Have you ever seen those interviews when they ask someone over 100 their secret of longevity? Most are quite amusing as they attribute their long lives to all sorts of interesting things. What if we asked older, faithful, productive Christians their secrets for staying faithful and active in God’s Kingdom for decades? The variety in those answers will probably be slight and I would imagine everyone would include spending time daily in scripture and prayer on their lists.
If we want young people to stay faithful Christians as adults, one of the many things we need to do is find ways to help them develop strong habits in the spiritual disciplines. Habits so engrained that they can’t imagine starting their days without spending a little time in God’s Word and in prayer.
I think most churches and families do a decent job at teaching children and teens to pray. Even if they aren’t as consistent as we might hope, I would imagine most young people attending church regularly pray independently. Where we struggle more is helping children and teens develop the habit of spending time in scripture daily. There are a lot of reasons for the problem…. Many of them stemming from the problems we ourselves had developing the habit. And when we do make an effort, we often make the same mistakes other adults did with us.
What were those mistakes and how can we fix them? Here are a few to get you started.
- Giving them a Bible requiring a reading ability several grade levels above their current reading ability. This is true not just for early readers and children with special needs. The average Bible is on the 7th-13th grade reading level. Studies have found that the average high school student is given books to read at school on the fifth or sixth grade reading level. Giving students an NIrV Bible- written on a third grade reading level – will make it easier to read the Bible independently. It will also improve their comprehension of what they read. While the NIrV is perhaps not a perfect translation, it works well for creating a strong Bible study habit. Other translations can be introduced as reading levels improve.
- Failing to spend time teaching key vocabulary words and working on Bible reading comprehension skills in Bible classes for children and teens. The Bible is a unique book for children and teens to read. It has been translated from other languages and takes place in a culture unfamiliar to most young people. Think about how much time a secular school teacher spends helping students understand The Iliad or Shakespeare. Yet we breeze through unfamiliar vocabulary, grammatical structures and cultural references as if they were reading a child’s picture book instead of the most important book they will ever read. Bible class is not a literature class, but young people will need help with many of those skill sets.
- Discouraging curiosity. Curiosity is what drives us to read and learn. Yet many Bible classes for children and teens dismiss the questions of students . We should encourage their curiosity. Ask questions that will spark their interest in reading a passage of scripture or send them searching through the Bible for the answer. Encourage their questions. If you don’t know the answer, ask for time to research. Don’t just brush off questions with pat answers.
- Squelching our own enthusiasm for daily Bible study. If you aren’t passionate about reading the Bible daily, you are going to have a hard time convincing your Bible students it is an activity they should add to their already over-scheduled lives. Bible teachers should be passionate about the Bible and they should share their enthusiasm with their students.
- Failing to consider the personalities, schedules and enjoyment of reading of students when suggesting Bible reading plans. Reading through the Bible cover to cover (for someone who doesn’t have a habit of daily Bible reading) will end in failure most of the time. It’s just too easy to get bogged down at some point. Most Bible reading plans in the past pushed this idea of reading the entire Bible in a year. A worthwhile goal, but for a child who struggles to read or a teen who is scheduled from 5 am to midnight every day, reading the multiple chapters required by those plans feels impossible. We need to be realistic about the time and effort each individual child or teen is willing to invest each day in reading the Bible. Even one verse a day is better than none and can help develop a strong habit. That one verse can eventually turn into multiple verses or a chapter a day once the habit is firmly entrenched.
- Failing to consider the interests of students when suggesting Bible reading plans. Bible reading plans work best at first if they match the interests and needs of the student. Someone who is curious about angels will be more interested in reading stories and verses about angels than they might in a plan covering all of the military stories in the Bible. Talk with each student individually to help them design a plan that best suits them. Consider options like Proverbs, women or men in the Bible (don’t forget the obscure ones rarely mentioned in Bible classes or sermons), story heavy books like Genesis and Acts, studies that cover the life of Jesus, Abraham, Ruth, Esther or any others in the Bible that have multiple stories about them, or cover a group of people like Kings and Queens, angels or prophets – the choices are only as limited as your imagination.
- Failing to create a special time and space for Bible study. This is honestly the hardest part for many people. What time of day are they most likely to be able to consistently stop and read the Bible? It also helps if some other activity is tied to it – like eating a meal, waking up in the morning or before they start their homework in the evening. The activity serves as a memory spur to help students remember their goal.
- Make daily Bible study as student driven as possible. We tend to follow through on plans we have crafted rather than those we feel are forced upon us. Ask your students though, what types of encouragement they will need to be successful. Some may want daily reminders, while others may find them annoying and realize reminders only tempt them to stop daily reading. Try to support each student in ways that most help him or her be successful.
Helping every young Bible student develop life long Bible reading habits is an admittedly lofty goal. it is one we all must peruse if we hope to have congregations filled with strong, active Christians in the future.