Using Songs to Teach Scripture
Updated: May 25, 2022
I recently had the chance to help with a workshop at the Children's Ministry Expo. We focused on song in preschool ministry, and I came away from the experience even more convinced of the value of using music to teach God's Word. Certain approaches to memorization lend themselves best to certain types of information, and song helps students of Scripture:
learn God’s Word for lifetime retention.
prepare for powerful Biblical understanding.
engage at their individual level.
Scripture in song helps students retain information for a lifetime. This can be seen powerfully in the fact that elderly who experience the slow degradation of their minds and memories to dementia often retain music until the very end.
Long-term memory is a function of three different elements: frequency, duration, and intensity. Frequency relates to how often a bit of memorized information is repeated, duration comes into play as information is reviewed over extended periods of time, and intensity refers to the emotional impact of the information’s delivery. Song is naturally emotional, and thus has a level of intensity intrinsic to its nature. Using repeated songs that present Scripture week after week for a long timeframe cannot help but serve the cause of memory.
Preparation for Biblical Understanding
Some people disagree with the idea that students ought to memorize information before they gain an understanding of it. Long passages of Scripture might seem daunting. Won't some Scripture be too complex for some children? Of course, it’s true that not every passage of Scripture is appropriate to the comprehension of every student. However, no one needs to understand what they are memorizing at first. Think back to when you learned the Alphabet Song. Did you need to understand the deep things of “D” or “Q” to learn the song? Of course not! Nobody cared that you didn’t understand how to use the Alphabet Song. You were taught the song so that you could use it. Once a student masters a verse set to music, we can work with them on usage and comprehension, but there is no harm in helping them memorize material that they don’t fully understand.
There is another side to this coin, however. Students that have committed knowledge to their long-term memories have a powerful advantage when they begin to have conversations about the organization and meaning of that information. I remember specifically the words of a young girl at our church in Kansas, when she was no more than four years old. We had been committing Romans 6:23 to memory over the last few weeks (among other passages), "For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." It was not the most recent addition to our musical repertoire, and we were discussing another issue, but I asked a question of the group, "What does sin lead to?" Immediately and without hesitation, the little child piped up, "Sin leads to death!" The girl knew Romans 6:23 and had already gained enough comprehension of the idea to allow her a ready grasp of what it meant, and even apply it in other conversation. While our students need not understand every nuance of the Scripture that they memorize, it is also very possible that the familiarity a child gains with God's Word will lead to understanding before we've even had a chance to work with them in that area!
Teaching Scripture through song allows for individualized growth for every student; everyone can join in as they are able. When a person first learns any new song, they listen to the lyrics, reading them if written words are available. They get a sense of the melody, how the notes flow and move. Then, once they have a sense of where the music is going, they may join in, singing quietly at first, missing words or lines here and there, but slowly gaining in aptitude and confidence. Finally, when they know the song well, a person can enjoy it, singing along or moving to the music as they feel appropriate.
Students are precisely the same when they begin to learn a verse song. Though they may not know the Scripture, they can do the motions that the other children are doing. Though they cannot pronounce every word perfectly, they can laugh along and enjoy the nature of the song. Though they may begin simply, with intentional effort over time they will grow and develop. Once they know the material well, they can engage more fully, perhaps even teaching others. Teaching Scripture through song allows for individual engagement of every student, no matter how much or how little learning experience they bring to the classroom.
For tips on using, finding, and even making your own Scripture songs, read the blog post Make Music Count: Best Classroom Practices and DIY Scripture Songs!