We’re in the process of redoing the youth room at the church I serve at. The youth have been without a designated room for a few years, so we’re converting one of the other rooms back into a youth room. This involves picking paint and other decorations, which is not one of my spiritual gifts, and thinking about a whole host of other things that could go in there. One of these items is to think about youth room rules. How many rules do you have? Is 10 rules (or let’s call them “commandments” for effect) enough? Or should we summarize them down to one or two? Does there need to be a catchy acronym that encompasses the whole thing? Do you plaster them all over the room, have one giant poster or make each youth sign a paper with the rules on there? As all of these questions are coming to me, there’s another thought that jumps into my head: “Shoot, I need to be focusing more on driving!” For whatever reason, long stretches of highway driving are always a good source of inspiration.
The point is that there’s a whole host of rules that you could come up with for a youth room, from the generic “don’t break stuff” (also known as the “this is why we can’t have nice things” rule) to the oddly specific “do not attempt to stuff more than 12 marshmallows in your mouth at the same time during the Super Bowl party if a team from the AFC West is winning by more than 5” (necessary, of course, due to your church’s infamous “pudgy bunny” incident of ‘05). Rules can either serve as general guidelines or to avoid a repeat of a situation that happened in the past. The best rules find a way to address a situation that has been a problem in the past, while simultaneously providing a reason why it is a guideline for a better future in that area.
In that light, one of the rules I’m thinking about for our youth room is to ban 3 words. Although not chosen, in consideration for this honor were: totes (or any other unnecessarily shortened word), hashtag and moist. But the 3 words to be banned are “the Bible says”. Attempting to ban these words individually would be very difficult, resulting in Bible study being renamed “Holy Scripture Study Session” also known as “Hsss”, which would likely ending up having a weird snake mascot. In order to avoid that craziness, those 3 words are only not allowed to be used together in the phrase. Why ban these 3 words? Aren’t we supposed to be studying what the Bible says? Isn’t this a good phrase? For those of you still reading who haven’t gotten dressed up in your Spanish Inquisition garb, let me give a couple of examples of why this phrase can be so dangerous.
“The Bible says…God helps those who help themselves.” As great as that sounds, and despite the fact that the majority of Americans attribute that to the Bible, it is actually from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac.
“The Bible says that God will never give you more than you can handle.” This is a very dangerous twist of Scripture that can result in people feeling abandoned by God when they’re overwhelmed rather than the truth of Scripture that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). The text this quote is loosely based off is, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The specific context of temptation is very different than talking about all of life’s circumstances.
There are numerous other examples I could throw out here, but the main point is that when we use the phrase “the Bible says,” oftentimes what follows is either a misrepresentation of Scripture or actually not from the Word at all. This phrase results in a secondhand faith because we’re not actually quoting Scripture anymore, but replacing it with our own words (which may or may not accurately reflect God’s Word). That’s why I think we should ban the phrase “the Bible says” and replace it with a much more useful idea: actually quote the Bible passage you are talking about. Instead of “the Bible says that God forgives your sins” (which is a true statement), we need to be pointing to the specific passages of Scripture where God says that, such as Isaiah 43: 25-26 where God says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
There are three main benefits to replacing this phrase with the actual words of Scripture:
First, we are no longer guessing as to if God said something or not. By being forced to turn to His Word directly, we gain confidence in His promises rather than what we’re guessing His promises might be. This gives us a solid foundation for our faith, built on God’s actual Word instead of just the youth leader or pastor’s word. Conversations that go “well, my youth worker says…” will be replaced with “God’s Word says in John…” and then the confidence is in the Bible rather than in the leader.
Secondly, it helps us to easily find context to the verse. When we are referencing the actual verse rather than the generic “the Bible says (somewhere…probably)”, we can actually look up the verse and then be able to read the surrounding verses to check the context rather than just “proof texting” all the time (although if you tell the youth that, many might already have their phones out and ask, “Wait, what are we texting?”).
Finally, it helps teach youth how to read Scripture and gets them more in that habit. It’s no longer acceptable in a group discussion for anyone (youth or adult) to say, “Well, the Bible says that…” because they will be stopped with the question, “Where does the Bible say that?” and will have to dig though Scripture in order to find it. The ability to look up verses, memorize passages, use a concordance, search for verses online and use parallel passages are all great skills that can be developed simply by requiring a verse reference in a discussion.
Despite what we may think all too often, rules are not always a bad thing. Consider having standards in your youth room that not only reflect how we treat one another, but how we view the Word of God. When God’s Word is the basis for our discussions rather than only our opinions or interpretations, that is a rule that not only helps to avoid mistakes that have happened in the past, but also provides us with a better way for the future.