Your Best Bible-Teaching Idea

October 9th, 2009


Youthworker readers' most dog-eared, useful ways to get their kids into the Word.

Okay, I confess—I'm a desperately addicted Bible junkie. I will forsake the world's finest curricula for a taste of the good stuff. (Can you tell this is really a hot button for me?) While I will confess to trying every trick in the book, here are a few of my essentials.

  • Book studies—of the entire Bible book—are essential. They help students gain context and continuity. I typically teach a chapter a week; highlighting the key verses makes for an easy review. Entire-book studies take the pressure off my regular What-am-I-going-to-teach-this-week? crisis. It also deals with the reality that few students actually read their Bibles on their own. At the end of a year, you'll have covered at least one book in the Bible. I usually alternate Old Testament and New Testament each year.

  • The Bible lesson must be personal, relevant, and real to me. I must be personally on fire about the Scripture I'm teaching if students are to catch the sparks. I usually spend personal devotional time in the passage I will teach in Sunday school. After a week of absorbing it and mediating on it, I can't wait to share it with my kids. The Scripture has become living and active. Bottom line: students are more willing to consider the Scripture if they somehow see that it has changed my life.

  • Students need to “touch” the Bible at every opportunity. I always try to give kids concrete hooks to a scriptural passage. I want students to “be there,” to taste, smell, see, touch, remember. I'll dress like Solomon when I teach about wisdom, or—when I walk kids through an Ephesians study—start with a toga and add a piece of armor each week. I'll wear a yarmulke and feed kids Passover matzos. I'll borrow pictures, slides, art, and biblical odds and ends from Holy Land tripsters. Excerpts from any of the many life-of-Christ videos can provide a breath of interest and color to any Gospel study. Bottom line: interest, excitement, unpredictability.

  • Topical studies (on an elective basis) complement an extended book study. These are a breath of fresh air to our Sunday school program. Every four weeks or so during an extended book study (we're in Matthew right now), we offer students a handful of electives—short studies on prayer, money, wisdom; and brief, optional studies on high-interest books like Genesis or Revelation. Kids don't complain (much) because they choose the study they want to be in. Bottom line: change, choice, and personal interest.

  • Find the most amazing, miraculous, and outrageously unbelievable stories the Bible has to offer. They can perk up the ears of even the most bored student. I wrote a summer devotional from nothing but such stories, and it was a hit. Bottom line: looking deeper and wider than the standard flannel-graph stories.

—Michael Collison, New Life Community Church, Sayville, N.Y.

These five Bible-teaching ideas always work for me:

    The Giving Game. The words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35—the only New Testament quotation from Jesus not found in the Gospels), can be illustrated by asking students to take out their pocket change—and then to give as much of it away as they can within a time limit. Afterwards talk about which assignment they enjoyed more. (In my experience, they always seem to have more fun giving away, but a little awkward about taking it from others.)

  1. The Island Affair. This is Tension Getter #67 from Tension Getters(by David Lynn and Mike Yaconelli, Youth Specialties/Zondervan). After asking kids to rank the five characters in the story, I follow it with a lesson on integrity. There's a tendency for kids to sympathize with certain characters in the story who eventually commit various types of sin. If the characters had integrity, I point out, their situations would have turned out differently.

  2. Flash Paper. Write SIN on a sheet of flash paper. Take a match to the sheet—and when the paper vaporizes, open a discussion about how God wipes out our sins.

  3. Warm Fuzzies. These little multicolored pompoms are always a hit at retreats and camps. I've known people to carry them around in their pockets for a long time afterwards. I like to talk about Romans 1:12 and how we can mutually encourage each other by our faith.

  4. Clear Marbles. I buy clear marbles at an import store, like Pier 1. I give a marble to every student and ask them to look in it. When they look through it, they'll usually notice that the image of whatever it is they're looking at is upside down. I use that phenomenon to explain Romans 12:2—”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Our faith can cause us to turn the things of the world upside-down—and the world can turn our faith upside-down too.

—Dave Mahoney, Fairfield Church of Christ Lancaster, Ohio

This Lenten study has worked well with my group. Each youth is given a ball of modeling clay inside a resealable sandwich bag, as well as five daily study sheets to be completed during the seven days between meetings (see sample below). For each of the seven weeks of Lent, the daily studies focus on one of seven Lenten words: repentance, faith, sacrifice, forgiveness, happiness, grace, and love.

After an introduction to the series about how Jesus wants to mold and make us into his image (Isa. 64:8), the clay is the center of each discussion about that week's Scripture lesson. For the discussion about repentance, for instance, a facilitator might ask, “In your study this week, did you see how unrepented sin can block God from molding you into the person he wants you to be?” So the weekly meetings are not Bible studies per se, but rather discussions about that week's study.

The goals: to motivate students to consider God's will for their lives and how they should allow God to mold them; to give them a better understanding of Lent; and to urge them to develop a daily quiet time on the own.

—Mike Wilson, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Youth Lenten Study

Week 1: Repentance

1. Read Psalm 95:6

  • What does it mean to you to bow down to God?
  • Describe a time when you felt you were worshiping God.
  • Define repentance.
  • Write out a worship service that reflects your definition of repentance (include songs, Scripture, prayers, poems, etc.)

