The big black discs you put on a turntable and place a needle on to play are suddenly cool again.
Maybe you’ve seen them only at Goodwill or garage sales. Maybe you were holding on to your collection and your mom sold it while you were at college, but vinyl is in.
LP lovers seem to always talk about the full sound that is absent in digital formats. Or they rave about the album experience, hearing the entire piece as the artist intended.
Digital music available on iTunes is popular because of the vast selection, near-perfect quality, and the ability to buy a single song. Vinyl music is experiencing a resurgence because of its great variety, imperfect recording quality, and the album packaging.
Limited, slower, and immersive—vinyl seems to work because it is largely the opposite of digital media.
Perhaps the same thing is happening with teaching teenagers to read the Bible.
This generation of young adults does not know of a world without the Internet and social media. Theirs is a world of immediacy and content overload.
This past summer a fellow leader and I had the unique opportunity of taking two students to camp. Having only two students for a week changes things; we really tried to invest in these two guys in ways we couldn’t if we had taken 200. So one afternoon we ditched the curriculum and tried something different.
We practiced lectio divina, the ancient monastic practice of slowly reading Scripture in a meditative state that has been practiced by Christians for hundreds of years. That’s right, two sophomore guys and their two 20-something leaders slowly read and meditated over Scripture together.
Afterward, when we debriefed the practice, it was incredible how much they connected with God and Scripture through the experience.
A verse they had read before and maybe even memorized came alive because they took the time to stop and read the passage slowly over and over again until a word or phrase began to stick out. The Spirit took something they were used to and made it fresh.
But these were core students who take their faith seriously and make being their minister a rewarding and humbling experience. How would the rest of the group react to this?
When we got back, we taught the four steps to many other students, gave them some suggested verses that my two all-stars had assembled, and sent them to a quiet place in the church. I hoped they wouldn’t get distracted, so I set the timer for only 10 minutes. I made the mistake of underestimating them.
Ten minutes later, when I had them reconvene with us, they commented on how fast the time went by and that they wished there had been more. Usually it takes a few questions to get any sort of conversation started, but this time I opened it up and the conversation took off. Students who don’t normally share were blowing me away with their insights and depth. I was humbled.
In my mind, teaching students the Bible had always been about context. In order for them to connect, they needed to see how the entire story fit together. I still stand by this approach, but in teaching lectio divina I am learning that my methods need adapting. Helping them see the world that Scripture came from is important, but so is allowing a student to enter into Scripture with their story.
At the core this is moving to a balance of quantity and quality.
Following a Bible reading plan that focuses on quantity is important, but it is too familiar. A teenager is taught for the test, consumes massive amounts of content so as to remain in the know, and texts several friends at a time to avoid being a social outcast. Thinking in terms of quantity is normative.
Focusing on quantity creates a shallow thinking process. When a teenager or young adult reads an article online, he or she skims and jumps by clicking on hyperlinks. If you read an article on CNN.com you will notice a few bullet points at the top of the article summarizing the piece. Thinking deeply about a single topic still happens, but it is less common these days.
A shallow thought process is not limited to academics. As a student pastor, I see teenagers change best friends with such frequency that when I do see two who have remained true friends for long stretches, it stands out as odd. Long-term social investments are being marginalized.
Interacting with the Bible is less about reading it and more about allowing the Bible to read you. As opposed to a textbook that holds answers to the test, the Bible is a tool for reflection and dialogue. Scripture is a way the Spirit communicates with us. Approaching the Bible as something to be consumed shortchanges its power. Lectio divina or any other practice that encourages a slower reading is sorely needed.
What I am learning is that young adults and teenagers are very open to the depth that is ushered in with spiritual practices like lectio divina. They just need to be led to a place where they can stop and engage.
Quantity clearly is important as we live with the Bible, but quantity is useless if quality is sacrificed.
Josh Tandy is student minister at Genesis Church in Noblesville, Indiana.