Teens love Jesus, but not reading the Bible [Jonathan McKee]

Question about teens reading their bibles from FacebookThis week we’re doing something new here at Life In Student Ministry. I asked you all on Facebook what questions you’d like us to answer and this week each of the authors here will answer the most “liked” question from their own perspective.

The question is this: “What are the most practical, yet effective, ways to get students to read (not speed-read) the Bible on their own?”

Adam Wormann started us off last Monday and Tim Schmoyer followed with his post yesterday. Today Jonathan McKee chimes in, Mark Riddle shares his thoughts on Thursday, and Tony Myles wraps up the series on Friday.

Teen reading the Bible[ by Jonathan McKee ]

When I was a kid, my attention span was as short as they come. Before ADHD was a household term, there was “Jonathan.” My reputation wasn’t good. Half my Sunday school teachers wanted to pump me full of Ritalin, the other half wanted to pump me full of cyanide. I couldn’t concentrate and wouldn’t shut up.

Ask me to read my Bible? Booooooooooooring!

I could blame chemical imbalance, but a lot of it was a lack of discipline for me. When I would sit down to read… uh… I’m sorry… what was I saying?

Sadly, this affected my relationship with God. I loved dialoguing with people about God. I loved listening to stories about God. As I learned about the 12 guys that actually got to hang around and talk with the person of Jesus, that excited me. I thought, I’d love to do that. I’d love to just sit with Jesus, walk with him, watch him, and learn from him.

This is when my Sunday school teacher would chime in on cue: “You can sit and listen to Jesus, by reading your Bible.”


Seriously? Read?!! That’s all you got?

For those of you academics who read Dickens and Conrad for fun, or enjoy dissecting the theology of Tozer just for kicks, maybe you won’t understand this. But I really struggled forcing myself to just sit down and read.

I liked fiction as a kid. I enjoyed Twain, Hemmingway, even Dostoyevsky, but not half as much as I liked Spielberg, Lucas and Hitchcock. So when it came to the Bible, I liked Geneses, and Exodus was okay, but every time I got to Leviticus, I bailed! I could handle the Gospels and Acts, but come Romans, I wonder what’s on TV?

I’m not alone.

I meet kids all the time that struggle picking up the Bible… just for fun. Sadly, they really miss out on getting to know Jesus better.

Sometimes we bribe our youth. “Just 10 minutes a day, and then you get to go to Six Flags at the end of the year.” It might build a habit (I’m really not knocking the idea), but, might it also just be teaching them that Bible reading is a mere task to be checked off every day as completed? “I did my 10-minutes. Now it’s time to watch Jersey Shore!”

How can we possibly help kids that would like to know Jesus, but struggle digging into His love letter to us? After all, it is “studying” His word, and dare I say, how many teenagers really likes ‘studying?’

In my 20-years of youth ministry, 18-years as a father, and 41 years as a hyperactive, unmedicated individual, I’ve observed three motivating factors that have actually influenced me and others like me to dig into God’s Word.

3 Motivating Factors: The Three E’s

1. Evangelism
Earlier this year my daughter Alyssa had an opportunity to share with her friend. A casual conversation about life segued into a serious conversation where her friend finally asked Alyssa about her faith. Alyssa confessed to me later that day that she really didn’t know what to say. She talked about her love for God, her relationship with Him, and how she put her trust in Jesus, but really, the more she shared, the more she realized that she didn’t have a lot of the answers that her friend was looking for.

Something happened. Alyssa was motivated to study God’s Word like I’ve never seen before.

She’d come into my room with her Bible, “Where is it in the Bible where it talks about Jesus being the only way to heaven?”

The questions kept coming. “Is it true that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong? And if God is such a loving God, why does he allow so much suffering?”

Now she had me reading my Bible more!

Alyssa’s ongoing dialogue with a few of her friends drove her, not only to study the scriptures, but to seek wisdom from spiritual mentors in her life—people like her youth pastor, her grandpa, her mother and I. As I write this, Alyssa is reading Lee Strobel’s insightful book, A Case for Faith. She started with Josh McDowell’s book, Answers to Tough Questions, and then picked up the student version of A Case for Faith. Now she’s reading the full version.

My friend Greg Stier once told me, “If you’re looking for a tool that will not only help you do outreach, but will also help your believers grow in their faith, try equipping your kids to reach out to their friends. Nothing will drive them to the Word more when their friends start asking them questions that they don’t know the answers to.”

2. Encouragement
Acts 2 is a pretty exciting passage of the Bible. A huge crowd gathers, tongues of fire appear and then people starting speaking in different languages. Thousands were saved that day and were eager to grow closer to Jesus. Acts 2:42 summarizes what these people “devoted themselves” to doing every day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Did you catch the second one? Because the second one is a huge help to accomplishing the first one.

Don’t underestimate the power of “fellowship.” It works like this. Young people are searching for a place where they belong, where people know their name, a place where if they go missing—they are missed. God created us with this desire for relationships. (That’s why most of the Bible is about our relationship with God and our relationship with others. It often uses other words to talk about these two categories, words like “righteousness,” doing right by God, and “justice” doing right by others.) And God’s people can provide encouragement and accountability to stay in God’s word.

My junior year of high school I started meeting weekly with a mentor and we began to go through the book of I Corinthians. Each week we got together at a restaurant and talked about a chapter of this letter from the Apostle Paul. Had I not had these meetings, I probably wouldn’t have been in my Bible as much as I was. But thanks to the accountability and encouragement from this mentor, I actually looked forward to reading and studying I Corinthians so I could talk about it with him the next Tuesday night.

Bible studies, discipleship meetings, accountability groups… these are all great ways to encourage young people to keep reading and learning together.

