AMARILLO, Texas (BP) – Many students are looking forward to a relaxing summer vacation after a long school year, but one church youth group in Texas is instead challenging its students to read through the whole Bible together in 66 days.
Will Standridge, youth pastor at Amarillo’s Paramount Baptist Church, proposed the challenge after a few students asked him what plans the group would have to read the Bible during the summer.
Standridge has only been the youth pastor at Paramount for about two months, but he said he can already see that he inherited students who have a passion for studying the Word.
“When I came in as youth pastor the students were wanting me to preach the Bible, and that was the expectation for me.” Standridge said. “I would need to be a youth pastor that was not primarily about fun and games but about discipleship and teaching. As we go into the summer they aren’t as much interested with what fun things we’re going to do, but they’re interested in what can we do to grow in our faith.”
The group had been reading through James together during their Wednesday night gatherings, but Standridge said the students were asking a lot of questions related to the Old Testament. He wanted to choose a plan that was more of an overview where students could see how the two testaments connect in the big picture.
“I want the students to see that the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is one grand story all preaching the name of Jesus,” he said.
The goal of the challenge is to read a book of the Bible each day for 66 consecutive days. The first day the students would read Genesis, the second day Exodus and so forth.
Standridge told the students that if they don’t read every chapter of some of the larger books, it is fine to move on to the next book the following day so as not to fall behind. The goal is not for 100 percent completion, but to make “a good faith effort.”
Standridge said he recalls learning about this Bible reading plan during a North American Mission Board youth pastor training event. Guest speaker Clayton King, pastor of Newspring Church in Anderson, S.C., spoke about a plan to “shred” through the Bible in 66 days with small groups of students.
Standridge said he expected perhaps the four or five students who had been asking about summer Bible reading would sign up. Instead, 20 students have committed for the challenge. He hopes to add more before the May 27 start date.
The most encouraging aspect for Standridge has been the eagerness of the students to make sacrifices and attack the challenge together.
Initiatives taken by the students include meeting together to read in small groups at the church building, encouraging other members of the church to join the challenge, scheduling days off from their summer jobs to read larger books of the Bible such as Psalms and plans for older students to disciple younger ones in Bible reading.
“I wake up every day and what I do is not think of some creative way that I can play a game or do an activity that I can sort of throw in some Bible,” Standridge said. “I wake up every day on my toes because I need to go dig in to Leviticus because my students are going to ask me questions about it because they’re there. It tells me the students are not there because Mom and Dad tell them to be there; they really love the Lord. And that is just a blast. The bar has already been raised with this group, and it has challenged me personally as well.”
Standridge is an alumnus of Boyce College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before becoming the youth pastor at Paramount, he worked in the admissions office at Southern Seminary recruiting high school students to attend Boyce College.
Seeing how much a youth group can positively affect a high school student made Standridge want to pursue youth ministry.
A passion for God’s Word was something Standridge said he wanted to bring to his students. Seeing all of the stories of students leaving the church or “deconstructing” their faith after turning 18 really inspired him to examine the role church youth groups played in these trends.
Standridge said he believes a lack of open and honest conversations with students while studying Scripture could play a factor in students’ leaving the faith.
“I think a big reason a lot of students don’t seem hungry (for the Word) is because they’re not in environments where they feel like being hungry for those things is allowed,” he said. “I think for so long we’ve just made this very incorrect assumption that students don’t come to church to learn, they come to church to hang out, and that’s just not true.”
With the 66-day reading challenge, Standridge wants to continue to cultivate a youth group culture that is passionate about the Bible and open to asking difficult faith questions and discovering the truth and assurance Scripture offers.
“I never want any student who graduates from Paramount to say ‘it was a place where I wasn’t allowed to ask questions,’” Standridge said. “I think sometimes students graduate youth groups feeling insulted that they are not treated as the adults and the Christians that they are. I need to show them I’m not ashamed of what the Bible says.
“As Southern Baptists we believe the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, so if we’re going to say that we need to preach and teach that. I would like Southern Baptist Youth Pastors to raise that bar, but it takes a culture shift.”