In 2011, I was invited to lead a workshop on the Bible and Youth Ministry at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta. I’d like to say that I was honored and humbled by the invitation, but more than anything I felt surprised and insecure. To be clear, I wasn’t lacking in passion and conviction that we don’t have to choose between relevant youth ministry and faithful, creative ways of engaging the Bible. But I did feel like I was far from an expert in this area. I didn’t have a PhD in Biblical Studies and I was under 30 years old. My workshop was near the end of the conference – when most guests are tired or are leaving early in order to be at church on Sunday. And, especially compared to everyone else on the conference schedule, I had no name recognition.
So, I over-prepared my presentation and dressed like a hybrid of a professor and youth worker [cardigan with sneakers] to try and project the confidence I wish I had. As I nervously began my workshop, looking at the handful of brave souls who showed up, I was wondering, “Is anyone else coming?” Then (I can’t make this up) the fire alarm began to sound. Hotel and conference staff entered the room immediately and let us know that there wasn’t a fire and it wasn’t a drill, but that the fire alarm might go on and off during our workshop, so we should just keep going as planned.
The fire alarm did keep going off. A lot.
The gift in this interruption, once we were able to accept that the fire alarm wouldn’t be stopping any time soon, was the scrapping of my over-prepared presentation and beginning of a conversation about the topic that drew everyone to the workshop. Our conversation veered more towards the path of questions than answers and quickly became a felt sacred space.
Participants asked one another questions like:
Is there more than one way to read the Bible?
Is there more than one way to study the Bible?
How can we engage students with the Bible in a way that they’ll want to keep reading it?
What do we do with all of our students’ questions about what we read in the Bible?
Given historical context and nuance, which commands in the Bible are we supposed to tell students to obey today?
How can engaging the Bible be a spiritual experience, not just an educational exercise?
Or, the question we all were asking, what should we do at youth group next week?
The honest and desperate questions we shared with one another that day hovered around the conviction that how we read the Bible matters and the reality, that in some way, we all felt ill equipped to creatively lead from this conviction in our ministries. This experience, these questions, and this conviction significantly influenced a 7-year journey for me that led to the development of a new resource in partnership with the Fuller Youth Institute:
How We Read the Bible: 8 Ways to Engage the Bible with Our Students
If you’ve asked any of the questions listed above, or other leaders in your ministry have struggled to know how to open the Bible with young people in small groups, Sunday school, mentoring relationships, or through camps and retreats, this resource is for you.
This book is mostly a map of my journey with youth ministry and the Bible. It is a reflection of over a decade of serving in pastoral ministry, while also studying the Bible in college and in graduate school from a diversity of perspectives and traditions in North America, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. Every step along this journey offered tools and ideas that previously had been unfamiliar to me when encountering the Bible in my own life and with my students. Each chapter of this book is meant to be experienced like a stop, stage, or “place” on the journey—which might also be your journey. In my pilgrimage with the Bible, I’ve spent time in the locations of:
• A Book to Read
• Commands to Obey
• A Land to Experience
• A Way to Live
• A Story to Engage
• Questions to Ask
• A Wrestling Match
• Words to Pray
My hope is that this book feels like an invitation to consider venturing outside your comfort zone and traditions. Whether you’re a veteran youth worker or you’re just getting started, I hope it provides some tools to help you on your journey. Because I’m more convinced than ever that how we read the Bible matters.
[a portion of this post was adapted from the introduction of How We Read The Bible.]
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER:
LINK TO BOOK:
Used with Permission from Matthew Laidlaw
Matthew J. Laidlaw is the Dean of Student Life at Calvin Christian High School in Grandville, Michigan, and has served for over a decade in church-based pastoral roles ranging from student ministry to executive leadership. Matthew is a student at the Living School for Action and Contemplation, a graduate of Kuyper College (BS) and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (MA), and has lived and studied in the Middle East. Matthew and his wife Stephanie live in West Michigan with their two young children. You can find him on twitter and Instagram at @LaidlawMatt.