3. Earphones
I wonder what podcast Jesus would have listened to? I wonder if he would have had a podcast? (I’d subscribe!)

We aren’t limited to just reading words off of a page in the 21st century. We can listen to words and listen to amazing teaching from people around the world. Just as people gathered in the synagogues and the temple to hear teaching 2,000 years ago, people can put the little white headphones in their ears today and have access to libraries of Biblical teaching.

I have to admit, I have grown a lot through podcasts. Some of my favorites are Tim Keller’s and Andy Stanley’s podcasts. Those guys can preach the Word.

But what about young people? Are there some good podcasts available for them?

A couple years ago my friend David and I noticed how many kids carried iPods, even to church and youth camps, while very few of them carried Bibles. We thought, “Why not use this medium to share a lil’ bit of scripture with them every day?”

So we started a little podcast called, “A LIL BIT,” which you can see at

At the beginning of these weekly podcasts we do something; we ask them, “Open your Bibles to…” We realize that some young people might be driving or not have access to a Bible while they’re listening, so we often qualify, “If you don’t have your Bible handy, no worries. We’ll read the passage for you. But we encourage you to pick up your Bible later and read these words with your own eyes.”

This podcast has one goal: To let young people taste and see that the Lord is good. We want them to experience the truth of the scriptures and begin to dig in by themselves. We actually give a reading assignment and a challenge at the end of almost every podcast so they’ll be able to read by themselves and apply what they learned throughout that week.

It’s amazing to think that iTunes has so many ministry opportunities.

My Excuses

Short attention spans, busyness or just a lack of desire, these are all common excuses that I use to not read my Bible. Evangelism, Encouragement and my set of little white Earphones have all helped me dig into the word.

QUESTION: What has helped you dig into God’s Word personally?

Posted on September 14, 2011

  • The reason for most people's (not just teenagers!) not reading the Bible is because they have never been taught the overarching story or how to find their way within it. I've been teaching "Bible for the Rest of Us" for the past 7 years to combat this exact phenomenon and it's amazing how just giving people the lay of the land can help turn Scripture in to something that is an adventure to read rather than a "spiritual discipline" that only makes them feel more burdened and confused.

    If anyone is interested you can find the course at

    • I don't want to disagree with you.. but let me just push back a little. You say that the reason most people don't read the Bible is because they've never been taught how to find their way within the story of the Bible. I'll agree that teaching them this is important… but I don't know if I could go as far as to say, "That is the biggest reason!"

      I've been taught the "overaching story" and I still struggle with reading.

      Maybe I'm just weird.

  • adamwormann

    I think what the overarching story does is helps to give a perspective for people. When you look at the story, then even things like Deuteronomy make a little more sense and seem more applicable (well, except for certain verses which the juvenile in me wants to post just for fun…in high school, we claimed them as our "life verses."). It helps, and I think can be motivating. I wonder if the motivation is short term, and the story helps more for certain people than others.

    I'm going to go with what Jonathan said for a second, and suggest he's on to something with his little podcast idea. Remember, that you had to memorize scripture in the 1st century…because you never owned a copy. throughout the ages, preachers became more important for the same reason. Then came a printing press, and things changed. We had text. That was huge. You memorized chapter and verse because you needed to know where to find stuff. Now, it's all on your phone with a search option. Do you really need to know where that verse is that Paul talks about how he was "Delighted to share not only the Gospel, but his very life as well" when my concordinance is literally smaller than my wallet, and has a search function?

    All that to say, technology doesn't change the scriptures or their application, but it can change how we use them. So maybe a podcast is much more helpful (I know they're huge for me). Maybe there's other elements of technology that we're missing that would be even more helpful, possibly motivating…

    (and upon finishing that thought, I realize how random my thoughts are. Maybe they'll stimulate thoughts from someone smart and we'll get some good out of that…)

  • This is the question that has been driving me for years. I've been working with kids for a long time and it always comes down to how to get kids into the Bible. Not just so they know the Bible character names and stories, but so they get to know our Father, and how he worked through these people to rescue us from sin and death, and that He wants to work in US, to give us life.

    Jonathan, you said you loved fiction as a kid; me too. Stories are powerful ways to inspire and teach both kids and adults. I have written plenty of songs and stories to help kids understand God and the Bible, but I always longed for a huge story that encompassed all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. But none has ever been written, so I decided to try and write one myself.

    After much blood, sweat and tears, I finally published the first book three weeks ago. It's called Jak and the Scarlet Thread, and it is the first novel of a young adult/tween fantasy adventure series through the entire Bible, starting with the first nine chapters of Genesis. Here's a brief summary:

    Death. It's the one experience everyone will share, except, perhaps, for Jak Hamelton. Six months after the death of his grandmother, an old book bearing her name whirls 12-year old Jak back to a particular garden paradise where he meets a man and a woman who get into trouble with a snake and allow death and evil to invade the Earth. When a mysterious benefactor offers Jak the opportunity to bring the dead back to life and live forever, it sounds like an impossible dream, that is, until Jak's grandfather begins aging…backwards.

    If you want more info, you can go to my website, or email me at I've been floored by the reviews that have come in from kids, parents, and ministry leaders. If you're interested in reviewing Jak and the Scarlet Thread, I'd love to send you a PDF. I feel like a pastor who's spent years writing a truly unique sermon, and now needs help gathering an audience.

    Thanks for this post. It's fantastic to run into people with the same passion for reaching kids in new and powerful ways.

New eBookGo
Focused Youth Ministry ebook

85% off!

Focused Youth Ministry

This practical "how to" ebook will walk you through a 30-step process to discovering God's vision for your unique ministry context. The process also shows you how to implement that vision and put metrics in place to evaluate what is moving the vision forward and what isn't.

Price: $12.95 Limited time: $1.99