In a random fourth-grade class not too long
ago, the teacher recited that week's verse with the kids.
But only a few were repeating the verse along with him. Finally,
one boy raised his hand. Voicing what all the kids were really
thinking, the boy asked, "So, why are we memorizing this verse?
Can't we just look it up online whenever we want to?"
In a world where information on any topic is available with a few
keystrokes, a click of a button, or a series of swipes across a
touchscreen, where does Bible literacy fit in? Are we out of touch
when we insist kids bring a paper-and-ink Bible to church when
there are multiple Bible apps on their iPhones and iPods? To be
blunt, is learning Bible verses for the sake of biblical literacy a
futile and outdated idea?
THE END OF BIBLICAL LITERACY AS WE KNEW IT
Learning Scripture is still important. We want children to be
transformed by God, so it's imperative they know the book that
tells them who God is, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. We
want them to be children of "the Book."
Ironically though, in an age of unprecedented access to God's Word,
a recent study by the Barna Group indicates that a large-and
growing-number of people don't know the "basics," such as the Ten
Commandments or the names of Jesus' disciples. A recent Lifeway
Research survey asked the question, "How often, if at all, do you
personally read the Bible?" A whopping 47 percent said they rarely
or never read the Bible.
Perhaps we need to step back and, rather than bemoaning people's
ignorance of biblical content, rethink "biblically literacy."
"I was taught that memorization was important because one might
need to call up an important Bible verse and not have a Bible
handy," said Ivy Beckwith, author of Postmodern Children's
Ministry. "But if one has a Bible on one's phone, that reason
goes out the window. Perhaps we need to teach [kids] that 'hiding
God's Word in one's heart' is personally transformative."
Sadly at times, rather than life transformation being the
motivation for learning the Bible, we urge kids to quote Scriptures
to win a prize. But knowing God's Word is less about information
recall and more about being engaged by and immersed in the Word of
God. Second Timothy 3:16 indicates that the Word of God is about
far more than mere memorization: "All Scripture is inspired by God
and is useful to teach us what's true and to make us realize what's
wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we're wrong and teaches us
to do what's right."
THE RISE OF BIBLICAL LITERACY AS
The challenge we have in teaching the Bible to children today
results partly from our lack of true understanding of the digital
revolution. We focus on new tools available to us, thinking all we
have to do is take advantage of those tools to encourage biblical
literacy in children. We have to realize, though, that this digital
age has not only changed how we access information, but it's
altered society and culture. How we understand life and community
has changed. How we process information has changed. These changes
require us to adopt a new way of teaching the Bible to
First, we need to inspire children to hear and read the
Bible as a whole. I think Scott Aughtmon, pastor of
Pathway Church in Palo Alto, California, states it best: "We read
the Bible to recognize what God sounds like." Unfortunately, our
society has turned reading the Bible into something we "have" to
do. As a result, we read the Bible as if it were a collection of
disconnected short stories or morality tales akin to Mother Goose
fables. Beckwith suggests that we "should just tell the stories of
the Bible over and over again, allowing children to play with them
and reflect on those stories while paying attention to how each
individual story fits into" the bigger truth about who God
Fortunately, we don't have to do this connecting on our own. There
are a number of great resources that connect individual Bible
passages to the overaching account of God's love for us and the
redemption of creation. For example, The Jesus Storybook
Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones weaves God's plan of redemption
throughout many of the major events of the Old and New Testaments
using art and language that captivates the imagination of the
Another wonderful resource is a video resource by Phil Vischer
(Veggie Tales creator) called What's in the Bible. This
resource walks children and families through each book of the Bible
while highlighting the major themes of each book and how they all
connect. It's all done in Vischer's unique style using witty songs
and engaging humor.
And even though Vischer uses the latest technology to create videos
that entertain and teach kids, he doesn't believe cool technology
alone is the solution to the current state of biblical illiteracy.
"I don't think the verse says, 'Thy Word have I hid in my iPad,' "
says Vischer. "God's Word transforms us when it's internalized.
Until kids are born with [memory] card slots in their heads, this
means they need to internalize God's Word the old fashioned way-by
Second, we must help children see the Bible as more than an
instruction booklet. Children need to grasp the Bible more
as the source for understanding God than the source for
understanding ourselves. We have to get beyond the question, "What
does the Bible have to say to me?" Guide kids to ask questions such
as, "What does what I'm reading in the Bible say about God? What
does it say about the kingdom of God?"
