The memorization of Scripture has long been one of the pillars of the church’s ministry to children. There are several reasons why this is the case, including:
1. We’re told to hide God’s word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11);
2. Children seem to have an enhanced capacity for memorization; and
3. We are hopeful that when a verse is memorized, it will stay with the child and bear fruit later in life.
I support Scripture memory for children, but with the following caveats:
It’s important, but not most important.
Scripture memorization is hardly addressed in the Bible. In fact, Psalm 119:11 (cited above) is really the only verse that mentions it . . . and even then, it’s only implied.
Instead, Scripture speaks much more about knowing it (II Tim 3:15), delighting in it (Ps 1:2), studying it (Acts 17:11), looking into it intently (Jam 1:25), hearing it (Lk 11:28), understanding it (Matt 13:23), accepting it (Mk 4:20), obeying it (Lk 11:28), putting it into practice (Matt 7:24), taking it to heart (Rev 1:3), and meditating on it (Josh 1:8).
What children really need, I believe, is to see the centrality of Scripture in the lives of their parents and faith community. This is the essence of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which is the classic passage on the Bible and children.
We should be careful about turning Scripture memory into a competition with winners and losers.
This happens a lot in churches and when it does, I’m concerned that the unspoken message to children is that Christianity, like most everything else in the world, is a merit-based system. Success in Scripture memorization can lead to spiritual pride (yes, children can become spiritually prideful), while “failure” can have devastating consequences for a child.
If Scripture memory is good for children, it’s good for adults too.
If the children are expected to memorize Scripture, but not the adults (typically the case), that sends a message that Scripture memory really isn’t all that important. The children will perceive it as “a kid’s thing,” which they do to please their parents or other adults.
The memorization of Scripture should not be separated from the understanding & application of it.
This is called rote memorization, which is ineffective and may even cheapen Scripture in the mind of the child. We want our children to have a high view of Scripture, not a low one. I’ve known children who “memorize” their verse on the way to class, and then forget it as soon as it tumbles out of their mouth. When asked what the verse means, they haven’t the foggiest.
In next week’s article, I’ll talk more about the church’s ministry to children.