Last weekend, I had the unique opportunity of speaking to more than 400 teens, Grade 7 – 12, at a Quiz Meet Rally in the church I am currently serving as transition pastor. Some thirty different churches were represented from every part of the Canadian mid-west. This is a biennial event at this time of the year at this church for the sake of testing, in a fun way, teens’ Bible memorization skills. The focus is one particular book of the Bible — this year, the Book of Romans. Teens are challenged to know the English Standard Version of this book of the Bible backwards and forwards. The better they know it, the better the chance, in this context, that they will walk away with trophies of honour recognizing their skills in Bible quizzing.
Some churches have several teams so that there are actually more than 50 teams sparring for the prizes and trophies offered at the meet. Quizzers compete as teams and individuals by the use of sophisticated electronic equipment that identifies who of 12 people jumps first in response to the question posed by the quiz-masters. A score keeper and judge works with the quiz-master to ensure that everything is done by the rules. In anticipation of the question and answer, quizzers usually jump before the quiz-master even gets more than several words out of his mouth.
It is amazing to see the skill of these young people in identifying questions and providing the correct answer. It takes a great deal of discipline and concentration, not only to become very familiar with the particular Bible-book being considered, but also to be alert and ready to jump as soon as possible when the question is asked. The ultimate goal, of course, is to help these young people get a good grasp of the actual content of the Bible in such a way that it will be a ready reference for their faith and spiritual formation throughout their lives. Kids are motivated to participate, not only by the value of the importance of knowing the most important Book in the world, but by the very natural appeal of good-natured and healthy competition. They are also motivated by the encouragement of fellow students and their leaders, and the sheer social value that comes from being a participant in such a positive youth-culture experience.
One of the best features of the Bible Quiz program that these young people and churches participate in is the opportunity that it gives for kids to meet together in a large venue every six weeks to celebrate their faith in worship, good friendship and fun, as well as in some practical exhortation for the on-going development of their faith. It can’t help but be exciting to meet for almost two days in a safe environment away from home — yes, to compete in Bible quizzing — but also to eat some well-prepared meals together, to play at a variety of “carnival” games for tickets to various “rides,” and then just to celebrate together in several assemblies. What parent wouldn’t want to see their teen having some life experience in that kind of environment — especially these days!
You can imagine that it takes a lot of organizing to pull off such a rally successfully for that many kids over that period of time. Well, the organizers I saw this weekend were very much up for the task! The administration of it all was superb — meals, billeting, scheduling of all the quizzes, prizes, games, rallies, awards, music, emceeing, logistics, prayer, security, tuck shop, lounge, advertising, sponsors of prizes, garbage clean-up, set-up and take-down — these people thought of everything and had the right people in various places to do it all. The efficiency of the operation was very impressive. And the leadership by young adults who were “graduates” of the program was most inspiring.
Some might easily find fault with a program that puts so much emphasis on extrinsic rewards for the sake of becoming intimately acquainted with something so special and holy. Others see difficulties in the fact that not every kid has the interest or personality to compete so intensely. Still others might see this focus as competing with other important aspects of discipleship and spiritual development in the lives of young people — like learning how to develop other kinds of skills — friendship with non-church friends, sharing the faith, going on a mission, and integrating faith with involvement in the world of today. In other words, they might say, the Bible Quiz program is too exclusive, too narrow, too Bible-focused.
Yet it’s hard to argue with the value of seeing hundreds of kids having a good time learning Scripture, hanging out with other kids who have the same interest, and learning how to compete well for a noble prize. It’s true that it takes a lot of energy to lead a program that is so focused, so linear, and so competitive. But anytime you see that many teens rallying for the cause of knowing God better through a knowledge of the Word and through good friendship and fun in a Christian environment, you got to agree it’s a good day. The proof, of course, is in the results. And from what I can see, it’s evident that Bible quizzers — not always, but often — are inspired to be keen in other aspects of their lives including disciplined study, aspirations to noble achievements, and leadership.
Yet, it’s important to recognize that not everyone is going to fit into this kind of mould for spiritual and moral development. That’s why the Bible Quiz program has, at times, experienced some measure of conflict with those who hold other youth ministry philosophies. In the end, it has to be recognized that Bible Quizzing is just one way of helping kids learn to follow Jesus. So it seems that churches have to make room for other approaches for the sake of development in other ways. And Quiz leaders have to be careful that their youth don’t merely get just enough of the Bible by this means so they become immune to experiencing what God really had in mind for them — coming to know His Son, Jesus, in all His fullness.
That is why, as the theme of my messages to these young people this weekend, I chose to speak about Hearing the Voice of God. I wanted them to know that it’s one thing to know the Bible academically, it’s quite another to know it spiritually. It’s one thing to know about God; it’s quite another to know Him in a personal way. That’s my hope and prayer for all these wonderful young people that I had the privilege of being with and serving this weekend.