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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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Preaching and Teaching

I love to read, study, teach and preach the Word. But looking back on more than three decades of ministry I realize I could have done more to help others develop confidence in the Word, build community focused on the Word, and encourage conversations about the Word.

So what can teachers and preachers do to promote confidence in, community around, and conversations about the Word? Consider the following:

Read the Scriptures every time you teach or preach the Word. Don’t cut out or truncate the reading of the Word to make more time for what you want to say. The Word of God should always be the main point, not the footnote of the lesson or sermon.

Public reading of the Scriptures should be done with conviction, enthusiasm, passion, fluency and expression. Worship teams/choirs practice their singing – Scripture readers should likewise practice their reading.

God’s Word is holy. Read it with reverence. At the conclusion of a public reading say something like, “Hear the Word of the Lord” or “These are the most important words you will hear today.”

Be prayerful. Before you preach/teach ask God to address and apply the Word to your heart and life. When you preach/teach begin with the prayer, “Lord speak to us, we’re listening . . .” or “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” Psalm 19:14 (NIV).

“Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), not your ideas, philosophy, or personal agenda. Make every effort to weave the Scriptures through every facet of what you say. Emphasize the Scriptures by saying, “The Word says . . .” or “In . . . God says . . .”

Teach the whole canon of Scripture. Don’t reduce the Bible to a canon within the canon by only preaching/teaching your favourite books, texts or stories. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV).

Preach and teach all the major themes of the Bible. Over the course of time your group/congregation/class should learn/understand the meta-narrative of (creation, fall, redemption and consummation) and how events are still unfolding.

Let the Word speak for itself. Don’t overshadow it with your stories, presentation style, exegetical prowess, “wisdom and eloquence” (1 Corinthians 1:17), creativity or personality. And don’t distract from it by lack of preparation, personal reservations, luke-warmness, academic arrogance or intellectual presumption.

Never forget that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives life and power to the Word – enabling the listener to hear the Word and live it out. Only God can speak and sustain His Word. The role of the preacher or teacher is to serve as a conduit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5) – nothing more and nothing less.

Remember that God’s Word is far more important than anything we can ever say about it. The primary aim of all preaching and teaching should be to equip others to actively indwell, engage and get caught up in receiving and reenacting the Word (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:20 NLT).

What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything?

© Scripture Union Canada 2014