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Bible Engagement Blog


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Improving Bible Engagement in Christian Schools

One of the distinguishing factors in Christian schools is the prominence given to the Bible. It’s read, sung, taught, referenced, and consulted. Bible verses are displayed on notice boards, assemblies or opening exercises feature Bible passages or stories, values are taught from a biblical worldview, staged performances display God’s Word through drama or music, and discipline and restoration are informed by Scriptural principles.

While the Bible is part and parcel of Christian schools, there’s always room for improving connections with it. So what can teachers do to raise the level of Bible engagement? Here are five pertinent strategies and considerations:

Mix it up – Utilize different Bible engagement practices. American poet and writer Mark van Doren said, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” Explain and demonstrate how students can interpret, study, contemplate, memorize, journal, sing, draw, pray, and apply the Scriptures. Consider using elements of the Godly Play approach (Jerome W. Berryman). Be a “sense-sational” Bible engagement teacher. Use methodologies and resources that help children touch, taste, see, hear and even smell God’s Word. When a student graduates from a Christian school, he/she should know how to engage with the Bible in multiple ways.

Less is more – Some teachers talk too much. A child’s attention span is two to three minutes per year of their age. A typical 7 year old can focus on a given task for 14-20 minutes. Tailor what you’re teaching to meet individual needs, i.e use Differentiated Instruction (DI) or Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies. Keep devotional times short and sweet. Include experiential games, object lessons, visual elements, opportunities for discussion, and times for reflection. Quit while you’re ahead. Maybe finish telling a Bible story on a cliff-hanger, plot twist, or tie-back (connecting the ending to an unusual element earlier in the story). Aim to leave your students wanting to spend more time in the Word.

It’s not a textbook –The Bible is a book of texts, but it’s not a textbook. The Bible wasn’t published to meet the needs of educators, and it was never God’s intention that it would be equated with a standard work on a given subject. The Bible is unlike any other book. It’s holy, alive, and active (Hebrews 4:12). It’s not a book of principles, a concept, set of values, ethics to be learned, historical memoirs, spiritual sayings, guide book, collection of doctrines, behaviour manual, or storehouse of propositions. It’s God’s Word, and it has authority over us to speak to us. On the pain of death, you should never ever treat the Bible as a textbook!

Use child-friendly versions – You probably have a personal bias toward one translation, but expose your students to a variety of suitable translations and encourage them to find the one that’s the right “fit” for them. Bible translations have different reading and comprehension levels. The International Children’s Bible, New International Readers Version, and Easy To Read Version are appropriate for younger children. The Living Bible, God’s Word, Contemporary English Version, New Living Translation, and Good News Translation are appropriate for older children. You can use the New International Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Common English Version, or New King James Version with tweens.

Focus on Jesus – Finally, yet most importantly, your goal should always be to connect your students with a person (Jesus), not a book (Bible). Bible engagement is Jesus engagement. He is the central theme and compelling reason for Bible engagement. Lead your students to the Lord. Bible facts have no value outside of a relationship with the One of whom the Bible speaks (Proverbs 1:7). If your students aren’t moving beyond the biblical text into dynamic encounters with Jesus, you’re only prolonging their “sickly days” (Hamlet).

Irish-born scholar C.S. Lewis wisely said, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” Bible engagement needs to be well watered. More than teaching the Bible, aim to equip students with the skills to interact with the Bible themselves. Be patient and kind. Even on good days, it can be hard going to get students to work up an appetite for Bible engagement. Don’t be dismayed or discouraged. Exhaustively and persuasively share your passion and love for the Scriptures, pray earnestly, and trust the Lord to nurture a desire in your students to live according to His Word and hide it in their hearts (Psalm 119:9-11).

© Scripture Union Canada 2021

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Helping the 95%

Many Christians don’t engage with the Bible because they don’t know how to. According to Dr. Phil Collins, Center for Scripture Engagement, Taylor University, “Ninety-five percent of Christians say they have never been taught how to engage Scripture.”

That’s an alarming statistic. Alarming because it indicates a dramatic failure by teachers and pastors to equip Christians at the most basic level of spiritual formation.

In fairness to teachers and pastors, they usually know a few reading-based approaches to Scripture engagement and sometimes share these approaches with their congregations. Unfortunately, many pastors know very little about non-reading or minimum reading-based approaches. This is significant because most Christians, even in literate societies, need to be taught non-reading or minimum reading-based approaches to Scripture engagement.

Helping the 95% begins with the recognition that everyone is unique and engage with the Bible in diverse ways. That’s because our brains are wired differently. Right-brain dominant thinkers prefer to engage with the Bible in more creative and artistic ways and left-brain dominant thinkers prefer to engage with the Bible in more analytical and methodical ways.

