Dear Youth Pastor,
Every Sunday morning as we are about to walk out the door to go to church, I ask my kids, “Do you have your Bibles?” More often than not, the answer is, “No, we don’t need them. The words are always up on the screen.” And every time I hear that answer, I get sad.
Lest you think I am just a disgruntled old man clinging desperately to the twentieth century… well, maybe there’s a little truth in that. But this isn’t primarily about expecting or even just encouraging kids to have one of those old-school, black leather-bound, gilt-edged, words-of-Christ-in-red Bible-thumper Bibles… though there’s something to be said for those, too (even if a few details are changed, like the cover and the gold edges). It’s about training kids—discipling (matheteuo) them—to read, know, use, honor, and love God’s Word.
I know that times are changing. I’m sure that Gutenberg’s mother was upset after he invented the printing press, because “no no one will bring their scrolls to the cathedral anymore. And just how do you expect someone to carry that big book-thing with them, anyway?” (Have you seen a Gutenberg Bible? The thing is gargantuan!) Yes, I am old-school enough that I’d like my kids to know their way around an actual printed and bound Bible. I’d also like them to be able to tell time on one of those ancient watches with hour hands and minute hands, and to do long division with a pencil on paper. But just like calculators and timepieces have evolved, so has how we interact with Scripture. The Bible app on my smart phone helps me track down Nahum in a pinch, but I can still find most passages quicker in my paper Bible. Word searches are far easier on my phone, too, versus the fifteen-pound Exhaustive Concordance I bought in my twenties; so is comparing mulitple translations.
I also recognize that we are living in a world far more reliant on audio and video than when I was a kid. In fact, some scholars suggest the West is again becoming a predominantly oral culture. If that’s true, then we as pastors have much to learn from missiologists who work in other oral cultures. We will need to learn, for example, about “Bible storying” and how to apply orality concepts to our Western churches. It’s not just about literacy, either—whether someone can read; it’s about how people learn, take in information, and engage with that information.
But we’re not there yet. We still live in a rich and highly literate nation; reading and education are still highly valued in most segments of our society. And if we (the church) are about discipling—training—young men and women to be mature followers of Jesus Christ who are equipped to disciple others, then surely a part of that training ought to be familiarity with, comfort with, and knowledge of the Word that has been passed down for the better part of two millennia.
So next Sunday try something different. Turn off the projector, hand out some Bibles, and say, “let’s all turn to __________. Need some help? Here’s how to find it….” Then tell the kids to bring their own Bible the following week, and offer to give them one if they don’t have one. (Better yet, sell them one for $5 or two memorized verses!) It’s not your job to teach my kids to know the Bible, but you can certainly help me in the task.