There are three legs of a stool that you need to teach for children for them to understand the Bible and apply it to what they face in their life. If one of these legs is missing, the stool is unbalanced. The three provide a complete picture of Scriptural meaning and its application to give kids the foundation to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives. They are:
- The history of God’s redemption plan through Jesus
- A systematic understanding of God and His world by topic
- An understanding of when and how to apply God’s commandments and guidance revealed through Scripture
The first leg covers God’s redemptive plan is the easiest of the three because it is the one most commonly taught. We use this approach when we read Bible stories to our kids at bed time and most churches follow this method in Sunday School. Through these stories, kids learn about Moses and the Exodus, Samson and Delila and David and Goliath in the Old Testament and then about Jesus’ birth and ministry in the New Testament. Narratives are vivid and memorable because children can relate to people and events of courage, conflict and heroism. As kids mature, additional stories are added in and more details of existing stories conveyed as the actual Biblical text is read rather than summaries of the events. The message here is to keep doing what we’re doing with one change – the thread of redemptive history that point to Christ needs to be the central, integrative point of all of the message rather than the all too often use of the text as moralised message. The events of the Old Testament are not primarily to teach little ones to be like Elijah or to not be like Eli’s sons, but to build the story of man’s sin and anticipation the Messiah to provide redemption. Consider major OT topics such as the tabernacle, temple and sacrificial system along with offices of prophet, priest and king which convey the redemptive message, but are often excluded from the storyline because they don’t involve a Bible ‘character’ that children can relate to. Skipping objects and events of this nature mute the message the Hebrew Scriptures carry.
Moving from the first leg of the stool, storyline of the Bible, to the second, systematic thinking about God and other subjects like salvation and the church, is a big jump for many, but there are ‘tools’ available to help make this transition. The topical approach gives children an understanding of key subjects in a manner that they’re normally discussed in conversation, since we are more likely to talk about the nature of God or the requirements for forgiveness than we are to talk about the life of Abraham or Josiah. Children need to be prepared with a solid grounding in Biblical responses as they approach the high school and college years where they will encounter more challenges to their faith. 100+ years ago, systematic teaching was incorporated into lessons though catechisms that expounded the doctrines of the faith from A to Z in a question and answer format. Pastors would often hold parents accountable for ensuring their family could provide memorized responses to the questions along with explaining what the responses meant. This approach provided a framework from which to understand the most common questions of life including basic definitions in response to questions such as ‘what is repentance’ and ‘what is sin’.
The third leg needed to train children is to consider the situations that they’ll face and guide them to Scriptures that provide direction for how to respond. While the first two above approaches focus (though not exclusively) on what happened in history and what we believe, this last element focuses on how we behave. For example, when a friend spreads rumors about a classmate, children need Biblical answers for how to deal with the situation. There are scores of common situations that kids will likely face from pressure to conform to the crowd in morally compromising issues to cheating to get ahead. Since these situations can be anticipated with a high likelihood, children should practice these scenarios like an athlete practices the plays that occur during a game. You can also glean examples to teach from based on the news, situations that you face at work or examples from movies as a way of making the challenges more tangible and realistic to young minds. This is not a full proof method, after all athletes still make errors after thousands of hours of practice, but it significantly increases the likelihood of success when kids face temptation because a game plan is in place for responding.
Let’s recap. The first leg follows the storyline of the Bible leading to the culmination of history in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Messiah. Children learn about God’s plan, our failure and our need for a Savior. It also shows them what God has done through time in the nation of Israel and the early church. The stool’s second leg captures what the Bible teaches on particular topics and is often applied in a Q&A format. The answers cross different sections of the Bible to capture the full counsel of God on a topic. The last leg takes a challenging life scenario and provides answers for how to respond Christianly to it. The combination of the three legs provides balance and a complete framework for training children to develop and apply a Christian worldview.
See the next article for ideas about how to teach the Bible to kids