One of the goals of a Bible class for children or teens should be to help them develop the habit of studying the Bible independently every day. If they aren’t reading the Bible for themselves, they are vulnerable to false teachings from non-Christians and Christians alike. It’s much easier for them to believe one of Satan’s lies when they aren’t really sure what God’s Truth is from their own Bible study.
Unfortunately, the way many young people are told to start reading the Bible sets them up for failure. In fact I overheard a young adult in a restaurant tell his friends how much he was struggling “reading the Bible straight through”.
There are some tips and tools you can give even elementary students that will make it much easier for them to read and understand the Bible independently.
- Encourage them to own a NIrV Bible. Many students struggle because they are trying to read a Bible version many levels above their normal reading level. This makes the Bible a frustration text – they are frustrated every time they try to read it. People learn to hate reading anything that constantly frustrates them which is why many raised on the King James version think the Bible is “too hard” for them. The Bible isn’t too hard, but a version written on a 12th grade reading level or above in Elizabethan English is. The NIrV (the “r” is crucial) is written on a third grade reading level – meaning all but the earliest readers can read and understand it. It now comes in lots of adult covers as well as covers for children. (It’s also a translation and not a paraphrase, making it more accurate.)
- Teach them the Bible is not one huge book, but a library of 66 books. It’s true and a lot less overwhelming for young people. It also means finishing every book can be celebrated – just like in school.
- Give them the freedom/permission to skip around. Yes, at some point they will want to read it chronologically, but for now, let them choose the books that interest them the most.
- Remind them that part of daily Bible study success is realizing you are trying to start a new habit – which can be tough. Focus their efforts at first on studying every day, rather than reading multiple chapters. I would rather a student read one or two verses every day and really think about them all day, than rush through a bunch of chapters and skip four out of five days entirely.
- Suggest plans or specific books to read first. Not having a plan can stop them before they even get started. Give a class challenge to read through a specific book or a plan on a Bible app. Start them with story focused books like Mark, Acts, Esther, Genesis and others. Teens often like Proverbs because it is very practical and has 31 chapters. They read the chapter that corresponds to the date. If they miss a day, no worries. They just pick up with the chapter number that matches the day they begin reading again. Some students may enjoy a plan you create for them featuring Bible stories they have probably never heard or covering a topic of interest to them.
- Find ways to check in with them between classes and encourage them. Find out what communication your students will see the quickest and use it. You may have to use a few platforms to reach every student, but the extra effort is worth it if it encourages them.
- Encourage, don’t scold. This is a positive habit you want them to establish. For some of your students, this will be really difficult. Scolding those who aren’t successful will not encourage them to keep trying. In fact, it may make them want to avoid reading the Bible in some sort of rebellious mode. Challenge them to encourage you, too. Make it as positive and uplifting as possible.
Continually remind your students of why it is so important that they develop independent Bible reading habits. Do as much as you can to help them on their journey. It’s worth your time and effort.