More than ever, we're connected to the world through various social
networks. Children are growing up in a society that isn't
restricted to their street, city, state, or even their own country.
Children are very aware that they're part of a global community.
When our reading and understanding of the Bible becomes less about
our own lives and more about what God is doing in the world around
us, the Word of God has the potential to transform a globally
Third, as we help children experience the Bible anew, we
need to help them connect it with life. "I am troubled
when we focus all of our time in the church teaching information
that can be accessed at a keystroke," says Matt Guevara, a pastor
at Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois. "This
information is helpful, but is it worth the amount of time we spend
teaching it? Faith skills like Bible reading, prayer, honesty, and
integrity-these are the kinds of things that stay with a child for
a lifetime…Teaching how to find passages in the Bible is only part
of a much larger faith skill-set that children need. I think
digital resources can help us appropriate these skills in
This isn't an easy thing to do. Most of us have been trained by the
curriculum we use to connect a main point, application, or virtue
to every Bible passage we teach. It's important to make space for
kids to reflect on the passages themselves, allowing the Holy
Spirit to reveal himself in those words. Consider encouraging
children to silently meditate on a passage of Scripture, listening
to what it says about God, and then sharing their thoughts orally,
in writing, or artistically. Or let kids create videos, blogs, or
digital works of art to retell Bible events. As children "play"
with God's Word, they can "taste and see that the Lord is good"
(Psalm 34:8). As you give them the space and freedom to explore
God's Word, the more they'll want to practice faith skills that
bring them closer to God.
In a 21st century context, kids need to recognize that the Bible is
primarily about God and is global in scope. Children also need
space to internalize God's Word using a variety of physical and
digital tools. When you help kids approach the Bible in these ways,
it's no longer tied to the medium it's communicated in. Whether the
Bible is printed or it's an app on the phone in my pocket, it's
alive. Knowing the Bible is still about learning it, but it's also
about much, much more. Biblical literacy becomes about living the
Word of God. And it becomes about experiencing the Bible in new
In the words of Phil Vischer: "Content is content. Free the Bible
from the printed page, and watch it fly!" cm
Henry Zonio has 20 years' experience in
children's ministry and operates Elemental CM, which moves ministry
to children and families forward through coaching, consulting, and
DIGITAL BIBLE RESOURCES
There are so many great digital Bible resources that you can use to
help kids know the Bible better.
goldmine of online translations of the Bible with a powerful search
YouVersion-An outreach of LifeChurch.tv that offers
Bible apps, reading plans, and other online resources.
online interactive reference library that's continuously updated
from the teachings and commentaries of selected pastors and
A-to-Z reference for the places of the Bible.
A BLOGGING MOM'S POINT OF VIEW
I blog about church technology, and I have four kids, so the topic
of biblical literacy is important to me. Our oldest child is Jacob,
age 8. We've read the Bible on my Blackberry using YouVersion,
listened to the Bible on my iPod using Faith Comes by Hearing free
dramatic downloads, and used my small print version over the
I asked Jacob about reading God's Word on a digital device vs. in
print. He said, "I think it's better to be able to look up verses
myself in my print Bible, but it's pretty cool to read it on your
phone, too." To him, it didn't seem to matter what the delivery
mode, as long as it was God's Word. That's all that matters.
However, I think it's very valuable to familiarize kids with the
print Bible, teach them how to look up verses, to know (and even
memorize) the order of the books of the Bible, and know their way
around a "real" Bible, not merely rely on a digital version for
I use my small green leather Bible to read and discuss a Psalm with
the kids each day. For my younger kids (ages 6, 3, and 1) they each
have a Bible at their reading and understanding level. Print is
king with little kids, but as they get older, like Jacob, they can
fully grasp the Bible on a digital device. I keep my gigantic study
Bible by my bed, and often the kids will pull it down and ask me to
read something out of the big Bible. I think there's weight in
knowing that God's Word is big, important, and worth dragging out
to read and study in-depth.
For our family, when it comes to print or digital technology, God's
Word is definitely a both/and-not an either/or.
Lauren Hunter is a church technology
consultant (lhpr.net) and founder of
the blog ChurchTechToday (ChurchTechToday.com).