We have quickly moved into the digital age, and as youth ministers and leadership teams, we are constantly making conscious and unconscious decisions about what technologies we use within our youth ministries. Some recent issues include:
- Whether we should make it easier for people to access God's Word by removing the physical Bible and putting the text up on a screen.
- How we engage with youth throughout the week via social media, promoting upcoming events and challenging the youth to continue to think over what they have been learning at youth group.
Whenever new technologies come along, Christians should be aware of the possibilities that they offer for growing God’s kingdom, whilst also being aware of any threats they might pose.
The advantages of having the Bible on digital devices
When it comes to reading the Bible on phones and tablets, we need to remember the principle that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. It is certainly permissible to read the Bible from a portable electronic device, but is it beneficial in a group setting?
There are a number of situations in which a digital Bible is an improvement upon the printed text:
- It quickly gives anyone personal access to a Bible
- It's cheaper to download than having to buy a physical Bible, often free
- It is extremely portable, able to be carried in your pocket, which is especially useful when travelling
- It can be read in the dark
- Multilingual advantages open up opportunities to study God’s word alongside people from different language backgrounds
- People in a group can ensure they are reading from the same translation (although this is a problem in settings where the NIV84 is still used, as it is no longer available in digital form)
Why we use paper Bibles at our youth group
While there are advantages with a digital version, is it beneficial to allow youth to read a digital version at youth group? Spiritual discernment is always needed in making a decision such as this, and the answer that various groups come up with may be different depending upon individual circumstances. Our youth leadership team are very much for helping the youth to engage God’s word – but how is that best accomplished in a group setting? What drives us is the desire to see youth not simply accessing the Bible, but engaging with it with to understand it, and apply it to their lives.
Consequently, there are a number of reasons why our youth leadership team has decided that it is more beneficial to still use physical bibles for reading, preaching, and group discussion:
- We have found that youth can be easily distracted when on their devices, being tempted to flick between apps and not focus on the Word of God.
- A distracted teenager looking at another app then also creates a distraction for the youth around them.
- When someone becomes a Christian or asks for a Bible we give them a physical copy rather than telling them to download the Bible app, and so we encourage them to use the one they've been given.
- We cannot assume that everyone has a portable electronic device, and so by all using printed Bibles no one feels left out.
- A newcomer or youth who doesn’t bring their own Bible can also use one of the ‘pew Bibles’.
- Printed Bibles don’t suffer from having a flat battery.
- We intentionally want to teach our youth to be familiar with the Bible, including knowing where books sit and where passages are in the context of both its book and the overall Bible.
Deciding what's best for your youth
All of us as leaders regularly use both digital and printed versions of the Bible, so we have nothing against using new technologies such as this. However, in light of our overriding desire to do all that we can to encourage the youth in our care to know God through engaging with his Word, we have decided that for the time being at least, we will continue to use the printed Bible at youth group. We believe it is the most beneficial way for our teenagers to engage with God’s Word.
While I understand there may be practicalities that need to be considered for larger sized youth groups, I’d be interested in hearing what others do in their youth groups. Do you encourage people to bring their own bible? Give them a church bible? Tell them to download a Bible app and use that? What do you do in your youth group setting and why have you chosen that option?
About the author: Donny Kwan is Youth Minister at West Ryde Anglican Church.