Dealing with Biblical (il)literacy

Youth Specialties
April 24th, 2018

I recently had a conversation with another youth pastor about biblical literacy, or rather, the lack thereof. He was quite proud of the fact that his students were able to use bible dictionaries and perform original language word studies. He spoke to our youth pastors’ network for over an hour about how we all need to teach kids how to do in-depth study in the Word of God. If he hadn’t dominated the conversation for so long, I might have gleaned a few good things, but he lost me. I was getting angry at the pride I was hearing. I stopped and prayed. I asked God to give me something that would build him up and cause reflection rather than what I had in my heart.

A question surfaced and I waited for space to respond to him. I said, “I can tell you care a lot about biblical literacy and have done a lot of good work with students. Tell me, how is their biblical study reflected in their everyday life as it pertains to the mission of God?” There was a little silence. Okay, there was a lot of silence. Eventually he broke it and stated, “Well, they apply what they learn…”

I’ve been reflecting on the problem of “biblical literacy among teenagers. The problem isn’t just that we have a biblical literacy issue in our church (and to a larger extent our student population), the problem is in our approach to the issue.

My Limited, Anecdotal Evaluation (for what it’s worth)

My youth pastor friend saw an issue and like most of mainline churches in America, he tackled it in typical western fashion – he took his students to seminary. His approach to biblical illiteracy was massive amounts of information. He turned the Word into a textbook. The Word was never meant to be made a textbook, the Word is to be made flesh. All across western society we overvalue information. I get it though; I am (currently) and avid reader and want to soak in as much as possible so that I can be the best leader I can possibly be. The problem comes in when we trust in information as an end in and of itself. Understanding historical context and being able to read in the original language will not cause us to look any more like Jesus.

My Suggestion for a Proper Approach

I deeply value the Bible, regular practices of reading, reflecting, and proper hermeneutical approach. I get butterflies in my stomach in the midst of sound theological conversation, but we have to understand that without an embodiment of our theology, we do not have sound theology. Only in academia and the institutional church can you separate theology from life. As I read scripture it seems pretty clear – every author expected a response, a change, an embodiment of some sort from the instruction. And I’m not just talking about sin management. I’m talking about understanding the scope of Scripture and seeing in it the call to join in the mission of God. If we find ourselves in the position of possessing great understanding of Scripture but it brings no hope, love, or joy to the world around us, we do not possess great understanding of Scripture.

Biblical literacy can only be partly addressed by passing on study methods. My challenge to all of us is to not only teach what scripture says, but show what it looks like lived out. The greatest teachers do not just inform well; they inspire to change and to believe what you’re learning really matters.

Dan Koller is the youth pastor at Gun Lake Community Church. Dan enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife (who edits all his content and makes him sound smarter than he actually is) and his two amazing sons. He has a heart for small town ministry and has a passion to help other youth pastors succeed. Dan is also working with Rebuild North America; an organization dedicated to empowering and resourcing children’s, youth, and young adult leaders through coaching, training, and content.  


 You can also connect with him on facebook or instagram @smalltownyouthpastor or twitter @smalltownYP

Youth Specialties

Youth Specialties exists to elevate the role of youth ministry and the youth worker to grow the faith of the next generation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.