One of the great privileges of serving with children’s teams on camps and conferences like Word Alive and Keswick is hearing young people sing bible verses. It is brilliant. Linked at the end of this post are 2 memory verses which you may want to have a look at, both are from Word Alive 2013 when the 8-11’s were studying John’s Gospel. You might think that they are rubbish(hopefully just the tune) or you might wish to use them, either is fine with me. I’ve included them as I think we should share resources like these because everyone in children’s ministry and music ministry is busy so it’s great when we’ve spent time on something to share it around.
I’ve also cobbled together a few thoughts on how we should approach writing memory verses. Most of these developed from previous catastrophes, I once wrote a memory verse so badly that I had to invest serious effort into wiping it from the face of the earth. I’m hoping lessons like that were formative learning experiences that we can all benefit from.
Make them simple
Keeping things simple is, unfortunately, not always that simple. There is a tension, in that we want our memory verses to be short and simple yet memorable enough to worm into our brains and stay there. Please don’t mistake the word simple for careless, we should want to craft brilliant work using all our gifts but there is a lot to be said for making our memory verses easy.
-Easy to play, as they are undoubtably better when we can play them live so keep in mind the musicians that will play them most often. Often our kids music is led by one guy on a guitar, in some ways if this is led confidently and with energy it can be just as good as a full band particularly if it means the voices can be heard more clearly. However if we have the chance to all join in and play I don’t see why we wouldn’t jump at the opportunity.
-Easy to teach, to both the children and the leaders. It’s really helpful if all your leaders know the memory verses before the children do as it gives them much more confidence that it is okay to go for it.
-Easy to sing, sometimes you just have to accept that propitiation is hard to rhyme. I am definitely guilty of stretching syllables here and there, sometimes this means its back to the drawing board/piano. Other times we need to be confident enough in our doctrine of scripture to accept that the ESV maybe isn’t all that suited to being sung unless it’s a Star Wars themed Yoda style memory verse. We also have to think about the key. I’m guilty of getting this wrong far too often but Michael Morrow from Dundonald Church was really helpful on this one. He said that kids have higher voices than adults, but thats it’s a mistake to think that means they naturally sing at a higher pitch. The difference is more to do with tone than pitch; they usually sing the same notes as us, but without the same full grown-up resonance. So it’s best to pitch your kids songs the same as you would adult songs to avoid them straining too much for high notes. If you do find kids can sing higher pitches than adults it could be because they feel free to make more use of their head voice, since it isn’t such a stark contrast to their chest voice as it is in an untrained adult. But even kids sometimes strain for high notes, so they can need encouragement to lighten up; like adults, they can probably sing higher than they think as long as they don’t try to manufacture a big sound.
You are not too gifted a musician for actions
You do have a fair excuse if you are physically playing an instrument during a song but it is really helpful if when you bring a new memory verse you can have in mind some actions or some sort of movement. You will feel far more uncomfortable about this than the kids but you just need to get over it. If one of the other children’s workers would be better at this than you then grab them and get them to help you with this. It’s another tool to lock a verse in place and its great for those kids who don’t enjoy singing quite as much. Who knew that The Lord would chose you and your funky chicken gifts to help cement His truth into the heart of an 8 year old. But again…keep it simple, sometimes too many actions or difficult actions distract from the words or demand too much attention from the children making them sing less. It can be helpful to plan when you would teach the actions. I personally prefer to explain the words and get them up so the kids can read them, then sing it for them with the children’s workers and only once they have sung it in a few times introduce the actions.
Make it fun
It’s rare that a memory verse is a lament so make sure the feel fits the application, if the words speak of great joy then lets embrace that in the tunes we write. This is a chance to have some musical fun, if you have the musicians and ability to push the song up a level then do it. Children are exposed to very high production levels and each day hear a wide range or genres and styles of music so use them. By really embracing a particular feel or a producing a song in an overt style it almost certainly helps keep it distinct and more memorable. Reggae works, country works, I’ve never managed to make German Techno work but I’m sure it could and would love to hear it but again remember who is going to have to play it.
Write our own tunes
Here is the controversial one. On loads of camps and conferences I’ve been part of we have year on year used secular tunes and stuck our verse over the top. I’m not going to say this didn’t work because it did, we learnt them and we had loads of fun. I am now however becoming more and more convinced that this is not the ideal for a number of reasons. Firstly, its not ours so we can’t distribute and share the love as easily. Secondly a song, particularly a well known one, carries with it many associations. We should consider what the original lyrics were and the character of the band, as in a sense we are allowing an association not just between them and ourselves but between them and God’s Word. I suppose an argument could be made that we are redeeming the song but the song is not our intellectual property to redeem and for some any association with popular music at all has been presented as an issue. Thirdly, modern ones can date so the benefit of the children already being familiar dies quickly and if its a pop classic there is a danger that it gets confusingly used several times. How many verses have been squashed into the metering of ‘we will rock you’? Finally it sometimes means that we have to unlearn the original song and then when I come to recall the memory verse I end up with a strange mashup of the bible and the original song.
I’m really sorry if a few of these ideas make the job of writing a new memory verse seem even trickier particularly the one about wanting to use original tunes. But this should encourage us to support each other more, as musicians we should work with the guys who put so much effort into teaching our kids. I know from numerous letters and emails how much the leaders and the parents of the children appreciate the effort that goes into making learning the truth of God’s Word that little bit easier. The hope is that if we are writing quality we can share them, they will last longer and ultimately our children and youth leaders will continue to reap the benefits of all the hard work for years to come.
James Williams- Christ Church Earlsfield