a service held the night before Easter that includes readings from the Bible’s stories, and ideally involves a baptism to symbolize the connection between Biblical salvation stories and our own.
At my first Easter Vigil, I was amazed at the volume of Scripture I heard read aloud. I listened as God created the world only to then destroy it in the flood. I heard about how God tested Abraham. I paid attention to how God delivered the Israelites at the Red Sea and gave life to a valley of dry bones. I marveled at the way God saved Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. Finally, I listened to the story of Mary discovering the empty tomb. Told on the heels of these other stories of deliverance, I wrestled in new ways with all that Jesus’ death and resurrection delivered me from.
In my experience, the Easter Vigil is one of the best examples of the communal Bible reading of I’ve seen. Communal (or public) reading of Scripture is exactly what it sounds like: it’s when we come together with others to listen to Scripture being read aloud.
Why should teenagers read the Bible together?
Communal Scripture reading serves as a powerful tool for tuning in to God's voice—especially in an American culture that often elevates individual rather than communal encounters with God.
Throughout history, though, God has also spoken vividly to communities. In fact, many of the letters found within the Bible were written to groups of people, not individuals. Communal reading of Scripture reminds us of that. What’s more, when we listen to the Bible being read aloud together, we often see and experience God in new ways—ways that we may very well have missed on our own.
While you can certainly incorporate communal reading of Scripture in worship, you can also practice it any time you’re with young people. Lent (the 40 days preceding Easter) offers a great opportunity to give it a try.
Here are eight ways you can try the communal reading of Scripture with teenagers this Lent:
- During the six weeks of Lent, read and listen to large chunks of the Bible together each time you gather. Often many of us default to reading a verse at a time and then teaching on or discussing it. Although that’s a healthy way to teach for transformation, there’s also tremendous value in reading longer swatches of Scripture together. Rather than explore a passage verse by verse, during Lent, ask someone to read the whole passage at once. Ask a second person to do the same so students have the benefit of hearing it from multiple voices. Then ask teenagers what they notice about the passage. You’d be surprised by what young people observe when they hear longer passages read together.
- Craft your teaching series around Bible passages the church has historically used during Lent. If your congregation follows the lectionary, this might simply mean teaching on the passages from either the preceding or subsequent Sunday. If it doesn’t, consider exploring the stories typically used at the Easter Vigil each week of Lent (Creation—Genesis 1:1-2:2; The flood and Noah’s deliverance—Genesis 7:1-5,11-18;8:6-18;9:8-13; Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac—Genesis 22:1-18; Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea—Exodus 14:10-15:1; The valley of dry bones—Ezekiel 371-14; The fiery furnace—Daniel 3:1-30).
- Listen to Scripture read in different languages. This practice is particularly helpful in multiethnic groups, but there’s also value in it even if everyone in your ministry speaks the same language. As the Bible is read in one language and then another, ask students to reflect on how they see and experience God even if they don’t understand the words that are being said.
- Utilize different translations of the Bible. Sometimes teenagers (and let’s be honest, adults) tune out Bible passages because they’re too familiar. Just like the brain tunes out teachers or parents who tell us the same thing repeatedly, if we’ve heard a verse a million times, we already know what it says. There’s no need to pay attention anymore. This is particularly true for Bible stories that we hear year after year, like the Christmas and Easter stories. So, this year, rather than use the translation your faith community regularly reads, choose a different one. Ask young people to consider what phrases sound new, different, or unfamiliar to them, and spend time talking about that. Compare those passages to the translation your community typically uses.
- Read it aloud together. As an author, I know that one of the best ways I can edit my own work is to read it aloud. The practice slows me down enough to catch things I would have otherwise missed. In the same way, when we read the Bible aloud, we notice things that our brains may skim over while reading silently or listening to someone else. So, this Lent, invite young people to simultaneously read passages out loud. When you first do this, it will be the epitome of awkward—so prepare your students for that in advance. But eventually, young people will notice parts of Scripture they would have otherwise missed. As they hear the people next to them saying the same words as they are, they’ll also grow in community with one another.
- Memorize it together. Have you ever listened to someone recite a Bible story from memory? Not retell it in their own words, but actually recite the passage? It’s absolutely captivating. Because the speaker has spent so much time memorizing the passage, its words mean something more to them. They’ll emphasize different words, and often their recitation is littered with emotion. So challenge someone in your group to memorize a passage of Scripture or a Bible story and then recite it for your ministry. Then talk about what people see and experience as they listen. Or challenge everyone to do this—not just with their favorite verse, but with the passage or story that surrounds that verse.
- Extend your communal reading of Scripture beyond youth group by creating a Bible reading calendar for the 40 days of Lent. Give families a copy and challenge students in your ministry to commit to listening to (not just reading) a particular passage on a particular day and time. That way, even though you’re not physically in the same place, you’re still listening to the Bible being read aloud together. If you want to make this even more personal for your ministry, ask young people (or adult leaders) to record (either audio, video, or both) each passage and then link those in your calendar. That way, young people aren’t just listening to strangers read Scripture, they’re listening to each other. Then when you meet, ask students to reflect on what they noticed about that week’s passages as well as where and how they encountered God while listening.
- Challenge families to practice communal reading of Scripture together during Lent. Often churches encourage people to give up something during the season of Lent. While this can be a good, helpful way to shift attention towards God and away from the thing you’re giving up, Lent can also be an opportunity to experiment with adding a spiritual practice to your life. Since Lent is 40 days (not including Sundays), challenge families to read one chapter a day from the Gospel of Luke, followed by one chapter a day from the Gospel of Mark, during the six weeks of Lent. At 24 and 16 chapters respectively, you can comfortably read both Gospels during the 40 days of Lent. After reading each chapter aloud, ask families to explore what they think God might be saying to them through that reading. Such a practice helps families draw near to one another and wrestle with what Scripture means for them not just as individuals, but as family units.
Forming Christlike character for faith that lasts
Participating in communal reading of Scripture during Lent will, no doubt, benefit the young people in your ministry. As they become more familiar with the stories of Scripture, their Biblical literacy will increase. Trust will form and community will strengthen. But perhaps most importantly, as they routinely listen to the Bible stories about Jesus, they’ll get to know him better. They’ll have a more accurate sense of who Jesus was, what Jesus taught, and why his life and death matter. That, in turn, will help them follow Jesus—not just on Sundays but throughout the rest of the week. In other words, reading the Bible together will actively form Christlike character in young people, equipping them to live out Jesus’ goodness every day by loving God and their neighbors.
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If you're tired of youth ministry that fails to change lives, it's time to change youth ministry
Building on two decades of the Fuller Youth Institute's work and incorporating extensive new research and interviews, Faith Beyond Youth Group identifies the reasons it feels like you’re working so hard but having so little impact, and offers five ways adult youth leaders can cultivate character for a lifetime of growing closer to Jesus rather than drifting away. With practical insight and tips, you’ll find out how to cultivate trust, model growth, teach for transformation, practice together, and make meaning so that teenagers can become adults who hold fast to Jesus and boldly live out a robust faith in the world around them.
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