As our family was gathered over the holidays, one of the subjects of conversation that arose was our children expressing thankfulness for the Scripture memory program they had growing up. As their pastor-dad, it filled my heart with joy.
When I was a fledgling church planter with a number of young children, we began with a typical memory system for our Sunday school program. Each children's class had their own weekly memory verses that fit with their lessons. Our kids would then come home from church with these little slips of paper with the reference and the verse. The parents were encouraged to review these with the children during family worship. After a period of frustration caused by losing the pieces of papers, having two to four different verses because of our different-aged kids, no continuity in the verses memorized each week, adults not memorizing verses, etc., we decided another approach needed to be taken.
So we implemented a new program that my children were discussing this past week. The chief features of this comprehensive yet simple plan were as follows:
- Memorize chapters of the Bible rather than just isolated verses.
- Choose key chapters of the Bible to highlight different doctrines (creation, God's sovereignty, justification, God's Law, etc.).
- Memorize a verse or two of the chapter each week over a three-month period (dividing the year into quarters).
- Lay out 24 chapters over a six-year period then repeat them. A child growing up in the congregation would then go over the chapters three times by the time they reach adulthood.
- Build in a week or two for review over the quarter to allow for catching up.
- To encourage the children to participate in congregational singing, memorize a psalm selection over the same period.
- At the end of the quarter, have the children recite their passages to an adult outside their family and receive a modest reward in front of the congregation for successfully doing so.
We would print the chapters on a half-size sheet of paper - convenient for tucking to Bibles - and then be sure everyone in the congregation received one and put their names on it. The verses would be lined out week-by-week corresponding with the date of each Sunday of the quarter. On the opposite side of the sheet the psalm was printed.
To encourage the congregation's participation, each Sunday we would have everyone gather for 5-10 minutes before Sunday School classes began for our "exercises." Either an elder or I would lead us in reciting together verses from previous weeks, then have us repeat after him the verse for the current week. We would then sing the psalm of the quarter, pray, and be dismissed for classes. In conducting it in this manner, the elder was modeling for the heads of homes how to lead their families in Scripture memory.
To further drill God's Word into hearts, in our home group Bible studies that met twice a month, the elders would begin them by doing the exercises mentioned above and asking the children present questions about the verses. On occasion I would have the memory passage recited in the worship service. During the course of the quarter, I would preach on the passage to open up further its meaning. (Side note: The meditation on God's Word over all those weeks would bubble up into a ready message that I could not wait to preach.) I would also include the psalm selection in as many worship services as I could. One pastoral joy I recall is seeing the younger children participating in the singing more and more as the quarter progressed. Their faces would light up as they recognized the tune, and they would belt out the words without using a psalm book. I remember many a visitor and especially grandparents there for a weekend commenting on the children's singing.
There were other pastoral joys from this simple practice. Not only were children memorizing God's Word, but the adults were doing so as well. These Scripture portions, so ready and available on the hearts and minds of the church, allowed us to use the "language of the Spirit" so often in talking about issues as we would refer to a memory passage. Parents used these chapters in talking about the gospel with their children or disciplining them. These Scriptures became more the prayer language of the congregation as they entered my pastoral prayers or the entreaties in other prayer gatherings. On "Recitation Sundays" as we called them, seeing children with adults scattered around the church building reciting Scriptures thrilled my heart. I can only imagine how it pleased their Author's.
In case your interest has been piqued and you might like to consider a similar approach for your congregation, I have provided three links for downloads from my files.
- A file Scripture Memory Chapters Overview that has the chapters listed with the year and quarters they would be memorized. (I also note in looking at this that we had some extra passages as challenges for the youth to memorize with the promise of helping them toward a church camp if they took it on.)
- A file Scripture Memory Passages that has a number of the sheets for each quarter.
- A file Scripture Memory Recitation Sheet & Reward that allowed the reviewers to note down the children who recited the passage, a sheet for tracking a students progress through the year, and special year-end certificates for those students who did all the passages.