Avoid Those Awkward Mistakes: 5 Tips For Leading a Teen Bible Study

So the resources are ordered, the parish hall is “booked” and parents have begun dropping teenagers off at the parish. Teenage souls are assembled and Bibles are sitting on a cart in the corner…now what?!? What can you do when the video is not playing to keep this ark moving forward through teenage storm waters?

1. Don’t go too long.

teen-bible-studyMany times, Bible study leaders arbitrarily select a meeting time and running time. “Well, I have the hall for two hours, so two hours sounds good,” we think to ourselves.

God is timeless, yes…but teens are not. If teens aren’t used to reading and praying Scripture at all, what makes anyone think they’ll jump right into a 90 minute or two hour study format?

Just like working out, stretch first and take it slow. Build up to a longer meeting time by leaving teens wanting for more. I like to keep teachings to 30 minutes, leaving ample time for fellowship (prior), small groups and prayer (during) and hospitality (afterward).

2. Give context to the Bible verses you are sharing.

Put simply, content without context is pretext. This is where many leaders go wrong: they haven’t done their own homework. This is also why resources are so important – Leader’s Guides are created to make a Leader’s life easier.

The more you can set the scene, the more wiling a teen will be to enter into it. If you use a verse from the Prophet Jeremiah, you better know a little about the brother if you want his message to be heard by the modern teen. If you want to quote Deuteronomy go for it, but first set the backdrop for Moses’ “second law”.

And for the love of Him, when we dig into a Gospel account, let’s be sure we’re taking the time to till the soil of the teenage hearts, before we cast the seed (proclaim the word). Before you give the lines, set the scene. Describe the crowd, the tone, the situation and the “mount” before you deliver the Sermon (Matthew 5).

3. Ask questions differently.

Life-giving discussions are easily sidetracked by a lack of guidance. The role of the leader is not to offer every answer, but to help young souls ask the right questions – and to facilitate fruitful conversation.

Open-ended questions are the easiest way to cause side conversations and digression with teenagers, so beware of them. Passive questions like “what do you think” will bring passive answers (cue the crickets again).

Questions posed to the group should be discerned ahead of time, or prayerfully during the course of the discussion. Leaders need to listen not only to what the teens are asking aloud, but also asking through their discomfort or disinterest (shown through body language).

4. Shorten your proclamations.

If it’s a long passage, be sure the person proclaiming it has practiced it. Don’t just hand a teen a Bible and ask them to read it cold – they should never feel like Daniel being tossed to the lions.

In fact, if it’s a really long passage (i.e. The Fall in Genesis 3, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Bread of Life discourse, St. Paul’s discourse on love), you’re better off having the group read it on their own, silently, first.

Next, address the group by paraphrasing it and then focusing in on a few lines at a time, whatever “jumped out” at them, individually. Then, have a teen who has practiced it – in advance – to read it in their own voice aloud for their peers.

5. Develop their hearts first, their heads second.

As their leader, you know what they need most. Outline your goal for yourself and for those on your Catechist/Core Team. Your goal, starting out, might simply be to help your teens overcome intimidation when opening the Bible or to gain confidence when reading a specific Gospel. Maybe your goal is to get your young people to begin reading Scripture daily or to understand the fundamentals of salvation history (always the best way to start, in my opinion).

Whatever it is, make sure it’s clear, and measure your decisions and outline (for the night) around that end. Judge your “success” by the depth of their sharings rather than by the laundry list of facts they share.

Thank you, in advance, for all you do to open God’s living Word to and with our young people. It’s hard work, but the gift you are giving them will remain with them long after they’re sitting on the floor of your parish center.

You can do this. There are a thousand ways to improve, so take them one at a time. The Encounter and T3 studies I’ve authored through Ascension Press are the culmination not only of some successes but the result of countless “failures” I’ve enjoyed over the years. I continue to learn from them – I pray these resources will help you avoid making some of the same. God bless our (collective) efforts!

Mark Hart

Mark Hart serves as Executive Vice President for Life Teen International. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a twenty-year veteran of youth ministry, Mark is a best-selling and award-winning author (or co-author) of over a dozen books and one of the most sought-after speakers serving in the Catholic Church, today. Mark hosts his own weekly satellite radio show, “Fired Up!”, for The Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129 and is a Research Fellow for the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Additionally, his weekly audio podcast (Sunday, Sunday, Sunday) and HD video spots (Beyond Words) are helping youth groups, families and classrooms in over two dozen countries enter more deeply into the Sunday Mass readings. Mark’s humor and his passion for Scripture —as experienced in his DVD Bible Study Series, “T3” and “Encounter” — are helping hundreds of thousands of Catholics, young and old, begin to read and study the Bible in engaging and relevant ways. Mark and his wife, Melanie, and their children live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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  • Maggie

    I agree

  • Mark Hart

    Thanks for the question! Passive questions often begin with “Did you…” or “Have you…” or “When you…” but often put the teen in a position to answer (or avoid answering) with a mere “yes” or “no.” More engaging questions often begin with “What do you think…” or “Why is the…” as they necessitate a thoughtful response. For example, asking “Have you ever thought about David and Goliath’s fight before?” will not draw the same response as, “What do you think was going through David’s mind when he approached the battlefield?” Another example might be, “Have you ever stopped to consider what it was like for Mary to encounter an angel?” or (the better) “What do you think Mary saw that day when the Angel Gabriel came to her? Describe it.” I hope this helps!

  • Bill N Jessica Fahy

    Can you give an example to #3 of a type of question that is not open-ended or passive? I guess that’s all I’m used to using and I agree with the reaction mostly – crickets. So can you give examples of how you ask questions differently?

    • April

      I would also like to know the answer to that question

    • grace

      They may be talking about yes/no questions or ones with two options where the person only has to respond with one word or a shorter response. They don’t really invite discussion