Simply telling the 95% they should engage with the Bible through reading based methods alone is grossly inadequate. Bible engagement is effective when it’s geared to a person’s governing learning style. If the 95% are going to engage Scripture well they must be taught approaches utilizing visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic styles of learning.

If you know how to do it, the rudimentary principles and practices of how to engage Scripture can be taught in a 3-hour workshop. However, this isn’t happening because most pastors and teachers don’t know how to teach others how to engage Scripture.

To address this problem, Scripture Union published Bible Engagement Basics, a handbook that equips individuals and communities with biblical strategies, approaches, tools, and principles to engage with the Bible. If pastors and teachers read Chapter 2 of Bible Engagement Basics, they will be equipped with enough content to teach the 95% how to become Bible engagers.

Most of the 95% are oral preference learners. Oral preference learners learn by listening, talking, seeing, and doing. Interactive practical workshops are therefore the ideal environment for teaching the 95% how to engage Scripture.

Learning how to engage Scripture isn’t enough in and of itself. Bible engagement needs to be cultivated. This is challenging and requires ongoing individual support and encouragement. If, for example, there are several people in a congregation who thrive in an environment where they can engage with the Bible through dramatizing Scripture, then opportunities for doing this need to be created, resourced and sustained.

Helping the 95% is a massive undertaking and will never be accomplished if we don’t help each other. If someone knows how to engage the Bible through journaling, he/she should teach others. If someone knows how to engage the Bible using the Ignatian Method, he/she should teach others. Every one of us needs to play a part, even a small part, in helping someone else engage Scripture.

Will you help the 95%? The challenge facing the church isn’t Bible accessibility or distribution. The 95% have the Bible in multiple printed and online formats. The challenge is Bible engagement. The 95% need someone to teach them how to engage Scripture in a way that works well for them.

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Teaching Bible Engagement

I’ve attended many local churches in the course of my Christian life, yet I’ve never attended a church where the members of the congregation are taught how to read, reflect, remember and respond to God’s Word. That’s alarming, isn’t it? Especially when comprehensive research reveals that reading and reflecting on God’s Word is the primary factor in our personal and congregational spiritual health and growth.

One would think that teaching Bible engagement would be something that every pastor would regularly do with his/her congregation. But they usually don’t. The average Christian in the average church has never been practically coached in how to contemplate, pray, synthesize, analyze, meditate, study, interpret, imagine, listen, memorize, journal, sing, or apply God’s Word.

Looking back to when I used to be a pastor, I confess that I didn’t teach Bible engagement. Why? Because I didn’t identified it as a priority, and because my focus was generally on preaching, counselling, and organizing the ministry of the church.

Hindsight is 20/20. If I ever pastor a congregation again, I’d do a lot of things differently. One thing I’d definitely do would be to teach everyone how to engage with the Bible. This not because my existing ministry involves advocating for Bible engagement, but because I’m convinced that the single most helpful thing a pastor can do for a congregation is to facilitate encounters with Jesus in and through His Word.

One of the things pastors need to guard against is good things becoming the enemy of what’s best. Yes, it’s good to preach and teach God’s Word. But when preaching and teaching cultivates spiritual dependence on a pastor, and not a reliance on God’s Word, then the good’s become the enemy of what’s best.

American preacher Francis Chan says, “Church is the way it is because we led them here.” Pastors, maybe it’s time to change up what you’re doing. How can you help your congregation develop the skills to correctly handle the word of truth (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15)? And what would it take for you to enable every person in your congregation (young and old) to connect regularly and effectively with God’s Word?

Most pastors would probably agree that a large group of people in their church are spiritual infants. Mature believers are sometimes few and far between. Even though solid biblical teaching may exist in a church, a congregation often reaches a spiritual plateau beyond which they don’t grow. So to help people grow spiritually, we often invite them to join a mid-week small group.

Mid-week small groups play a part in helping people engage with the Bible. But mid-week small groups aren’t enough. People can attend a small group and still lack the personal skills required for effective reading, reflecting, remembering and responding to God’s Word. That’s because studying God’s Word with others isn’t the same as developing an individual’s capacity to meet with God daily in the Word.

All this to suggest that pastors should never assume, as I did, that if people in a congregation simply know how to read (or listen) and are given a Bible reading plan or guide, then that’s all they need to get into God’s Word. Bible engagement, the type that builds mature believers, requires much more than an ability to read/listen.

So pastors, if you’re serious about your calling “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12), please make teaching Bible engagement one of your top priorities.

[Recommended resource for teaching Bible engagement – Bible Engagement Basics]

© Scripture Union Canada 2018

2 Corinthians 4:5