The Bible verses that I remember are almost entirely the ones I learned before the age of 16. Is learning Bible verses useful? Well, it is important that the context and meaning is also understood (though that can be taught separately) but yes, it is something that I think we never regret. When we are mid discussion, when we are anxious or lonely and not near a Bible, when we are old and our sight goes, when we are outside and suddenly want some words to praise God, these are times when we draw on the memory banks of learned scripture. Plus, I think, memorizing anything helps us to internalize it, makes it a part of us. We want the word of God to be an intrinsic part of who we are.
So, how do we teach young people to memorize Bible verses? Well, I think everyone would agree, it has to be fun. There has to be a reward, preferably edible if they are boys. Here are some ideas that might help.
I like learning chunks of scripture rather than isolated verses. This works well if you are working with a mixed ability/age group. You can learn a verse a week together – some will only learn the beginning (which they will hear repeated every week for several weeks) others will gradually build up the whole passage. You might choose to learn a narrative – like Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus or a Psalm or a sermon. All are valuable. Do explain at the outset what the passage is about, what it means, how it should be read.
Have a white board, a pen, a lot of tiny goodies (chocolate drops are good.) The children pass the pen along the row. When they are holding it, they write one word from the verse they are learning. After writing, they receive a chocolate drop. If they don’t know the word (or are very shy) they simply pass the pen to the person next to them. They keep going until the whole verse is written. If one person does all the writing it doesn’t really matter (as long as the treats are very small) as the whole group will be watching and reading/hearing what is written.
You can then do the reverse, pass the eraser and gradually rub out the verse, one word at a time, saying it after each deletion until finally you are saying it with no words written.
Write the verse on pieces of Jenga using a thin ink pen, a few words per strip. Play Jenga as normal, at the end, the children arrange the strips in order to make the verse.
Make some cookie dough. Cut out the verse using letter cookie cutters (Lakeland sell them). Bake cookies, put in order to spell verse. Take cookies home.
Take some icing in writing nozzles. Either the children all have some and write the verse onto a plate, or before the lesson, you write the verse onto plates. The children lick off the letters, one word at a time, saying the verse after each deletion until in the end they are saying the whole verse with no words in front of them.
Take some cookies or strips of cake and some icing nozzles. The children write the verse in icing and take home to show their parents.
The children write the verse in plasticine letters. Or write in a sand tray. Or paint. Or cut out of paper (perhaps strung up to make to ‘mobile’.)
Make an action for each word – Eg: ‘Do’ = hands on head, ‘not’ = hands on tummy ‘be’ = kneel down, ‘afraid’ = arms over head. Say the verse while doing the actions. Then gradually, a word at a time, do the actions while saying nothing. (You will be surprised how funny the children find doing this – especially if you are the one who keeps making mistakes!)
If there are people who like sewing in the group ( probably mainly girls) then sew. Either embroider the words of the verse or have them already written/sewn on patches of cloth & sew them together to make a little quilt.
If you like woodwork, carve the letters into a lump of wood. If that’s too slow, just carve the first letter of each word, often checking that everyone knows what they stand for.
If you enjoy IT, use the ‘paint’ program to design the verse in different ways. Perhaps these could then be printed off to make bookmarks or cards.
(Obviously these ideas take some time, but some could be started in the session & you can let the group take them home to finish which means they will continue learning at home.)
Many children today have smart phones or ipads. Rather than banning them from the group, encourage them to bring them and write out the memory verse on them. This will ensure they actually take them home (much more effective than the old fashioned way of sending it home on a piece of paper!)
If you have some foreign language Bibles, write out the verse in other languages. The children will enjoy feeling clever as they say the verse in Russian or whatever and they will want to know the English version so they know what they’re saying (giving them a reason to learn the verse is the most difficult part.) It doesn’t matter too much if their accents are terrible.
If the children have instruments they can bring to the session, form a ‘rock band’ and use the memory verse as the words to a song/rap (depending on your own musical ability.) If you’re not musical, you can wail it, in the style of some very popular punk songs! It will sound awful but the group will enjoy it and it will help them learn the words. Sometimes one child in the group is reasonably talented, in which case, put them in charge of deciding who plays/bangs/shakes what.