Pre-teen boys rarely hug their fathers in front of their friends, but mine did—after our first Bible study. “Thank you, Daddy! That was fun, and I learned a lot.” Imagine my delight as we launched this semi-monthly training group for our church’s middle schoolers. The usual response at the end of each hour-long meeting was, “What, we’re already done?!”
Mid-way through the year, I asked my sons what they liked about the Bible study. One said (and the other agreed), “Daddy, before you showed us how to study the Bible, I would just read a chapter and then stop. I didn’t know what else to do. But now I know what to do! Now I know how to understand it.”
Would you like your 12-year-olds to understand the Bible? How can you set them up for success?
1. Cast vision for Bible study
Before explaining how to study the Bible, tell your 12-year-old why to study the Bible. Because Bible study is hard work, your child must be convinced the reward will be worth the effort.
The chief purpose for Bible study is not to appease God or parents, but to know Jesus. The Scriptures are about him (Luke 24:44-47), and knowing him is eternal life (John 17:3). Don’t underestimate your kids. They can get this.
2. Teach them the basic skills
The basics of the OIA method can be taught in 5 minutes. In our first Bible study, I explained the model simply.
- Observation is asking “What does it say?”
- Interpretation is asking “What does it mean?”
- Application is asking “How should I change?”
I showed my students how Jesus demonstrated these principles in his usage of the Bible. I illustrated the principles with everyday experiences like stopping at a traffic signal. When you see a red light (observation), you know it means stop (interpretation), and you apply the brake pedal (application). They got it pretty quickly, and we organized each Bible study around these categories.
3. Practice the skills with them
Learning to study the Bible is like learning to swim or ride a bike. There is no substitute for regular practice. It doesn’t need to happen often, but it does need to be consistent.
Our study group for middle schoolers met twice per month for one hour. With only these 2 hours each month, I was able to both demonstrate and rehearse how to:
- Observe the text
- Ask good interpretive questions
- Get the author’s main point
- Draw good connections to Jesus, and
- Apply the passage to the head, heart, and hands.
The last time I tried to teach my older children how to study the Bible, it didn’t sink in because I never took the time to practice it with them. This time around, we made more progress when we had a forum with other children to practice and reinforce the skills.
4. Expect them to practice the skills on their own
“Feed a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Our goal must not be for these adolescents to admire our study skills or our love for the Bible. Nor should we lower our expectations to keep the disinterested on board. No, we want our children to be motivated and equipped to study the Bible themselves. Therefore, practicing the skills with them is not enough. They need to practice on their own and check in with you for feedback.
In my study I gave homework, asking each student to study the Bible passage for at least 1 hour each week (thus 2 hours before each meeting). I gave them a worksheet to aid their study, and the completed worksheet served as the child’s “ticket” for admission to each meeting. At one point, I asked a boy to stop coming because he wasn’t doing his homework or participating in the discussion. If we want to increase our kids’ motivation, we must give them something worth investing in!
5. Add to their toolkit over time
Mastery of a complex skill requires not only practice but also ongoing instruction.
At each meeting, I taught my middle schoolers either one more thing to look for or one more question to add to their worksheet. Early on, we focused on repeated words and basic facts (the who/what/where/when/how/why of the passage). Next, I taught them how to ask interpretive questions and answer them from the text. Later, I looped back to observation and gave them 3 more literary devices to look for (continuation, comparison, contrast). At each meeting, we would practice the skills we had learned thus far, and then I would share one more skill. So we’d add another tool to their kit each time we met, making them more adept journeymen in their Bible study.
I can’t describe the priceless joy I gained from seeing these pre-teens learn to love God’s word and dig in on their own. May you know this joy, too, as you lead your children to know Christ through the Scripture.