Yesterday’s post, Teaching the Bible to Children, presented a balanced framework for teaching kids a comprehensive understanding of Christianity based on three legs of a stool 1) the Biblical storyline 2) systematic study of topic and 3) common life challenges guided by Scripture. This article takes that framework and gets more practical with how to implement the teaching.
For teaching the Biblical storyline there are innumerable resources to help you teach the narrative at an age appropriate level. One of the best is the Storybook Bible, which centers the entire message of Scripture on the meaning of the coming of Jesus. Two other Bibles that are useful are the Golden Book Bible and the ESV Story Bible. In order to teach the Bible stories, consistently (i.e., daily) read a passage from the text and explain its meaning. The teaching doesn’t need to be anything profound, but clarify the meaning of difficult words and draw parallels from the Biblical culture to the present day (e.g., a synagogue is like a church). Focus on emphasizing the main point of the passage (e.g., for the parable of the lost sheep that God rejoices when a sinner repents) and how the relates to the overarching message of the Bible (e.g., in the sheep example, God is seeking His own people to humble themselves and turn to Him). As you’re reading and explaining, ask your children questions to ensure that they’re not distracted and that the message is understood. When you finish the text, ask them to retell a summary of the story with particular attention to the main point of the passage. For example, learning that David trusted God to help him fight Goliath is more important than knowing how he killed the giant. This approach begins to build a spiritual discipline of daily Bible study and imbeds the basic Biblical truths in their heart.
When you explain the text, don’t worry that you don’t understand it as well as your pastor. Do your best, and if you feel unprepared, use a short commentary that provides a brief explanation about what you’re reading. When using a children’s Bible that selects key passages, start at the beginning and work straight through rather than jumping around or letting the kids chose the story. This ensures that they get an understanding of the flow of Biblical history and God’s progressive revelation of Himself along with ensuring that no major messages are excluded. As your family matures to the full Bible text, this approach may become more difficult due to the size of the Bible and the difficulty of some passages such as the prophets and the dryness of some sections of Jewish history. In this circumstance, find the most critical sections and read those. For example, you would read all of Genesis, but skip large portions of Leviticus. You may also want to sprinkle in Psalms or Proverb for variety rather than tackling those books from beginning to end. The goal is to teach how God is working in the world to save His people as they anticipate the coming of the Messiah. Visit the How to Study the Bible page for a list of key themes across Scripture.
For the next area – systematic study of doctrines – consider using a catechism like the Westminster Shorter or the Children’s Catechism as a guide to the topics. Note that on some topics you may disagree with the catechism (e.g., baptism), so review the questions before you teach them and adjust as necessary. A catechism’s question and answer format is designed not only to be memorized, but also understood. The child should be able to repeat the answer and then explain what it means. Ideally a Bible verse or two is paired with each question to further reinforce the message and provide its grounding in Scripture. The major topics that should be covered are God, the nature of sin and salvation, Jesus and so forth. For ideas about activities you can do with your kids to reinforce the topics, check out Praise Factory. It’s designed to be a church children’s curriculum, but you could take some of the activity ideas to make lessons more interactive at home. The Family Night Tool Chest series of books also provides activities to reinforce some doctrinal topics. For older children, a book like Big Truths for Young Hearts provides guidance on how to conversationally discuss major Bible doctrines. You could also select a teaching series from RC Sproul and work through it with your high school student. Sproul addresses the major doctrines, but does it at a popular, understandable level.
The last area is the common life challenges that children will face. Think of Jesus when He experienced the wilderness temptation. For each of the three, temptations Satan dangled in front of Him, He had a Biblical response. He knew where the authority came from (the Scriptures) and obeyed that authority. While it takes both knowledge and obedience to follow the right path, we must start with the first to be grounded and guided, so that we might know what to obey when tests arise. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Consider what experiences you faced growing up and the temptations that ensued such as the temptation to lie to an authority, cheat to get ahead, steal something during a dare, spread rumors, follow the wrong crowd, sleep with someone, pornography and many others. There is rarely anything new under the sun, so anticipating what your kids face based on their stage in life and preparing them is part of your parenting responsibility. Kids need to know that this isn’t easy. There will be costs for following Jesus, so prepare them ostracism and rejection. Reading them stories about people who stood for their faith can help them work through this (but that’s a topic for another day).
Given this need, how should they be prepared? You can work through some of the Proverbs since they provide wisdom for many life situations. Proverbs to Teach Children offers an example of some verses to start with and What Wise Parents Teach Children provides other ideas. There are also a couple of books titled Sticky Situations: 365 Devotionals for Kids that are helpful. They provide a short story that ends with a dilemma that you can discuss along with a Bible verse that guides an answer. One of the books is targeted at elementary kids and the other at older children.
No one ever said that parenting was easy. Teaching your children to have a complete understanding of the Bible and integrating it into life is no different. Seek God’s guidance for how you can best implement teaching from each of the three legs of the stool, so that they deeply know God and grow up to glorify Him.