By the time she was in college, Jen Wilkin had experienced church life in seven denominations, each with its own distinctive approach to reading the Bible. One church she attended during elementary school held a Bible study where the teachers “treated us as capable of learning and understanding the Scriptures, and then gave us tools to do so.” This early investment in showing kids how to study the Bible for themselves changed everything for Wilkin. “Hearing different pastors teach the same passages in such different ways had been an eye-opener,” she says. “It pushed me to want firsthand knowledge of the text.”
By her twenties, Wilkin understood it was possible to drown in waves of opinion. If she was going to learn to swim, she would have to learn to read the Bible for herself.
Wilkin flatly rejects the notion that deep knowledge of Scripture is best left to adults and “experts.” “A child who is capable of reading is capable of reading the Bible,” she insists. “Children need early exposure to the Scriptures because they need to see them as a familiar friend. Reading the Scriptures to them—and then, of course, having them read them themselves—are all formative practices. Sometimes we think children should only read (the Bible) if they can understand everything they’re reading,” she says, but “we underestimate their ability.
This is why Wilkin advocates for young students doing adult-type Bible study.“If high schoolers are capable of doing calculus and physics, they absolutely are capable of grappling with a line-by-line study of the Bible.”
Wilkin challenges herself in the same way, and she is no longer fazed by all that she doesn’t know or understand as a teacher. She began teaching the Bible as a 30-year-old, simply because there was no other teacher.
“I was a solid 10 years younger than the youngest class member,” she remembers, “and I lacked both life experience and teaching experience. I agreed to a temporary commitment and ended up teaching the class weekly for seven years. That precious group of women allowed me to learn alongside them. I learned teaching skills, empathy for my listeners, and frankly, I learned the Bible right along with them each week. By giving me a place to grow, they served me as much as I served them.”
“Understanding that I could teach and learn simultaneously—that I could pass on what I was in the process of learning—was very freeing for me,” Wilkin says. “We don’t see ourselves as experts, but as co-learners, and then we start doing the work.”
This growth mindset is something she models and encourages for every Christian. “It’s absolutely OK to say ‘this makes me uncomfortable and I don’t know the answer,’” she says. But that should not stop us from leaning into the discomfort and learning how to ask better questions of the text. We dare not make a lifestyle habit of deferring to others’ opinions, Wilkin says, for “one day we will stand before God and give an account of how well we loved him—which the great commandment says includes how we loved him with our minds. We won’t be giving an account for how well our pastors and teachers loved God with their minds.”
“Not everyone has the gift of teaching,” Wilkin says, “but we’re all responsible for being active learners.” She knows the learning curve can seem impossibly steep, but “this is where the typical student needs a little bit of permission and a little bit of a nudge.” For Christians who want to be faithful to God’s word, refusing to learn isn’t an option.”
Closing thought from Jon – If you have young children or teenagers, encourage them to spend time in God’s word on a daily basis. Model it yourself to them. They don’t have to read massive passages in each sitting or understand everything they read, but it may spark spiritual conversations and will build a foundation in them that will have long-lasting impact. The most important thing you can do to TAKE IN as a believer is to spend some time each day in God’s word.