Do we teach our children Bible memory verses effectively? Will they remember those verses a year from now (or even next week)?
These questions have bothered me for some time. As we travel through Africa we see children aged five who know huge portions of Scripture. When we travel through the Western nations we find that often many children raised in the church do not know John 3 verse 16! This is not the only verse in the Bible, but surely it is the first one that most people should learn, with the whole Gospel packed inside.
When it comes to teaching verses I have vacillated on other questions too: What version of the Bible should we teach our children memory verses from? Which verses should we teach them?
Over the years I have swung between these two options. I love the short sentences of the ICB: For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. God gave his Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.
This element of our ministry to children is essential to laying a foundation in our children’s lives for their future walk with God. Knowing verses from the Bible allows for:
more effective intercession
better preparation for sharing the Gospel with other people
an opportunity to chew on a Bible verse more deeply, changing our character and revealing God’s nature, during the course of a day.
Even if they choose to walk away from the church at some stage in their life, they will never be able to walk away from the word of God that has been hidden in their hearts.
So what verses should we teach our children? After years of experimenting and considering this questions, this is my conclusion. Teach the same verses over and over again until the children really know them. Let’s allow our children’s brains to be saturated in the Word of God. Jumping from one verse to another each week will not help them to build up this store of knowledge. Here are my top ten verses that are a great place to start:
1 Thessalonians 5:17
2 Timothy 3:16-17
1 John 1:9
After that let’s encourage our children to learn chunks of Scripture as well as other key verses. Here are some great passages to start with:
Currently many people around the world are learning a whole Gospel by heart. Whether it is with YWAM under their http://www.wordbyheart.org/ or a Bible School in China preparing saints for persecution in Bible college (see the Heavenly Man by Brother Yun). Children have an incredible ability for memorization and as we encourage them to learn the Scriptures we are providing them with a store to feast on in the future. One Sri Lanken church has challenged their older children to learn the whole of Proverbs over a few months. The girl who was telling me this has learnt up to chapter 29 so far!
What version should we use?
Should we teach the verses from a children’s translation of the Bible or an adult’s version? If we use a children’s version, they will be able to understand it more easily and will be able to find it in their Bible as they read through it. If we use an adult version, this is something that will last them for life and will potentially match future versions of the Bible that they will use.
On the other hand, children are capable of learning: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV) Or “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) One of the key reasons for teaching memory verses is that they will last for life. As such I think the children should learn the adult version. We may need to explain some of the words to them, or even read them the same verse from a children’s Bible to help them understand it, but the verses we are encouraging them to imprint in their memories. This leads to the next dilemma – which adult version should we choose? Different congregations have their own favourite version. This will in part be dependent on the church culture. Whichever version you choose for your setting let me encourage you to:
Continue to encourage children to use a child-friendly version of the Bible for their own devotional times.
Use the same version for all the verses. Jumping between versions ultimately gets confusing for everyone. I reiterate we can explain tricky sections of a verse to the children and they are able to learn more complex words.
Use a version that leans towards word-for-word translation rather than paraphrase: Lean towards the NKJV and the NIV rather than the Living Bible or the Message. The chart above shows where many of the popular versions lie on this spectrum.
The children’s versions are great for their personal devotions and even for Bible studies together. These versions help the Bible to become more accessible to them now, instead of having to wait until they are older.
What method should we use to teach?
All of them! Let’s use music, rhythm, visuals, cards, rewards, drama, rote learning. Different methods will help the verses to stick with different children. Remember the only wrong learning method is the one that you use every week! What tools are available? A quick search on google will bring up lots of options to help you. Here are three that may be of help to you:
Make your own memory verse cards: http://www.mcscott.org/
http://www.seedsfamilyworship.com/ full of Scripture songs and resources for every generation.
Take up John Hardwick’s Big Bible verse challenge to learn 52 songs in one year (all songs are set to music with visuals and are available for free on youtube.com). See http://johnhardwick.org.uk/general/bbvc for more information.
Whatever we do, let’s make sure we are not neglecting the important aspect of memorizing Scripture as we encourage the next generation to hide God’s word in their hearts that they may not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). For God’s word is a light to their feet and a lamp to their path (Psalm 119:105).