I finally broke down and bought a box of ESV red pew Bibles from the CEP bookstore (shameless plug) to use in the youth ministry at my church. For twenty years, I have steadfastly held to the conviction that students should bring their Bibles to church. Call me what you will but I have had this niggling idea that if students were not bringing and using their Bibles in the one place that they can be assured that it is safe to do so then the odds are they are not using them anywhere else…including at home. So, for decades, I have encouraged, cajoled and even bribed students to bring their Bibles to BIBLE STUDY but this summer when I looked out among our senior high group and realized that only 2 students had Bibles, I decided it was time to throw in the towel and buy Bibles to hand out each week. The irony here is that when I asked the group, the average number of Bibles in each household was 5 and every student admitted owning at least 2 Bibles. I will let you extrapolate any conclusions about the state of Christian (or at least churched) teens and the Bible that you feel are warranted from my choice to buy Bibles for our youth group. As you are drawing your conclusions, let me add two additional observations. First, from talking with youth ministry workers around the country, I know that my experience is not an isolated occurrence in youth programs. Second, when my pastor asked our congregation to hold up their Bibles recently at the beginning of a sermon only about half of the adults had Bibles.
I have to admit that I headed into the Youth Excelling in Leadership (YXL) conference at Covenant College this summer feeling a little defeated and pessimistic from my red pew Bible experience. Our theme at YXL was Imagine Big and our speaker from RUF at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, John Craft was preaching through the book of Ephesians so I should have been more excited than I was. However, my increasing negativity about students growing in their knowledge and love of God if they were not reading his Word was squashing my ability to Imagine Big about the next generation. Thankfully, with each passing day, the Lord kept placing me in situations where I observed teenagers engaging with the Scriptures. Whether it was that first night, when everyone opened a Bible (and not one was a red pew Bible) when the speaker said “turn in your Bibles to…” or if it was observing a student pull out his i-phone and use his Bible app in line for lunch to answer a question from another student, I was being shown that there are students who want to know what God’s word says.
After hearing from the directors of YXL Glorieta and YXL Northeast about the ways in which God had blessed those conferences this summer, my dying embers of teaching the Bible to teenagers had grown back into a blazing passion. The facts about the three YXL conferences this summer tell the story of three unique leadership conferences that are committed to helping high school students develop as Christian leaders through the formation of a reformed world view. Both YXL Glorieta (www.yxlglorieta.org) and YXL at Covenant College (www.pcacep.org/yxl) had over 100 students each and the newest YXL conference, YXL Northeast (www.pcacep.org/yxl/northeast) had over 30 folks in attendance. Depending on which conference students attended they took part high ropes courses, whitewater rafting, ministry projects, street evangelism, leadership initiatives, hikes, paintball and problem solving challenges. Each conference utilized campus pastors from Reformed University Ministries for main speakers including Chad Scruggs from Southern Methodist University, Chris Garriott from University of Maryland, John Craft from University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and Tom Franklin from Birmingham Southern. The Center for Parent and Youth Understanding (www.cpyu.com) provided an excellent seminar speaker, Derek Melby who directs CPYU’s College Transition Initiative to lead seminars at YXL Northeast. Students in Glorieta, New Mexico spent the week unpacking the theme, “Stained: Engaging for Redemption” and the two other conferences opened up the book of Ephesians and explored the theme IMAGINE BIG. If you were so inclined, you could go on facebook and youtube right now and find pictures, slide shows and videos from the different YXL conferences that show students have a great time. Yet, for me, more than great relational moments and challenging activities was the importance of the fact that taken together the three YXL conferences had students from over 60 churches that were through worship, preaching, teaching and personal devotions interacting regularly with God’s Word.
The YXL philosophy is to challenge students to take what they have learned during the conference back into their “world” and apply it. It is my prayer that there are 60 churches and youth groups that will be impacted this next Sunday because YXL attendees brought their Bibles to church and are using them. I told students for a week at YXL at Covenant College that God was able to do more than we ask or imagine…therefore we have the right as children of God to IMAGINE BIG. So, while it may seem na