Parents, Value Expository Teaching at Youth Group

In my early years of student ministry, I remember well-intentioned people trying to convince me to teach topical rather than expository messages in youth group. “Why do we have to teach through one passage each week?” they asked. “Teens will be so much more engaged if we teach about topics they care about! My favorite messages have been when a speaker takes a topic and brings in lots of Bible passages to back it up!”

I get their point. Teens do have a lot of practical questions, and we need to be able to help them address those topics from a biblical lens. We absolutely want youth group to be fun and relevant.

However, I wasn’t convinced to stop teaching expository Bible messages to teens, and more than 15 years later, I’m even more sure of my decision. As a youth worker (and now as a mom as well), I believe there are at least three compelling reasons for consistently teaching through whole passages of Scripture with teens.

1. We give teens a taste of the whole counsel of Scripture. 

We’ll never plumb all the depths that Scripture has to offer in a lifetime, let alone between sixth and twelfth grade. I won’t be able to take students through every book of the Bible. But if we teach through the Bible, by the time our teens graduate, they’ll have experienced a taste for all that can be found in God’s Word. They’ll walk through epistles, the stories of Jesus, Old Testament narratives, poetry, and prophecy. They’ll learn to work through the “difficult” passages that show up in the middle of books we’re studying—passages that I wouldn’t have necessarily singled out to teach on, were I simply picking what students would be most interested in. 

In any given season of my life, there is usually some particular lesson I feel passionate about—and other truths of God’s Word that just aren’t as high on my radar at the moment. If I picked lessons based on my current level of excitement, your teens (and I!) would miss significant aspects of God’s counsel… perhaps passages that God knows we all need to hear right then. After all, all Scripture is valuable for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Last year, while I picked Jude to study with my students for some practical reasons, it became clear that really, God had selected that book because it’s what my heart needed! 

Teaching through various books of the Bible also gives us a chance to show teens how every passage ultimately points us to Jesus and what he has done on the cross. Teens (perhaps all of us) often default to making the Bible about them and what they should do. Approaching even law and narrative sections with a view primarily to who God is and what he has done—and then what we’re called to in response—teaches them to read all of Scripture in this light.

2. We let Scripture speak for itself. 

The second benefit of expository teaching is that it allows Scripture to speak its own messages. As we work through the book of Philippians (or Amos or John) we hit the topics the biblical writer saw as important—and that God included in his canon of Scripture. We follow the logic and emphasis of the passage itself. And in that way, both the students and I are learning from Scripture’s own teaching—rather than the students simply being discipled into my personal passions and Bible knowledge.

Now don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the challenge of needing to find Scripture to back up my position on a certain theological issue. I appreciate systematic theology—I’ve even written a book overviewing what Scripture has to say about the topic of sexuality. It is valuable to teach students to search the Bible in that way.

But it’s also really easy, when searching for verses that say something, to make Scripture say what I want it to say—or at least emphasize what I want it to emphasize—while ignoring other things the Bible clearly teaches (2 Pet. 3:16). On the other hand, when I teach through an entire book of the Bible (or at least an entire passage, if doing a topical series), I have to follow what it says and get my cues from the author. Through this, students learn to sit under the Bible’s authority and let it speak for itself. They leave impressed not with my teaching but with the God who speaks through his word (1 Cor. 2:1-2).

3. We teach students to study the Bible on their own.

Ultimately, my goal as I teach teens (and raise my own kids) is not to have them dependent on me to instruct them in God’s Word (Heb. 5:12, Acts 17:11). I want them to learn to study it for themselves! And one of the ways I can teach them that is by modeling it.

When we open up to a passage and read it together—and then help them see the author’s main point, how he makes his argument, and what kind of application it has on our lives—I’m giving students a chance to practice studying Scripture. In showing them how I interpret a passage (looking at genre, context, emphasis, and application), they gradually learn to look at these things themselves. If we’re all looking at the same passage, the students are actually opening their own Bibles to read along with us, allowing me to ask questions like, “What do you see in verse 6?” or to follow up their off-the-wall answers in discussion time with, “Where do you see that in the passage?”

When it’s time for Scripture, I want students to feel like opening their Bibles to study along is essential. I want them to know they can read and study God’s Word for themselves and understand it, because we let Scripture speak for itself. And I want them, over time, to get a taste of the whole counsel of God and to grow in their desire to plumb its depths for the rest of their lives.

Ultimately, I want to introduce students to the study of Scripture because it is in these words of life that we come to know the gospel (2 Tim. 3:15, Rom. 10:17). God’s Word is flawless, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey, a light for our path. It’s alive and active; it sanctifies us; it’s the way to life. In opening it and studying it together, my prayer is that our teens become not just students of the Word but shaped by the God who breathed each word of it for our good.

For more resources on gospel-centered parenting, check out our Family Discipleship Video Courses.

Jennifer Kvamme

Jennifer M. Kvamme is passionate about helping teenagers see the beauty of the gospel and apply it to all of life. She has been in youth ministry at Centennial Church in Forest Lake, MN, for 20 years and is the author of More to the Story: Deep Answers to Real Questions on Attraction, Identity, and Relationships. She and her husband, Greg, have three children.

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