Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mission Possible: Family Scripture Study

We’ve all been there—we’ve heard the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the War in Heaven. It’s daily family scripture study.

Trying to get the family together to study scriptures—and have it become something other than a verbal wrestling match—sometimes feels like an Olympic event, surpassed in difficulty perhaps only by weekly Family Home Evening.

While there are no perfect solutions, below are ten tips you can use to make family scripture time a more uniting, positive experience.

1-Adapt the time and place according to the changing needs of your family.
It’s easy to get into a rut, thinking that 6:30 am is the only time to get in the scripture reading. (Granted, it might be.) But try to find other opportunities as well. It’s not uncommon for a family’s schedule to change from year to year, so be flexible and adapt.

If early mornings used to work but don't anymore, try dinner time (even if you’re not all gathered together 7 nights a week—even 3 or 4 nights counts). What about right after nighttime family prayer? For years I read scriptures to the kids immediately before cracking open the nightly storybook.

2-Listen to audio scriptures together.
In today’s high-tech society, we have more options for immersing ourselves in the scriptures than ever before. You can now download the scriptures from the Church website onto you MP3 player and listen to them in the car as you drive the kids around to their activities. You can also purchase audio scriptures on CD, but that can is much more expensive.

3-Pause for questions and discussions.
Beware of the “we’ve got to finish the chapter” trap, or you might miss out on poignant questions and the opportunity for sacred discussions. It’s helpful even with older children to take a break mid-chapter and recap what is happening, who is speaking, or what doctrinal concept is being taught and what it means.

Reading this way does use more time. But it’s all right if reading the entire Book of Mormon takes you three years, verse by verse. The point isn’t how quickly you get through it, but that your family learns, grows, and feels the Spirit along the way.

4-Use the Gospel Art Picture Kit
Young children especially are visual learners, and they thrive of seeing images of scripture stories they’ve heard. Help them to learn better by pulling out selections from the picture kit and reading the condensed story written on the back. For slightly older children, have everyone look up the scripture references listed and read them aloud.

This is particularly helpful in learning scripture stories from parts of the Standard Works that aren’t read quite as often and therefore aren’t as familiar to children, such as those from the Old Testament.

5-Take advantage of Seminary and Institute materials.
These lesson manuals created by the Church are excellent, with lots of background and clarifying information, commentary, and glimpses into cultural and other contextual details that help students of all ages understand the scriptures.

Going through one of these manuals as a family can be a great support for current or future seminary students, and provide wonderful Family Home Evening material as well.

6-Take turns reading.
It’s easy for one parent to do all the reading aloud. It’s quicker that way, right? But it’s important for all family members to be connected to the scriptures, to feel as if they are also part of the experience. Even small children can sensed the Spirit as they “read” with help.

Some families rotate around a circle reading one verse at a time, while others do a set number of verses before trading readers. In this case, a preschooler may still do only verse or so while someone else prompts them with the words.

7-Make connections.
To help family members have a big-picture view of the scriptures, it’s helpful to map out time lines, major historical figures, and events as you read and connect them to other scriptures you’ve already covered. For example, finding the places where the Book of Mormon intersects with the Bible, or track the battles in Alma, the relationships between prophets, or major groups of people within the Book of Mormon, like Zeniff’s people and the Ammonites and how they connect with the Nephites and Lamanites.

8-Use in-scripture resources.
Remember all the resources located in the back of the scriptures, such as pictures, maps, the Bible Dictionary, Joseph Smith Translation, and Topical Guide.

For example, the maps can help you keep track of Christ’s travels through the Holy Land during his lifetime, putting the Gospels into context. Using the Bible Dictionary and triple combination Index can refresh your memory and clarify people, events, and principles, including obscure cultural references that you might be unsure of, like various Jewish feats listed in the Bible, that make more sense when they’re explained.

9-Get everyone their own set of scriptures.
Even if your family has a tradition of buying a nice set of scriptures on a special day such as a baptism, it’s worth getting an inexpensive set that younger children can hold and consider their own, even if they can’t read yet. Personal ownership creates a feeling of responsibility and specialness associated with scripture study.

10-Don’t force it.
When contention breaks out (and it will at times), don’t panic. Let everyone cool off. Forcing the family to finish a chapter tonight—or else—will only breed further unrest. Instead, pause for the day. But most importantly, always be sure to come back tomorrow. Make regular scripture reading a family habit, and you’ll all reap the rewards.

When counseling the Saints the read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year in August of 2005, President Hinckley made a promise that applies as much to family scripture study as it did to his challenge:

“regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.” (“A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, Aug 2005, 2–6.)

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