You see their nimble thumbs blaze across miniature keyboards with the ferocity of a jungle cat. The light in their eyes is a mere reflection of the illuminated screen before them. They have no time for face-to-face conversations — not when there are virtual conversations offered through an unlimited text-message plan.
I give you the modern teenager.
So, just how do you break through the technological barriers of this tech-savvy teen subculture? What role (if any) does sacred Scripture play in the life of Catholic adolescents? Do modern teens actually want to pick up a Bible and read or have conversations with mouths and not thumbs?
Many adults today tell me that the “average teenager” couldn’t care less about the Bible. Extensive firsthand experience, however, demands that I humbly reply, “LOL” (“laugh out loud” in text-happy vernacular). I led my first teen Bible study almost 20 years ago and, while teen culture has dramatically changed, their desires have not. Teens want truth, and the Catholic Church has it.
Sacred Scripture powerfully shatters the fetters of this screen-based culture with life-altering immediacy. The key to helping teenagers engage the Bible with reverence is in the approach, one that unearths its timeless relevance in a timely way.
The Catholic youth ministry landscape continues to change. For a long time, there was an obvious void in high-quality, teen-friendly Catholic Bible study materials. Most Catholic catechists were forced to seek Protestant materials and then attempt to “Catholicize” the lesson plans. Forced to do this myself early on, I’m embarrassed to admit how poorly it worked.
The rise of quality parish-based youth ministry and solidly Catholic youth events, however, have created a new hunger for effective and engaging Catholic resources. There are increasing opportunities for Catholic youth to dive into the Word of God (Jesus) through his word (the Bible) like never before.
Here are just a few of the inspiring trends I’ve witnessed over the past few years:
The sacred art of reading and praying the Scriptures is timeless, to be sure. What I’ve been astounded by, however, is how practical and engaging it is for the modern teenager. I teach lectio to Catholic teens and adults every chance I get. I can honestly say the teen response often leaves me speechless. Their insights are profound. Their spiritual depth is staggering. Their authentic approach to difficult truths is to be admired.
Teens are capable of more than many give them credit for; they just have to be led into the word properly. The parent or catechist must demonstrate that the biblical truths they teach are practically applied, first in their own daily life. Try it. There’s a reason that this form of prayer is centuries old ... and that it is gaining steam with the young Church.
DVD Bible Study Series
For a screen-happy generation, the convergence of Scripture and technology is a visually stimulating new approach to ancient truths. Several years back, Catholic Scripture scholar Jeff Cavins approached me about creating a teen version of his wildly popular “The Great Adventure” Bible study series. Shortly thereafter, “T3: The Teen Timeline” came to fruition. I’m humbled to share that there are now four separate T3 Bible studies being used in youth groups, parochial classrooms and living rooms across the world. The interactive DVD study and supporting student/leader materials systematically walk teens through the Bible with humor and depth from a completely Catholic perspective.
Liturgy of the Hours
Recently, our staff at Life Teen prayerfully decided to teach teens at our camps and conferences how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and to include it in our daily schedule of activities. The response has been overwhelming. Teens of all ages — even middle-school youth — get up early at camp to join together in the universal prayer of the Church. Nightly, hundreds gather again to pray the Scriptures. Many of us initially feared that teens might not engage. We’ve since found that, for this generation — so hungry for community and so in love with music — the Liturgy of the Hours (in particular the Psalms) is an intriguing and attractive entry point for prayer.
Lectionary-Based Bible Study
As we all know, the Church in her wisdom gives us the three-year Lectionary cycle. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of free podcasts to help people of all ages better prepare for the upcoming Sunday Mass. Many families I know have begun praying the upcoming Mass readings together in the preceding days with the help of such podcasts and other quality books. The fruit is tremendous. Not only are families spending more social and prayer time together throughout the week, but the Liturgy of the Word at Mass is coming to life for them like never before.
I share these few examples to offer hope to any adults beginning to lose it. Teens do care about Scripture, even if they don’t know it yet. It’s important for parents to know what’s out there and what is working.
Spend some time online or at your local Catholic bookstore to see what’s available. Ask your parish youth minister or diocesan office what might be available in your area, but please don’t ever write off the modern teenager as “uninterested.” Nothing could be further from the truth. If a teen isn’t in love with the Bible, it’s only because he or she hasn’t had the right experience of it yet.
Give your modern teenagers the sacred Scriptures.
They are God’s original text message.
Mark Hart, known as “The Bible Geek,” is executive vice president of Life Teen Inc.