I believe that a working knowledge of biblical truth is beneficial to people, even if they choose not to become followers of Christianity. However, many young people are now growing up outside the church. When they do come to church, they struggle to understand what is being taught. I believe that most of this struggle is due to the methods used to communicate, not the content of the information.
When we prepare to teach or preach the Bible to teenagers or young adults, we need to remember that we live in a culture that is biblically illiterate. Most young adults do not know the stories in the Bible. Therefore, if we refer to biblical stories as illustrations, our young adult audience may not follow our flow of thought very well. This is not because lift up a banner they are stupid or uninterested. It is simply because they do not know the stories we are referring to so casually. If we want to use a biblical story as an illustration for some point we are making, we are going to have to take the time to tell that story to the audience. We simply cannot assume they already know it. The same would be true about using certain religious words that may convey significant meaning to a churched audience, but have no meaning whatsoever to a non-churched listener.
In my personal experience, I have found it very helpful to pick a book of the Bible and teach through the entire book over a period of time. Teaching through a book of the Bible paragraph by paragraph helps the hearers build a base of understanding for that particular book. Then, when I refer back to a story from that same book, which was covered in a previous lesson, they tend to follow it better.
In addition to not having a general knowledge of the Bible, young adults do not automatically accept what they hear about the Bible as true. Even if we tell a biblical story that illustrates a point, or quote multiple verses that we think proves the truth we are teaching, we may not be convincing the listeners because young adults tend to be skeptical of absolute truth. Using a large number of verses from various parts of the Bible can actually be counter-productive. Part of this is due to them not knowing enough about the various parts of the Bible to be able to follow along, and part of this is due to a tendency for pastors and teachers to take one verse out of context when needing to pump up a weak exegesis of another verse. Young adults may not know much about the Bible, but they are not fooled by weak explanations or poor contextual analysis. Since jumping around from passage to passage is very confusing to them, giving them additional verses actually does not convince them any more than just giving them solid teaching on a subject from one good passage of scripture.
Personally, I have found that if I wrap the entire lesson around a single scripture passage and spend time explaining that passage well, young adults tend to be able to focus better on the truth that I am trying to convey. This is different than when I first started in ministry and topical studies were more in vogue. Topical studies are more helpful if the hearers have a general understanding of the Bible. Topical studies are less helpful if the hearers have little or no general understanding of Biblical teaching or theology.
Because teenagers and young adults are not sure the Bible is absolute truth, it makes little sense to ask them to make a spiritual commitment on the spot. This does not mean that we should not move them toward making deeply personal spiritual commitments; it simply means that they are unlikely to make such commitments instantly. Instead, preachers and teachers should consider challenging young adults to think deeply about the truth that has just been conveyed. Young adults should be challenged to reflectively contemplate biblical truth and only asked to make a commitment to that truth once they have come to a reflective conclusion. In my own ministry, I often tell the students in advance of certain dates in which we will be having a baptism, or some other spiritual milestone, and ask them to come see me before that date if they are ready to make some type of spiritual commitment. That allows them time to consider making a spiritual decision, but does not force them to decide without having thought it through completely.
It has been our experience that postmodern teenagers and young adults are curious about spiritual things and they do want to know that the Bible says about various issues they are facing in their lives. It may just take awhile before they accept biblical concepts as truth. When we get frustrated with how long it takes for them to come around, we must remember that no one comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws them. Let us teach and preach the Word, filled with His Spirit, and patiently await the Father to draw the next generation to Himself
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett is a graduate of both Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He serves with the North American Mission Board (SBC) as a church planting catalyst in New England.