It's not just Bible drill, it's outreach, leader says

CHATOM, Ala. (BP)--Ask most Southern Baptists how they would define Bible drill in the context of a church program and most would correctly identify it as a discipleship tool.

Ask Merry Ann Schell and most likely she would identify Bible drill -- which she calls Bible skills training -- additionally as an outreach arm of her church, First Baptist in Chatom, Ala.

In addition to serving as the church's children's Bible drill director, Schell promotes programs like Bible drill in her role as the children's director for the Washington Baptist Association's 33 churches.

"Selling" Bible drill to the association's churches can be challenging, Schell said, but after being involved in the program for the past 18 years, she herself is sold on it. Adding to the challenge, Washington County is an area with large landmass but a small population. Even if a church wants a Bible drill program, there may be only one or two children as prospects.

When she is unable to get a church to organize and maintain its own Bible drill ministry, she promotes the program offered by her own church instead. And while the numbers are not always record-setting, the groups have ranged anywhere from just a handful up to 20 through the years.

The effectiveness of Bible drill has been noteworthy in ways other than numbers enrolled, including a degree of partnership with local African American congregations, such as Lilly Grove Baptist Church in Chatom. In addition to drawing in children from these churches, one adult African American woman is helping lead in youth Bible drill. Children from churches of other denominations, including Methodist and Church of God, have participated as well.

A retired kindergarten teacher, Schell sparked the outreach into her community by asking permission to invite the students in the school where she taught to participate in Bible drill. During classroom visits with fourth-graders, she passes out materials for them to take home to their parents, stressing that this is an opportunity to learn Bible skills. "I tell them, 'You're in fourth grade, and you're growing so rapidly. But you need to grow spiritually, too.'"

The church sends a van or bus, driven by the youth minister, to the school to pick up the children for weekly sessions. Children then spend a couple of hours with Schell and parents then pick them up at the church.

While some of the children are involved in church, most have not yet made faith decisions, said Schell, who fondly recalls the time a child who'd been participating in Bible skills but attending another church triumphantly reported: "'I want you to know I've accepted Jesus Christ.'"

Schell became involved with Bible drill 18 years ago as an assistant leader. When the director retired, she carried on through the years with the help of her own assistants, including Sylvia Moss, Betty Dumas, Chris Bumpers and Glenda Beech.

She's remained committed to Bible drill because she's seen how memorizing Scripture in such a focused program benefits the children. "It sticks with them when you're spending a little more time on it," she said.

Schell's own three children participated while they were growing up. Her oldest daughter is a Southern Baptist missionary in Uruguay, where she regularly puts the verses she learned to use. Schell's granddaughter Julia represented her district in the state competition earlier year.

Although she encourages children to participate in Bible drill at the associational, district and state level, timid children may opt out of drills and take advantage of the skills training alone.

While seeing children succeed in Bible drills is gratifying, other moments tug at her heart. For example, a child reporting on how she had to put the scriptural teaching about forgiveness to use meant that Schell's efforts at Bible application had been effective.

When a child in a pew in front of her turns around to catch her eye during the Sunday sermon as the pastor intones a verse, Schell knows it's because it's already familiar through Bible skills training.

"It really means a lot to children when they can identify with God's Word."


Kima Jude is a correspondent with The Alabama Baptist newsjournal. For more information about Bible drill, go to lifeway.com, where articles and resources can be accessed by entering a search for "Bible drill" on the website. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: OPEN BIBLES & HEARTS and MORE THAN DISCIPLESHIP.

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