How I blew it with my kids' Bible verse

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Jan 17, 2014

Photo by clappstar.

“Here, please learn this by basketball tomorrow.”

I handed both our daughters their own sheets of paper (better than them trying to share one) with the weekly scripture verse from our local church’s basketball league.

It was one sentence, a pretty easy one, and I was confident they could learn it in a day. I wanted them to get the green star that came each week when they memorized the weekly Bible verse. Or more accurately, I didn’t want them to be the only girls on their teams who didn’t get that green star.

I was rushed and thinking short-term. I had a Parental Checklist, and getting our girls to memorize one sentence from the Bible was on it. Check.

It didn’t feel right, but like I said, I was rushed.

The day after, I read Chuck Bomar’s new book, Losing Your Religion. Chuck well describes how we have truncated the gospel to a list of “do’s” and “don’ts”. We’ve made it more about what we do for God whether than what God has done, and continues to do, for us.

Is it a good thing to memorize the Bible and to help kids do likewise? Yes. My problem was my motivation. Chuck contrasts unhealthy v. healthy motivations:


  • My motivation is to change someone’s perceptions of me;
  • My motivation for doing “the right thing” is really to please people rather than God;
  • What I do things out of fear of rejection, guilt, or shame;
  • When I identify myself in ways other than the ways God views me.


  • When I am not solely focused on how I am perceived by people but on wanting them to know who God is;
  • When my motivation to obey God’s commands genuinely stem from my belief in the gospel;
  • When my motivation for being devoted to good deeds is because of my salvation (see Titus 3:8);
  • When I define myself as God defines me—that I am in Christ.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were talking about a strong reaction I had to something he said. As we were processing it, I told him, “Dave, so much of what I do stems from how I feel about myself.” I can’t stop thinking about my self-description.

As a parent, I want my kids to memorize Scripture so they don’t feel bad about themselves if the other kids all get a green star.

As a youth leader, deep down I often wanted kids to experience spiritual growth so that I could look good to other leaders and the parents in our church.

My motivation was about me, not my identity in Jesus.

So next week, I will work with our girls to memorize their basketball verse. But here’s what I plan on doing differently:

  • I want to ask them what they know about the Bible.
  • I want to ask them what might happen to them if they learn more verses from Scripture.
  • I want us to learn the verse together.
  • I want each of us to talk about how that verse relates to our lives, and pray that God will help that verse become more of a reality in our life and family.
  • I want to help them realize that whether or not they memorize the verse, God likes and loves them. And so do I.

It’s going to take more time. But good theology often does.

As a parent or a youth leader, how do you help students (or yourself) define themselves as God sees them? How do you allow that definition to inspire their attitudes and actions?

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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