Will the Next Generation Listen to Scripture in an Instagram World? - Radical

Will the Next Generation Listen to Scripture in an Instagram World?

I have a confession to make: I’m a pastor, and I don’t always like reading the Bible. Yes, I’ve been through seminary and I regularly preach and teach the Scriptures. Being in the Word is literally part of my job description. And yet, there are plenty of days I’d rather be biding my time scrolling through my Instagram feed rather than reading Scripture.

Difficulty Reading Scripture

If I have difficulty reading the Word of God, I’m certain the children, youth, and young adults in our churches do as well. Not everyone is enamored with the world of social media. But if we’re honest, many of us struggle to read the Bible for similar reasons.

Our lack of discipline is one major reason we don’t read the Bible consistently. Another reason is that we do not desire God as we ought. And yet, even if we did grow in our discipline and our desire for God increases, there is something about the nature of Bible reading itself that puts it a competitive disadvantage in terms of keeping our attention.

When we peruse the digital world of Instagram and social feeds, we get the instant gratification that comes from consuming pictures and messages. Social media trains us to expect immediate results and immediate achievement. Posting pictures on Instagram gives me the immediate satisfaction of “likes,” quantifying my achievement through tiny red hearts (if you’re confused by this metaphor, it’s probably for the better).

Instant Gratification

Unlike social media, reading Scripture does not give me an instant “notification” when I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do. Reading the Bible is not a quick process with immediate results. It’s a discipline of slowing down to read and understand the living God through the living Word. It’s a slow labor in which the Holy Spirit applies Scripture to our hearts and forms us into the image of Christ. God doesn’t give us a “like” when we’ve read enough or understood a passage rightly. There is no real quantifiable result, at least not immediately.

On a deeper, more vulnerable level, Scripture doesn’t offer certain emotional luxuries that social media does. Today’s teens often speak of the addictive nature of social media. It allows them to craft an ideal online persona behind which they can hide their true identities and promote themselves to their friends and the world as the perfect boy or girl with a glamorous life. [1] Though this constant upkeep of the online identity creates immense anxiety, it also provides some social and emotional luxuries.

Instagram allows us (teens and adults alike) to escape from our problems. It covers up our brokenness. We pretend we are not the sinners we know ourselves to be. We have the freedom to convince the world that we’re doing just fine and that we are living the perfect life. Scripture, on the other hand, doesn’t allow us to escape from our problems; it forces us to confront them. Scripture doesn’t give us room to cover up our brokenness and sin. It exposes it and shows us how helpless we really are. We may believe we can lie to the world and to ourselves. But God opens our hearts and lays us bare when we listen to Word.  No wonder I don’t always like reading the Bible.

Better than Being Liked

Though Scripture can be painful, the beauty is that it offers us a message nothing in our Instagram world can. Social Media tells us to cover up, make ourselves presentable, and then we will be accepted. Our teens are constantly given the message that unless they look or live a certain way, they will not be “liked” or “followed.” Scripture, on the other hand, shows us that there is no amount of covering up, maintaining appearance, or increasing of our likes and followers that can compensate for our inadequacies. We can never obtain a flawless, ideal life because of what lies beneath the surface––sin.

At the same time, Scripture also reveals to us that we don’t have to compensate for our inadequacies to find acceptance in Christ. As believers, we the blood of Jesus covers us. We are blameless before the throne of God. We need not worry about how many “followers” we have if we are followers of Jesus.

Reading Scripture Gives Us a Better Message

Reading Scripture may not always be easy or provide instant enjoyment. But it always provides a message we must hold onto in the midst of a world that constantly feeds us lies. We are loved by Jesus, not because we are perfect, but because He is gracious. That beats Instagram’s message––be perfect and then you will be loved. In the end, Scripture’s job is not to compete with social media for our attention. It should reveal to us the God who offers us far more than Instagram ever could.

Reading Scripture may still be difficult at times. We may not always like our sin exposed. But we can be certain that though there may be no instant gratification now, God will patiently work His Word in us as we come to Him in repentance and faith. Our teens need to hear this, and so do we.


[1] Nancy Jo Sales, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, (Knopf: February 23, 2016), 13,28. Sales discusses the effects Social Media has had on the sexual lives of teenage girls. She comments on the pressure teenage girls in particular feel, “using social media to self-promote, to craft an idealized online self.”

Clark Fobes is the Youth Pastor at Sunset Church in San Francisco, CA, and has been serving in youth ministry in the Asian-American context since 2009. He is also part of the steering committee for Rooted Ministry, a ministry dedicated to advancing grace-driven youth ministry by equipping youth leaders.

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