Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (1 Timothy 4:13)
Some time ago our youth group hired out a trampoline park and encouraged young people to bring their friends. It was a free-for-all for over an hour followed by some time gathered together as the manager shared his testimony and we promoted a Bible study series we were starting the following week.
It was a great night - we doubled our usual numbers! Yet the following week none of the newcomers returned. While it might have been tempting to think, "We should've run another trampoline night!", I was reminded of some wise advice given to me years ago: "Whatever you use to attract young people to your youth ministry, you'll need to keep using if you want to hold them."
Did we want to keep running popular trampoline nights? Or were we committed to running less popular Bible studies?
It's a question many youth leaders have struggled with but the answer in Scripture is clear. Here Paul tells Timothy. "Focus on reading the Scriptures..."
That's not to say that it's wrong to run fun events. Whether they involve the whole youth group together, or you choose to do some fun activities with a small group, these are great ways to build relationships and attract new people.
Yet Paul is clear - don't make these your focus. Instead, focus of reading together the Scriptures and use these to encourage and teach young people.
Before we do this however, there is a deeper implied challenge in the task. To what extent do we as leaders focus on reading the Scriptures in our own time. If this is not a daily priority in our own lives, isn't there something hypocritical about proclaiming it to be the focus of our ministry?
How can we demonstrate to our young people that the reading of Scripture is important for them if it's not important to us?
How can we expect to encourage and teach young people through the Scriptures if we don't allow the Scriptures to encourage and teach us?
The most common reasons I hear from young leaders, and my replies, are as follows:
"I don't know where to start." Start anywhere. The Bible is a collection of books, not just one book alone. you can start at Genesis but it's OK to start reading at the beginning of any book. Start with the Gospel of Mark if you want a brief reading of Jesus life. Read James if you want a book with lots of practical guidance. Read the Psalms of you want to reflect and worship.
"I've tried, but it's boring." Use a devotional booklet like "Word for Today" or find an online devotional or commentary to help you understand what you're reading and how it's relevant to your life.
"I don't get anything out of it." Don't expect an amazing revelation every day. Some days will seem routine and even a bit dull. Persist. Spending time reading the Scriptures is like planting seed. The results won't be immediately evident but the impact on your life will steadily grow over time.
How much is Bible reading a focus in your life? What excuses do you make and how can you overcome these?