Thursday, March 3, 2011

Scripture Memory - How Do We Help Children Really Treasure God's Word in Their Hearts? Part Two!

This passage in Psalm 119, as a whole, has much to say about Scripture Memory, but how does this translate into our ministries to the children and families in our churches and communities? How should we approach Scripture memory – what should our goal be for Scripture memory? How do we develop real, effective Scripture memory plans where God’s Word is remembered, understood and lived out in our lives and the lives of the children and adults in our church and community? And, how to we take into account the role of the Holy Spirit in teaching people – children included – so they will understand God’s Word to be able to live it in their lives? 

Let’s take a look at these questions. First, how do we approach Scripture
memory . . . what should our goal be in Scripture memory? Why do we
want people to memorize Scripture? Our passage in Psalm 119 gives us four
reasons David wanted to remember God’s Word.
1. So he'd live a pure life and not sin.
2. So he'd know God.
3. So he'd continue to learn more about God.
4. So he could tell others.

When we look at our reasons for Scripture memory – what are they? Why
do we have children memorize Scripture? There may be several reasons
you can think of, but it isn’t good enough that we memorize because we are
a church and Scripture memory is something we have kids do. It should
never be so kids can earn badges, trophies or candy. What do we want to be the end result of Scripture memory? Do we really want our efforts to result in
short term memory goals or do we want to see the long term . . . the living out of Scripture in the lives of children and adults? Take a moment to think about
the goals you want to see accomplished because you have people involved in
Scripture memory. You may want to consider gathering a group of teachers,
parents and church members to help determine the goals your church has
for Scripture memory.

Once you have your goals on paper, how do you develop a real, effective
Scripture memory plan where children and adults are remembering,
understanding and living out God’s Word in their everyday lives? I thought
it may be helpful to talk with some Children’s Directors and Pastors
from churches across the country to see what they are doing in the area
of Scripture memory. I was truly saddened to hear of the low level of
participation in Scripture memory by children and the almost non-existent
level of participation by adults in something as valuable as Scripture memory.
While we all say it is important, so few people are really memorizing
Scripture – and even fewer understand and live that Scripture.

However, I am delighted to say there are some churches where they are
experiencing success in equipping their children and adults in the area of
Scripture memory! Several years ago I asked Larry Shallenberger when he served at Grace Baptist Church, Erie, Pennsylvania, how they approached Scripture memory. Larry said, “We spend 10 – 15 minutes per Sunday School class reviewing the Scripture verse and making sure the children understand what Scripture is trying to teach us. We do NOT do the traditional rewards programs for Bible memory, because they are extrinsically driven; the only children who succeed are the children whose parents get behind it. We also want children to be vested in life-long Bible learning because they know its value.” Larry’s Children’s Ministry handbook says, “Bible Memory is very important to us. However, we don’t want to merely hide God’s Word in our brains. The Bible talks about God’s Word being hidden in our heart. In Biblical language the heart was the symbol of the whole person: mind, will and emotion. We need to have God’s Word permeate every part of who we are . . . With that in mind, we need to say we don’t value cramming Scripture into a child’s short term memory. That’s not an ambitious enough goal. We do want our children to be able to recite Scripture, but we also want our children to be able to comprehend the Scripture they are memorizing. Without comprehension, the whole exercise is meaningless.” Larry explained how they spent time on Sundays and Wednesdays working to learn the same verse. Then he made a very important point. “Everyday review of the verse needs to be supplied by the family." He said they found the children who learned memory work the best were the children whose parents got involved with them.”

Gordon West, of Kids At Heart in Mesa, AZ, told me at his church they, “want the kids to enjoy memorizing God’s Word for the joy of getting to know God better, so this must be modeled by the adults. We want the kids to understand the verses they memorize and so we do work with paraphrasing.” They have children learn one verse a month, with the emphasis on “retention and understanding beyond just rote memory of the verse . . . We ask that teachers NEVER ask for just rote memory, but also require the child to repeat the verse in his/her own words. We also try to teach on the meaning of the verse in addition to memorization . . . while remaining in our place as the “supporters” of the spiritual nurturing that the parents are responsible for.”

I so appreciate Larry and Gordon stressing the role parents play in effective
Scripture memory. Look through God’s Word. You will find verses and
passages, like in Psalm 119, encouraging individuals to learn Bible verses.
You will find passages like Deuteronomy 6 where parents are commanded to
teach their children. You will not find verses telling the church to teach
children memory verses. Why is it so many people today look to the church
as the one whose responsibility it is to teach Scripture memory? This isn’t
to say the church should not be involved in teaching Scripture memory, but
it is the “job” and joy of parents and individuals to memorize Scripture and
teach their children to do the same.

This can be a difficult area in Children’s Ministry to try and affect changes
to make Scripture memory real. Be aware, you may have people in your
church who fit one of the following categories.
  1. 1. “More is better” – the children need to be given lots of memory verses to learn. 
  2. “Rewards” are a fact of life, so it is okay to reward kids for verses learned.
  3. “I memorized verses as a kid and while they didn’t necessarily mean anything to me then, they do now.”

These “reasons” for status quo Scripture memory can be difficult to deal with – people can be tremendously passionate about Scripture memory. If you experience these responses, remember, these people are likely concerned if we are “teaching the Bible to the kids”. Most of the time, they mean well. Try to help them understand your goals for Scripture memory . . . you don’t just want to “teach” Scripture, but rather are concerned with what is remembered and lived out – what is “learned”. In my final post on this subject, I'll share the Scripture memory plan we used at my church.

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