Stop Trying to Make the Bible Relevant to Teenagers

It’s easy to feel pressure to make the Bible seem cool and relevant to teenagers. What Christian doesn’t want young people to see the importance of God’s Word?

In my years in youth ministry, though, I’ve seen unhelpful and even harmful methods of trying to make Scripture relevant. Book publishers make Bibles look like magazines, youth workers preach a hipster Jesus, and parents confuse their child’s involvement in a fun youth group for a growing relationship with God.

Yet in our efforts to make Scripture more entertaining, we actually confirm suspicions that it is in fact boring and irrelevant. And when youth workers aren’t as cool as they think they are, their efforts end up looking cheesy, which is the last thing that will help a teenager see the Bible’s importance. 

So how do you break through to a young person so they see Scripture’s significance? How do you impress the Bible’s relevance on a teenager who gauges importance by whatever’s atop her social media stream?

It’s Already Relevant

If you want teens—whether in your home or youth group—to appreciate the Bible, the first thing you must do is trust its relevance in your own heart. That trust should come across in how you talk about what the Bible says and why it matters. Scripture testifies to its own importance for God’s people, sometimes even pointing to young people in particular (Prov. 2:1–15; Eph. 6:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:16).

Peter’s words are especially helpful: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). Notice that Peter writes, “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” That means stress over grades, sexual temptation, loneliness, awkwardness—and how to honor God in each of these areas. But also notice how the power for everything that pertains to life and godliness comes to us—through the knowledge of God. And how do we attain this vital knowledge? Through the Scriptures.

But if the Bible is as relevant as Peter says it is, then why are teenagers so often disinterested in learning from parents and youth pastors?

Why Teens Don’t Listen

The sad reality is that many young people don’t take to God’s Word because they’re spiritually dead. This is why they don’t “long for the pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet. 2:1). Yet even this is no excuse to water down the Bible or ignore it, since God does his work to make us “born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).

Still, we often minister to young people who are genuinely converted but largely disinterested. They might confess with their mouth that Scripture is important, but they’ve had few encounters when it made a significant difference to them.

Parents, youth pastors, and youth volunteers need to learn how to put the Bible’s relevance on display for students like this. Again, this isn’t to be confused with the lame efforts to make the Bible relevant. It’s the difference between adding relevance versus drawing out relevance, like the difference between adding cream and sugar to diner coffee versus bringing out the intense flavors of a French Press.

Three Key Steps

So how do you bring those flavors out of God’s Word so that teens taste their intensity? Here are three steps:

  1. Impress our need for what the Bible teaches us, showing that we cannot ultimately meet that need on our own.
  2. Show where the Bible talks about the same thing teenagers experience, and point to the solution it gives (which will usually be different than our natural response).
  3. Show how that answer ultimately comes to us through what Jesus has done for us.

When young people go through difficult times, for example, they often wonder if God cares. Where is God? they ask. During those times, Scripture’s relevance crashes into their experience. Israel claims, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God” (Isa. 40:27). Yet the prophet goes on to say that God gives power to the faint as they wait for him to intervene. The answer might not come right away, but God empowers us as we trust him to act. This is what Jesus experienced on the cross, after all. The Father turned away from the Son, then raised him on the third day. And because we’re united to Jesus through faith we know God will act for us, too.

Moreover, the story of David and Bathsheba reveals the Bible’s relevance for teenagers. Some might apply it by saying, “See how bad the consequences are for sexual sin? You better stay pure!” But this point offers no hope to those who awake to the consequences of sin each morning. The passage only seems relevant to those who haven’t “messed up” yet. There’s no relevance for the teenage boy or girl addicted to porn, or the girl who’s pregnant in high school. What does this passage say to the person who thinks she has thrown her life away, who is drowning in hopelessness and regret?

It shows that even the godliest people can fall in the area of sexual purity, but when they do they repent when confronted (2 Sam. 12:13). This passage also shows how God redeems us. The son of David who died in his place for a single sexual sin (2 Sam. 12:14) points to the ultimate Son of David who died in our place for all the sexual sins of the world. The story also reveals how our sexual sin doesn’t ruin God’s plan for us. Bathsheba’s son Solomon went on to fulfill God’s immediate plan for the building of the temple, and his more distant plan of sending the Messiah who would fulfill God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7). David’s sin didn’t force God to shift to Plan B. God redeemed David’s sin so that it led to the plan he had been orchestrating all along. God does that for us when we seek the forgiveness he offers in Jesus even if, like David, our sin has lifelong consequences.

Swing Your Own Sword 

Our job as parents and youth workers is to continue learning more of Scripture so that we can see its relevance for our own lives and the lives of the young people God entrusts to us. The Bible is a sword that pierces hearts (Heb. 4:12). It’s a sword attended by the power of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).

So let us learn to wield this sword in such a way that our young people see it glimmer, hear it ring, and feel the healing that comes when it cuts. Then they will want to start swinging it, too.


Editors’ note: For more on ministry to teenagers, be sure to check out Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry (Crossway, 2016) [review | excerpt | excerpt]. 

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