Ok, ok, we all want our students to read every word of scripture.
We want them to read it daily.
We want them to read it cover to cover.
We want them to know the bible inside out.
We should expect more, perhaps, than what we currently expect in terms of our students’ bible reading habits.
I get it. We know that ideally, every student in our ministry would be reading their bibles and working through it each year.
But…the fact is…they’re probably not.
I’m in numerous youth ministry Facebook groups (for better and for worse) and a question came up the other day: What are the top five books of the bible you want your students to read?
I thought it was an interesting question.
It narrows things, doesn’t it?
It makes us take stock and think, what might be important for my students to read and really grasp?
And it’s a hard question to answer.
We don’t want to limit scripture, of course not.
We don’t want to suggest that some books of the bible are ‘better’ than others, or are more important perhaps.
But at the end of the day there are some key themes and stories that will help our students connect more with the gospel of Jesus and the ways of God. If my students were to leave my ministry only having read and grasped five books of the bible, what would my top five be?
For me, well, I did answer the question.
Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily my five favourite books of the bible. These are what I see as the most helpful pieces of scripture for my students, when it comes to communicating the gospel. It’s an interesting question. You may love Jeremiah, and Amos, and Revelation. Great. Are they in the top five for helping your students understand more of the grace of God and seeking to love and follow Him? Maybe they are.
Of course, no answer is a right answer, but let me outline why I think these are the top five for my students.
I think this is obvious. Genesis sets up the whole narrative of the bible. It is here we read of God being a creator God. It’s here we read of God speaking nothing into something. It’s here we read that we are created in his image. It’s here we read of our created natures, male and female. It’s here we read of our sinfulness and separation from God. It’s here we read of God’s promises to Noah and to Abraham. It’s here we read of God being a mission-orientated God who seeks to give grace to his people over and over again.
It might be an odd choice. There is little mention in Ruth of God himself. And the whole context of the book is set in a time that is completely foreign to our own understanding. But, I think it’s an important book. We read of how God is a redeeming God. In Ruth herself we see the grace God has for his people and his willingness to save through redemption. The book of Ruth strongly points to Jesus and his redemption for all sinners on the cross. I believe having students understand this from the Old Testament helps them read and understand their entire bible.
Again, it should be reasonably sensible to include a gospel in this list. After all, a gospel tells of how God sent himself into the world through the human form. From entering the world as a baby and sacrificing himself on the cross as an adult, we read the stories and message of Jesus. Knowing the historical and the theological aspects of Jesus’ life and work are important for each of our students. Luke gives detailed descriptions of what occurs in the first-century, Jesus’ birth, ministry, and passion narrative. What a terrific book for students to understand.
Luke continues his account in the Acts of the Apostles. Acts shows how God didn’t stop working once his Son had died. It shows how, through the church, God continues his mission of redemption and restoration. Here we see the ordinary become extraordinary through the coming and work of the Spirit, the mission emphasis of the early church, and a few historical matters as well. Acts allows our students to be well-grounded in the service and mission of the church, and to see their own roles in the continuing story of God.
A Pauline letter should be a must for students (and it could be said that Ephesians is the mini-Romans). While Romans would no doubt be great, Ephesians touches on similar themes. It outlines how God has blessed us, how we have become one of His children, how he has shown and given us grace apart from works through his Son Jesus. As the letter passes the halfway mark, Paul articulates how this works out in our own lives, in relationships, and that we can continue in the faith with the spiritual armour God has given.
It has to be said, there are a few books that are unlucky to miss out. I can think of Jonah and its emphasis on mission and, once again, God’s unceasing grace to his people. I can think of the Gospel of John and even 1 John, which so clearly outlines the foundations of faith and gives assurance for our belief.
And oh, how thankful we are that we do indeed have the whole of the scriptures. We have them in our pockets, on our phones, and can read them at any time. And so do our students! What a blessing it is that we don’t have to restrict ourselves to just five books, but we have been given 66 to read and teach and grow and challenge us. But it’s a valuable question to consider, when it comes to your own ministry. I have an answer to give a student when he or she inevitably asks the question, when it comes to reading the Bible, “But where do I start?”
I wonder what book you’ll be recommending to one of your students next…?
For related content, check out “3 Reasons You Should Add Genesis to Your Teaching Schedule,” “The Book of Ruth, Critical to God’s Narrative of Redemption,” and “First Books of the Bible for Young Christians to Read“.