A recent LifeWay research report published in the States earlier this month identified regular Bible reading as one of the top 10 factors that help young people keep the faith as they grow into adulthood. In fact, the report identifies reading Scripture as the most significant indicator of 'spiritual health' among young people.
It's important to keep this finding in context, and the report points to other factors that help young people mature spiritually. Others research also shows that relationships are crucial in helping young people grow in the faith.
And yet it's not surprising that reading Scripture has such an impact on young people. If the Bible really is God's Word to us, a means by which the Spirit shapes us, then drawing close to its words means we're changed in the process.
As a parent of two boys under 10, I'm always exploring different ways of helping my kids engage with the Bible. Here are five ways I've found helpful so far.
1. Highlight that God speaks to us through the Bible. Just as the Psalmist celebrates the law of God as 'better than thousands of gold and silver pieces' (Psalm 119:71), so it's important for our children to understand that the Bible is supremely precious as God's word. This doesn't mean that we ignore its humanity, but it does mean that our minds and our hearts are open to hearing from God as we read it.
2. Give young people an understanding of how the Bible fits together. As Parenting for Faith author Rachel Turner explained in an interview on the Together with God podcast, it's important to give children an overview of the 'whole story' of the Bible from their earliest years. This can be filled in as they mature, but an orientation to how Scripture fits together can help children understand the different passages they read.
3. Read the Bible together as a family. As part of your family worship or devotions, read a verse or a passage – or even a chapter – from Scripture. This shows that the Bible is something you value as a family, and gives you a chance to reflect together on what the passage means.
4. Help children engage with Scripture for themselves. We are blessed these days with a whole host of different kinds of Bible and my sons have loved engaging with versions like the Action Bible, The Lego Bible, and Diary of a Disciple: Luke's Story. It's also great to move children on from picture Bibles to a fuller translation, and we've found that the New International Readers Version (NIRV) is easily understandable even by our six-year-old.
5. Memorise key verses from the Bible. This, I suspect, is a practice that has been lost in many homes, but retaining portions of Scripture 'in the heart' reflects its value as God's word. Among recent advocates, the late Dallas Willard recommended it as a key means of spiritual formation. In our family, we're working on remembering a number of different verses and find that recalling a past verse can at times lead to a fresh discovery of its truth.
I don't want to pretend that helping children engage with the Bible is always easy. In our family, it can be difficult some days to know if anything's being absorbed at all, and we face the usual challenge of finding time in the midst of busy schedules.
And yet, helping children get to grips with the Bible is one of the best investments we can make. If God's word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11), then helping young people engage with it can transform their lives. Scripture has a foundational role in spiritual transformation – even for the youngest members of the church.
Ed Mackenzie is the author (with Steve Emery-Wright) of 'Networks for Faith Formation: Relational Bonds and the Spiritual Growth of Youth' (Wipf&Stock, 2017), and co-host of The Together with God Podcast (www.togetherwithgod.org.uk/podcast).