Jen Robertson, Children’s Resources Manager for the Scottish Bible Society, shares her approach for developing resources to help children, young people and all ages together to engage with the Bible.
For more information about our children’s resources, please contact Jen on 0131 347 9820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you know how to ‘floss’?
If you spend any time with young people you may well have been asked that question! It’s a dance move that many children will have spent a fair amount of time perfecting this year.
At church a few Sunday mornings ago, I watched as an 8-year-old girl ‘flossed’ along to the ancient hymn, “Tell me the old, old story!” It was a beautiful moment where the ancient and contemporary met; a song that invokes us to share the story of the Bible with each other in all situations, and a dance that has arisen from our current culture.
Telling the old, old story
What will “telling the old, old story” look like for our current generation of young people and children, who are living in a hugely altered context from previous generations? We now live in a post Christian country in Scotland where faith is marginalised, and many different faiths and world views co-exist. Our culture is noisy, busy and the opportunities to engage with each other and the world around us are hugely varied.
This year, the research company Barna, working with Impact 360 Institute, released research from the USA that gives us valuable insight into ‘Gen Z’ (13-18-year olds). This generation has not only grown up with screens (e.g. smartphones), they have parents who use screens. They live in a constant virtual world with little escape from the relentless pressure of others, creating a rise in ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out). Alongside this is a concern not to offend others, creating a move away from declaratory statements of belief. There has also been a significant drop in the percentage of young people who believe that science and faith are complimentary.
As those who want to share the story of the Bible with all generations, can we provide the safe places for this generation where they can experience alternative real-time communities where the ‘fear of missing out’ is removed, even for a short time?
It may be that our focus has too often been on being in touch with our culture, rather than seeing the gaps around us that we can fill. We also need to recognise that the “…so-called Google culture of learning—finding answers to any question within seconds—continues to change the way Generation Z youth concentrate, write, and reflect… their capacity for linear thinking has been replaced by a new mode of thinking, in which they need to take in and dish out information in a fast, disjointed, overlapping manner.” (Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation, Barna)
As we create these spaces for Bible engagement with young people, they may not be the ordered, quiet spaces that we have previously imagined when we think of exploring the Bible together. However, these spaces are vital if we are to encourage young people to have a meaningful encounter with the Bible.
Adrian Blenkinsopp, in his research with the Bible Society of Australia (2011) found that the 11 – 18 year olds he spoke to about their experience of the Bible, said that Bible reading was a chore, it was a book that they could not connect with in the same way that they could with popular novels, and they lacked the necessary skills and understanding to engage with it, particularly the difficult parts – for example, extreme violence and genocide.
What made a difference for these young people was having places, with people of all ages, where interpretation and understanding of Biblical context was discussed – a place where they could chat, question and apply what they found to their lives.
In these spaces a Biblical literacy was able to develop in a loving, secure, meaningful environment. An environment that will need to be chaotic, messy, unstructured, informal, and fun; where Bible engagement becomes as normal as sharing doughnuts or pizza together and playing games.
This autumn I will be working with Barna to carry out our own research in Scotland with children from 8-14 years. Finding out what helps them engage with the Bible and what is a barrier to that happening. I am really looking forward to spending time with children from all over Scotland discovering their thoughts and opinions on the Bible.
The Bible is an ancient book. Our job is not to make it relevant, rather we need to find ways and places where we can get to understand it more as we ask difficult questions, express our doubts, and learn how to live in our present culture as followers of Jesus, in the Bible. As Sally Lloyd-Jones says, “Every story whispers his name.”
My hope is that the research will help us to create useful and appropriate resources to help children, young people and all ages together to engage with the Bible, and we don’t need to learn how to floss to do it!