Youth Pastor Helps Students Immerse in the Bible

Recent data shows 40—50% of Millennials are leaving the church. This includes kids that faithfully attended youth group and went on missions trips. Does that weigh on you and shape the way you do youth ministry?

Definitely. James Emery White in his book Meet Generation Z unpacks what the world might look like to the first generation of young people born into the post-Christian era (1995—2010). For this generation it will be crucial that we get the Bible right—that we stop treating it like a user’s manual or reference book. I’m hesitant to give my students a reference Bible because I want them reading the story, not just looking up verses on what the Bible says about anger.

Immerse represents a new approach to reading Scripture. What caught your attention and attracted you to it?

I’ve really bought into the concept of full meals versus Bible nuggets. And the book club model is perfect for young people. We don’t give them enough credit. If we invite them to read the Bible and express their opinions honestly, they’ll respond. We have to stop trying to control the conversations or thinking that honest opinions are dangerous. We’re starting to use the book club model for more and more of our conversations.

Can you share a little about the group’s experience?

We only had pre-production scripts, but there were some immediate takeaways. For me personally, I found myself reading more. I’d read for a while, and because there were no chapter breaks inviting me to stop, I kept reading. It was only when I finished that I realized I’d read the equivalent of four or five chapters.

For the young people, the text was less intimidating. And reading whole books was a new experience. When we finished reading Mark, one of the girls said, “Is this actually the Bible?”

In addition to our group experience, I had a serendipitous experience with my nephew who’s a junior in high school. Our families were on vacation together and he saw me reading a book about the Bible. I was just finishing the book and offered it to him. But he said he’d actually never read the Bible himself and thought maybe he should read it first. By this time I had a published copy of Immerse: Beginnings and asked if he’d like to read it. That began a summer-long conversation. At one point he said to me, “Sometimes God seems to be the antagonist in the story. The people are building these cities but God steps in and messes things up.”

On another occasion, he expressed annoyance that the story of the construction of the tabernacle was repeated four times! Later he softened and remarked that it must have been very important. Here’s this junior in high school, seriously reading the Old Testament and going from annoyance to insight.

Anything else you want to add?

It’s sobering that 85% of young people today believe the church is hypocritical (I think I got that from the book UnChristian). I don’t blame them for this. This is more on us—your generation and mine. We’ve put stumbling blocks in front of them. This is why I’m a fan of Immerse—reading the bigger story and the more authentic conversations. The Bible isn’t Google! We’re definitely using Immerse more.

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Interview With Immerse Pilot Participant

Like many others of his generation, Duane Martin came to faith in college through the Navigators, a campus organization known for introducing people to the Bible right away. When it comes to the Bible, the Navigators are dedicated.

Duane bought in fully, reading through the entire Bible every year, memorizing Scripture, and joining a church that had Bible as it’s middle name.

So when Duane was invited in the summer of 2017 to join an Immerse pilot group with eight guys from his church in Wheaton, IL, he didn’t hesitate. But what he experienced was surprisingly different from anything he’d experienced before.

How would you describe the overall Immerse experience?
It was great! The format without chapters and verses made it seem easier. All the notes and numbers weren’t bogging me down. Things flowed. Patterns emerged. I was amazed at how things came together. It sounds artificial to say it, but I really felt “immersed” in the Bible.

How difficult was it to keep up with the reading plan and finish Immerse: Messiah in eight weeks?
On a scale of 1 to 10, it was about a 5.7 [Duane is an IBM software executive, so precision matters.] Anybody can do anything for eight weeks. And because I did it with a bunch of guys, we had “appropriate peer pressure.” Like a lot of other guys, I’m into cross-fit training where there’s a scoreboard and everything gets measured. And you always work out harder when you work out with someone else.

Describe your weekly group conversations around the reading.
We had some newer Christians in our group and they were just overwhelmed with the story of Jesus. Without a video or syllabus, things just came out naturally. There was never awkward silence. It evoked a different kind of conversation—really quite freeing. We all agreed that if we got stumped somewhere, we wouldn’t feel pressure to resolve our questions with easy answers.

What sorts of takeaways do you have from the experience?
Immerse: Messiah felt like a book and we treated it like any other book. We dog-eared pages, wrote Post-It notes so we could bring our ideas to the group. I’m definitely interested in moving to the next Immerse experience. And a couple of us are making plans to try to get our whole church to do Immerse.

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