- Pathfinder

Reply To: In Lecture 2, Dr. Dru Johnson mentions that there has been a decline in biblical literacy in the Church. After taking this course, what are some recommendations you would give to church leadership to increase biblical literacy?

Erik Nilsen

[It looks like my first submission isn’t displaying, so I am posting this again. Pardon me if I double-posted.]

Even before taking this course, I have been extremely concerned with reviving biblical literacy within the church. Generally, I think my own church effectively promotes biblical literacy among the adults. Most sermon series follow an entire book of the Bible, and the pastoral staff intentionally highlights hyperlinks between different books, Old and New Testaments alike. Additionally, we are in the fourth and final year of a book-by-book Bible reading program supplemented by a Wednesday night discussion group.

However, biblical literacy at my church among the youth, at least when I was growing up, was abysmal. There are a few major factors that may have contributed to this:

1) Competition with other extracurricular activities. Students already stretch their time and resources between school, homework, sports, clubs, etc., that youth ministers may feel like there isn’t sufficient time to cover the biblical story comprehensively, and therefore focus their efforts on the Gospels as the core of Scripture.

2) Starting from square one. Many students in the youth program come from otherwise completely unchurched families and have no familiarity at all with biblical faith. For students who did grow up attending church, they (purportedly) first require guidance to establish an independent faith (i.e., one that is not “I am a Christian because my parents are”). In either case, priority is given to the basic essentials of Christianity.

3) High turnover rate. Of course, there is a new class of students every year, so it would seem awkward for a fresh group of students to enter the youth ministry in media res of deep biblical discussion with no additional context. Also, our church has had rapid youth pastor turnover for the last decade, which has undermined didactic continuity.

4) Hyperactivity. At least when I was a teenager, most of my peers in the youth group were “party kids” who were far more interested in anything else (such as the opposite sex) than biblical literacy. Even when the youth pastor and the volunteers organized well-crafted lessons and in-depth discussions, many students just wouldn’t pay attention, or were even disruptive. This was true all the way up to high school.

As a college student, I attended a young adult denominational conference with the church college group. After a speaker preached on 1 Samuel 5, one of my friends asked me to explain the Ark of the Covenant to her, because she had never heard of it. She was one of the more attentive students in youth group, and she had attended church her whole life. I was aghast that she could have gone that whole time knowing absolutely nothing about the Ark (or even just watching Indiana Jones).

While I think my church is rightfully concerned about its youth developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ independent of their parents, I think the youth program as a whole has grown myopic to that end, never progressing past “spiritual milk.”