2. Read Luke 13:1-5.

  • How does it make you feel when you read that Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you too will all die”?
  • How do you know what you need to repent of?
  • How does God communicate with you personally?
  • Write a prayer that is a two-way communication between you and God.

Variety is the key for me—my worst method is the one I used last week. And I try not to overuse a method that seems to be working effectively, for it will undoubtedly become ineffective.


  • Panels—of guests or young people themselves—to which students direct their questions. Depending on the panel members and subject, sometimes it works better if students prepare questions ahead of time. Topics are critical if panel discussions are to be successful. Parents, dating, and the like always work for us.

  • Master teaching, followed by small, breakout groups. Discussion questions can be provided. This is great for larger youth groups, for it maintains the energy of a large-group setting, but adds the personal touch of a small group. In a phrase, it keeps the smallness in bigness. 

  • Off-site teaching trips (as in Road Trip by Micheal Selleck, Youth Specialties/Zondervan). These are a hit. Our students leave the youth room and the church altogether in order to go to place that illustrates the topic at hand.

  • Q & A. Let the teens set the agenda. This is especially effective with a current news item, whether local, national, or global. It works best for us when students write down their questions.

—Kevin Winningham, Temple Baptist Church, Detroit

One problem inevitably occurs when a teenager is to read aloud a Scripture passage: up pops an utterly unfamiliar name—like Mephibosheth or Pamphylia. Rather than stumble through such words, kids shy away from reading aloud altogether.

So I try to anticipate such situations. Names aren't as important as the meaning, I tell them. If they come to a name they can't pronounce, it's okay to substitute a name that they are familiar with. Make it Mike instead of Mephibosheth, of Philadelphia instead of Pamphylia. The kids sometimes have fun with it, substituting the names of classmates or of local or infamous towns.

—Tom Couser, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Dallas

Reading the Bible doesn't need to be boring or overwhelming. To the contrary, it can be cause to celebrate! “Good News Search” is one way to illustrate this.

Scripture: Jeremiah 1:6-7: “Then I said, ‘Ah Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak for I am only a child.' But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say I am only a child, for you shall speak whatever I command you.'”

Purpose: To demonstrate a strategy for discovering God's Good News by studying the Scripture, interpreting the message, and sharing it with others.

Materials needed: One Bible per person, note paper, pencils, newsprint, markers, tape.

Introduction: Explain that the group is about to go on a Good News search. Begin by discussing what the Good News is, anyway. Start with suggestions: is Good News winning a football game, recovering from sickness, A's on a report card, good weather on a weekend, a phone call from a friend? Explain that in this Good News search, the young people will be searching the Bible for Scripture passages that bring a message of Good News.

The search: Students pair off with a partner. Each pair chooses a book of the New Testament, preferably a Gospel or one of these epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, or 2 Timothy. Search the chosen book for one-or two-verse sections that seem like Good News to them. Write out five Good News passages on the note paper. It works best if they write out the whole verse, not just the reference. Once they've written their five passages, ask them to select their favorite Good News passage and write it big on the newsprint on the front wall of the meeting room. They should be prepared to explain why the verse or verses chosen are Good News.

The celebration: Once the Scripture passages are posted on the front wall, select the passages one at a time and ask the individual who wrote it to read it to the group. Ask, “Why is this Good News?” Ask for a round of applause to show support for the discovery. One by one, celebrate all the Good News passages.

The wrap-up: Survey the group to see if their task was easier than they expected. Discuss how the Bible is loaded with Good News and how, in just 15 or 20 minutes, a whole story of God's goodness unfolded. Remind them how easy it was to share their discoveries. Challenge them to spend 10 to 15 minutes a day seeking Good News in the Bible.

—David Hunstad, Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Moorhead, Minn.

Read all the Gospel accounts of the weeks leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. Arrange the events chronologically, and then ask your students to put themselves in the shoes of Barabbas or Pilate—and write the account from his perspective.

You could do this with other periods and other characters in the Gospel accounts—Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, etc.—to help kids understand what it was like to be around Jesus.

When teaching a passage or a chapter of a given book, I always try to lead off with the historical context of the scriptural text, and then translate the context into this century—like compare first-century Corinth to modern San Francisco. What do those two cities have in common? This approach is especially necessary when working with isolated verses during topical studies.

For more in-depth study of a book, I use Navigator's Life Change series. Lessons come in 12-to-14-week series. They vary in depth, so using them with students means you'll need to shorten and adapt some of the questions for high schoolers. I like this resource for studying a book or part of a book. The approach is short-presentation lecture that leads to group discussion. And if you have the leaders, break into smaller groups for better discussion. Just give leaders the questions ahead of time.

—Jeff Carter, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of Canada, Moncton, N.B.

Simply ask the kids what they want to learn. They have a million ideas that range from a one-day study to several months of investigation. My kids want to know about other religions and how they differ from ours, about sex (or lack thereof), abortion, teen pregnancy, judgment, peer pressure, material desires, etc. Of course, you'll have to do some investigating in order to find resources—and Bible passages—to teach from. Ask your pastor or other leaders for some direction here. But the best ideas are from the kids. They need their questions answered if they're going to grow closer to God.

—Marcey Manning, Bethany Lutheran Church, Vacaville, Calif.


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.