Teens are at an interesting place developmentally, and that can make instructing them in God’s Word a big challenge, at times. While youth leaders and parents might sometimes long for the mindless pat answers of young children, the intellectual growth and new-found reasoning skills of teens should not be cause for grief. Instead, we need to realize that if we don’t offer satisfactorily robust theology, the world will give them the compliment of entertaining their questions with detailed responses. If the believers teens know fail to offer relevant and logical explanations for their beliefs, teens can understandably assume that those beliefs cannot stand up to scrutiny.
Interpretation — What Does the Bible Say?
The foundation for Bible study should be careful exegesis, or unpacking the message of Scripture. A key thought teens can start to understand is that while varying interpretations can exist, not all interpretations are equally legitimate. Sometimes, “church talk” includes phrases such as “This is what [the passage] means to me,” meant to defend a personal opinion or application; or “Well, that’s just your interpretation,” often used to avoid convicting or uncomfortable truths. Neither is truly legitimate; 2 Peter 1:20, 21 argues that Scripture had God-breathed meaning when its human authors penned its words, so it is not up for grabs.
Teens can learn to research the historical and cultural context of a passage as well as the grammatical breakdown. They can utilize study tools such as NetBible and learn how to come up with valid interpretations that are backed by more than individual whims or passing trends. If such carefully considered interpretations are different from yours or your church’s, you’ll need to be cautious in how you address them. Interpretations fueled by careful study combined with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is not reserved for adults or church leaders: God can speak to teenagers, too.
Application — What Does the Bible Mean for Me?
Perhaps people often use the phrase “This is what [the passage] means to me” in order to communicate a conviction or application to which they have come. Regardless of how you express the way you’re applying God’s Word to your own life, it’s important that teens learn to do so, as well. It’s not enough to require them to take on your own applications; they must learn to think through and apply God’s Word on their own. While you may reserve their right to exercise their own applications while they’re under your authority, parents who humbly and openly discuss their own applications and give a hearing to their teen’s honest ideas will be much more likely to influence their decisions once they’re in a place to make them.
As teens’ minds develop, prompting adult-level reasoning and decision-making abilities, parents and other mentors can influence them in a positive way by keeping the conversation open and guiding them as they explore God’s Word.