I’ll admit it: I love free samples. While wandering the aisles of Costco, I gravitate towards those little booths offering a taste of the latest featured products, and I enjoy trying them all, even the ones I know I won’t like much. If I do this on a weekend afternoon, I can practically make a lunch out of the trial cups. However, samples are a far cry from an actual meal. Half a dozen bites of various assorted items might mimic fullness, but the experience is not nearly as satisfying as a complete entrée of proper nutrients.  Strange though it might sound, I think we sometimes tend to treat Biblical instruction as a sampling rather than a whole meal. We feed our learners an assortment of highlighted verses and stories, but don’t always connect them to a holistic view of Scripture. In our efforts to emphasize elements that might relate to teens, we run the risk of neglecting to show them the big picture of the Bible. As youth leaders, one of our essential tasks is guiding students to view the Bible not as segmented stories, but as God’s living and active Word, where every part points back to Christ as the central and saving figure.

Why a Broad View is Important

Kids who grow up in Sunday School are often accustomed to re-visiting the “classic” Bible heroes, which often involves a bit of scattered variety of stories that lend themselves to cute crafts and dramatic puppet shows. This trend works on a short-term basis, and makes for fun lessons, but can develop into a habit of viewing the Bible as a series of episodes. Without seeing how all of the events of the Bible flow together, it’s impossible to understand the meaning and reasons behind God’s plan. Choosing stories without connecting them to larger themes is similar to looking at individual puzzle pieces without considering the image that shows how they all fit together.

Teens who have grown accustomed to seeing the Bible as an anthology might even begin to think of it as a collection of unrelated tales, much the same as they would think of a fictional group of legends or poetry pieces. It’s critical to communicate how real and relevant God’s Word is. The events described within its pages actually took place and mean something to us now. Our task is to help students see God’s big picture in Scripture and how God continues to use it to impact and influence our lives now.

Making it Happen

All ages benefit from viewing the Bible as a whole story, rather than a collection of snippets. Studying Scripture should be a lifelong exercise, and we want to instill positive practices in children as well as teenagers and adults. So how do we do this? One method might be to select a curriculum that covers the entire Bible from start to finish, although that might not always be the most practical or timely teaching tool. If we have the appropriate atmosphere for it (such as a Confirmation class in which students are likely to consistently attend), we can begin with essentials and walk through Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. But we are more likely to find ourselves looking at certain themes or passages at a time, and we still need to explain their place in the grand design.

One key method to adopt is emphasizing how Jesus is at the core of all aspects of God’s Word. The Old Testament paves the way for Him, with each story connecting or foreshadowing Christ in some way, preparing hearts for the Messiah. The New Testament tells His story and carries it to the ends of the Earth, reminding us what it means to live in and through Him. God had a plan from the start, and that plan centered on the Incarnation. He continues to have a plan for the future, which includes the Second Coming and Resurrection. We want to remind students that our great and gracious God is present now as He was then, and always will be.

It can also be helpful to place lessons in context. Using maps and timelines with students, especially when examining history books, reminds teens that these events actually took place, and helps see how they relate to one another and to other episodes in history. For visitors, explain what’s happening in the text and what God is doing in Scripture. Review previous studies or lessons and how they tie in to current and future topics. Constantly return to discussion of the Bible as a whole. God is consistent throughout, and His Word is one text. It may have multiple books and authors, but it is one story.

Constant Connections  

There is a wide variety of great options when it comes to plans for reading and teaching the Bible. When choosing a curriculum or teaching style, it’s important to consider how lessons emphasize the Gospel of Christ and point back to God’s purposes and promises. Specifically, a few great recommendations for instruction include the Enduring Faith  Confirmation Curriculum “Bible Overview” (Concordia Publishing House), which reflects back to Christ Connections in Old and New Testament lessons. According to Plan (also CPH) is a similar helpful resource, though it is somewhat dated on certain elements.

Regardless of the publication or style of teaching preferred, placing students at the helm of instruction provides them with opportunities to better grasp and communicate the big picture of the Bible. Consistently invite teens to explain how lessons fit back with the overarching themes and grand design. There are distinct genres, authors, and chapters, yes, but they share the same purpose. How does a prophecy passage demonstrate God’s faithfulness and Covenant? How does a history figure point to Jesus? How does wisdom relate back to God’s love? What do the epistles have to say for us as God’s people? Bring the big picture back into view no matter what topic or Biblical chapter teens are discussing. Encourage them to unpack surrounding context and evaluate where a story fits into the whole puzzle.

Our Story Begins with His    

“Then (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…”  -Luke 24:44-45

“The Sunday School answer is always Jesus” is a classic ministry mantra. Of course, this does not always prove entirely accurate. Sometimes the topic of discussion might actually be “sin” or “Nineveh,” but we cannot overemphasize the importance of Jesus Christ. The Messiah is quite literally the crux of the Bible, Old Testament and New. As we teach students to point to Christ as the main figure of Scripture, we also guide them to make Him the central element of their stories. Understanding God’s Word as a whole story makes the Bible a relevant and powerful tool, a resource that informs and invades their lives. When teens see in His Word that God fulfills all promises and carries out His plans, they can look to the future with hope, knowing that He continues to be present and faithful to His plans for them, as well.