Influence

 the shape of leadership

The Bible Crisis

Four ways to respond to the decline in biblical literacy

Kristi Northup on June 4, 2018

A few years back, my husband, Wayne, was speaking at an Assemblies of God district youth camp, and I was leading worship. It was one of the most memorable camps I’ve ever been a part of.

There was a hunger in the students that was truly powerful. We were experiencing a sovereign outpouring of the Holy Spirit — so much so that more than 150 students voluntarily attended a morning class on the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Several youth pastors and leaders came to the class, as well as students from the Bible college teams. While there are always some kids who come from other denominations or have no church background, this group was overwhelmingly from AG churches.

To open the class, I wanted to start with something basic and familiar. I asked for a volunteer who would jump up and quote Acts 1:8. No one volunteered. I laughed and encouraged them not to be shy. Still, no students offered to quote Acts 1:8.

I asked if anyone in the class knew Acts 1:8. Out of more than 150 students and leaders, not one person knew Acts 1:8.

Not. One. Person.

If you’re not familiar with Acts 1:8, it is one of the foundational verses about the Holy Spirit. In fact, if you only know one verse about the Holy Spirit, you probably know Acts 1:8. In an increasingly secular culture, I know many people today are less familiar with the Bible than previous generations.

But in that moment, I saw a scary reality before me. If this group of dynamic, hungry, Pentecostal kids was this ignorant about the Bible, what was the future of Christianity?

We are experiencing a Bible crisis. People are replacing familiar verses with motivational sayings, Scripture meditation with exercise, and theology with political ideology.

Am I saying there is something inherently bad about motivational sayings? No. But it is the appropriation of Christian culture while offering solutions that cannot heal which troubles me.

The problem is so vast and so systemic. Yet the answer to this crisis is simple. Every leader has a responsibility to instill a love for the Bible in their people.

Where do we begin? I have reflected on some of the ways I’ve learned Scripture in my own life, as well as things I have seen in churches that are doing it well. 

1. Don’t Assume Everyone Has a Bible

When we started Saints Community Church in New Orleans, we wanted to give Bibles to people who received prayer at the altar. We had no idea how many people would need a Bible.

Every leader has a responsibility to instill a love for the Bible in their people.

Sometimes I look from the platform and see a sea of blue Bibles. They're the $3 ones we've given out, and the only Bible many in our congregation have ever had. I personally like the New Living Translation for reading. It’s easy to comprehend and apply.

2. Constantly Encourage Bible Reading

Wayne and I were privileged to be on staff at Emmanuel Christian Center in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, under G. Mark Denyes before he passed away. “Genesis to Revelation every January to December” was his mantra.

People — even leaders — need continual reminders of the importance of daily Bible reading. Encourage people to do what works for them! While I love to read from a physical Bible, it has so many pages that some people find it intimidating.

YouVersion is an online and mobile Bible platform with a variety of reading plans that make it easy for people to start somewhere. It’s encouraging to see what other people on the app are reading as well.

3. Provide a Method for Scripture Memorization

One of the most important ways to instill Scripture memorization is through Bible-centered kids’ curriculum. Nearly all the Scripture I know by heart I learned before age 18 — through kids’ church, Missionettes (now Girls Ministries), and Teen Bible Quiz.

Leaders must be intentional about helping kids and adults alike hide God’s Word in their hearts. Junior Bible Quiz, Bible Quiz, Scripture cards and memorization contests are all great ways to get people learning verses. Get creative! I find the New International Version the easiest one to memorize. 

4. Write Songs From the Bible

In generations past, people learned and passed down doctrine through hymns. A message lasts for a moment; a song can last for hundreds of years. I’m not minimizing the preaching of the Word, but I want worship leaders to realize the potential impact of biblical songwriting.

I want to challenge songwriters to compose music not only from their hearts, but from the Scripture. We have a serious responsibility to help people learn biblical precepts through words they can remember in song.

Write a kids’ song from a verse. Write a song around a series. Write songs from the Psalms. Share them with your congregation. I still remember a song my Missionettes leader wrote from 1 Corinthians 13. More importantly, I remember the verses.

When medical students study cardiology, they spend significant time working on perfect, healthy hearts. When they see a diseased heart, they recognize it — not because of the hallmarks of disease, but because they are so familiar with what it is supposed to look like that they realize it does not resemble healthy tissue.

Similarly, the best possible way to bring up our spiritual children is to flood them with the nature of God as revealed through His Word. In this way, they will learn to recognize a broken and fallen world. These believers will know how to respond because they have hidden in their hearts the tools that bring hope and healing.

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