Lyrics express the poet’s message. Music is the vehicle for taking the message into the heart and soul.
Emotions like love, mourning, despair, joy, sadness, and melancholy find expression in music that reflects them. Upbeat, major keys strike a chord of happiness. Minor keys and slower tempos speak of sorrow or loneliness, even without lyrics. Loud, heavy metal speaks of anger. Rap often resonates with a grinding monotony that may speak to boredom or hopelessness. Peace accompanies certain melodies, and soft refrains. Creativity and exploration come with musical surprises, often in the form of jazz.
Steve Martin once sang a funny song about the music of atheism: “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” People of faith have always used music. The Psalms were mostly written 3000 years ago by a shepherd king named David. Some songs are even found in Exodus. And new songs are written every day about the same God who delivered the Hebrew slaves.
Christian hymns have long been a means to greater, deeper understanding of our faith. It has been said that the Bible is God’s Word to us, and the Hymnal is our response to God. Great hymn writers like Charles Wesley gave us poetry to fit our faith in words like these: ‘Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!” Or like the song of invitation, “Just as I am, without one plea, …” Or the evangelical testimony of “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”
Contemporary songs often cut to the core of relationship. “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God.” “I could sing of your love forever.” “He’ll break open the skies to save the one who cries out his name. The one the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.”
Whether we need to be reassured of God’s love for us, or convinced of his power to heal and help, songs and hymns can open a space in our hearts for these deep convictions. Whether we are thankful for blessings or perplexed over tragedy, songs can connect us to God. Whether we are tired of striving and persecution and pain or suddenly freed from the weight of sin, there are psalms and songs to sing through the tears.
Using music in Bible study has great potential, especially with teens. Peter Rock Star from Galilee uses contemporary songs and a few hymns in playlists at the start of each chapter. The themes in the selections match the study and discussion topics of the week.
Music reaches deeper into our hearts than words alone. Music is a vehicle for praise and thanksgiving. I hope there is a song in your heart today.
Teachers usually teach in their own learning style. This is natural because we think: “it worked for me, and it should work for them.” Teens learn more if lessons appeal to their own learning style, and this fact challenges the Bible study leader to find creative ways to present material. Below you will find a few ways to approach certain recurring Biblical themes when they come up in your studies.
Hand out a small stone, about an inch or two across, when students come together. Let them wonder why you gave it to them. They can hold it while you speak. Remembering what God has done for us, and telling someone else about it is foundational. The entire Bible is the result of faithful believers telling what they have seen and heard. Joshua had a representative from each of Israel’s 12 tribes pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan River. Then he directed them to stack the stones in a prominent location. The structure would remind Israel, every time they saw it, of God’s provision as they crossed into the Promised Land. Later in life, Joshua erected a “standing stone” at Shechem for similar reasons. What is an Ebenezer? It is a stone set up in remembrance. Direct students to place stones at their lunch or dinner table and when asked, share what great thing God has done for them. This kind of hands-on element helps tactile/visual learners to assimilate the material. This also appeals to the active learners who need to know how to use what they have learned. They will remember the feel of that stone, and will associate the goodness of God with that stone. And they will use it to stimulate discussion. These activities work well when studying Joshua: Strong and Courageous.
When possible, hold a group meeting beside a creek or river. Just getting away from the usual meeting spot is refreshing, and so many Bible stories take place beside a river. Lydia heard the gospel beside the river in Philippi. (Acts 16) Once while leading a group through Lydia of Philippi, Believer in the Lord, I had a friend show up in Biblical garb while our group met by the river. He acted like Paul and told us the Good News, and we acted out how Lydia wanted to be baptized right away. Acting out Bible stories appeals to kinetic learners.
Much of Christian discipleship seems abstract to young teens. When possible, plan an activity that demonstrates understanding of Christ’s ministry to the poor, the lost, and the heartbroken. Such activities as serving a meal to the homeless or visiting children in a hospital or elderly in a nursing home stimulate compassion. If studying Ruth, try gleaning for your local food bank. These kinds of life applications are meaningful to active learners who are always wondering: So what?
Music speaks to a deep place in our souls. Listen to the music your teens listen to. Christian songs, both new and old, retell Bible stories, use scripture verses or concepts, and relate to human problems and failings. When addressing the problem of depression or guilt, listen to You Are More, by Tenth Avenue North. When considering Jesus as he collected his disciples, listen to We Will follow, by Jars of Clay. When facing tough problems, listen to Praise you Through the Storm, by Casting Crowns. Or when studying the Transfiguration, meditate on Sufjan Stevens’ The Transfiguration. Each chapter of Peter Rock Star from Galilee begins with a list of 5-6 songs which carry the theme of that week. These songs help remind students of the lessons learned. Enjoy diverse styles that might appeal to a variety of student tastes. Think outside the box and find new ways to make the Bible stories memorable. The more learning styles you engage, the more your teaching will impact the next generation.
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:4