I think a lot about how best to communicate the stories of the Bible to the kids at Southland. In doing some reading over the past year or so I’ve discovered that many “Bibles for Kids,” Sunday School curricula and other Christian material for children often focuses on what I consider to be the wrong thing. Now, there are many different things we can learn from the Bible; the Bible is so rich, diverse and interesting. So in a sense it’s not really fair to say that people who approach the Bible differently than I do are wrong, but on the other hand, there should be priorities placed on what we teach kids at different ages about God’s Word.
For example, many Christians look at the Bible and then at science and work hard to find a way to make the two work in tandem. This isn’t bad, and certainly the Bible contains scientific facts, but that shouldn’t be our priority. Neither should learning history through the Bible, because that isn’t the most important thing. But did you know that even learning moral lessons from the people in the Bible really isn’t where we should start? “Where then, expert Pastor,” you ask, “should we begin.” Oh, I’m so glad you asked. To answer that question, I will annoyingly ask a question of you! What is the primary purpose of the Bible?
Think about that for a minute. You first gut reaction might be to say, “Well OBVIOUSLY it’s…” but yes? What is it? Is it really that obvious? Let’s make it a bit more specific, perhaps that will help. What if I ask you what the purpose of Genesis 1 is? “Well OBVIOUSLY it’s about telling us about how God made the world.” But is that true? It’s actually not.
See the point of Genesis 1 is not about how God created the world, it’s that God created the world, and there is a world of difference between the two! Many people get distracted by the “evolution vs. creation” debate and that’s a shame because the most important thing is what the story tells us about God. This is because the Bible is primarily God’s revelation to His people. Every story, every detail was about Him revealing Himself to an ancient people so that they would have the best chance of knowing Him and living in obedience to Him. And I promise you, they weren’t particularly interested in science – but that’s a topic for another day.
Now, if the Bible is primarily meant to be the self-revelation of God, that means that even when a story tells us something about a historical battle, or the establishment of a new city, the point is not to give us a history lesson, it is to reveal something about God’s character, His purpose, His interest in His creation, and perhaps how His creation should respond to Him. When we read the story of Noah’s flood, we tend to focus on how Noah persevered all those years despite the taunts of his neighbours. But that isn’t the primary lesson of the story – it is that GOD was faithful and preserved a remnant of His creation for His purposes. The lesson is that God was faithful to Noah and his family, not that Noah was faithful to God.
You may think this is splitting hairs, but it really isn’t. When we read a book or watch a movie we see that there are main characters, antagonists, supporting actors etc. – do we read the novel or watch the movie to see what the supporting character does? No, of course not. Is it interesting to see what they do? Of course it is, but that isn’t the primary reason we read the novel or watch the movie. Well, Noah is merely a supporting role in the story of the flood, the main character is God. And God is, in fact, the main character of the entire Bible.
So what does this mean practically? Well it means that particularly when children are young, the importance of teaching them Bible stories is that they should gain a context for learning about the character of God. They learn the story of Jonah because once they know that story they can learn an important aspect of who God is. And why do they need to know who God is? So that they can know what they can expect Him to be like. And why do they need to know what to expect of Him? So that they can know what God expects of us! And once we know what God expects of us, then we can go out and do what He is asking us to do!
The very simplest way to make sure you are teaching your kids the most important lesson is to form a God-statement as the lesson. Let’s test this by looking at famous stories.
- Ruth and Boaz. Lovely love story. It teaches us that God is OUR Redeemer, just like Boaz was Ruth’s.
- David and Goliath. Fantastic tale of courage in the face of great danger. It teaches us that God loves using average people for extraordinary tasks.
- Strong dude, weak character. God always wins.
- Parting of the Red Sea. A big wind is sent to split the waters. God takes care of His children.
- Rahab and the walls of Jericho. Amazing pagan woman becomes an Israelite. God always keeps His end of the deal.
Can we learn about love and respect from Boaz and Ruth? Yup. That’s a secondary lesson. Can we learn about courage from David? Yes. Secondary. Can we learn about the consequences of disobedience from Samson? Yes. Not as important as what we learn about God in that story. And on and on.
How can we apply this? How can we tell if our kids are getting it right? Pastor Monique came up with four statements.
- For Preschool: “Wow, I know it and I can say it!” Repetition is the key. Can the kids repeat back the lesson you just taught them.
- For Elementary School: “Wow, I know it and I love it!” At this age kids love to love; they love their teachers, stuffies, toys, and they even love the Bible easily. Are they engaged with the story? If they are – you know they got it.
- For Middle School: “Wow, I know it and I can do it!” In Middle School, knowing statements about God is not enough, now we need to start doing something with it.
- For High School: “Wow, I know it and this is life!” High School is where obedience comes, not out of obligation, but because there is life to be found in being obedient.
So wherever you find yourselves talking about God and the Bible this week, give it a little test. Can the little ones repeat a lesson back to you? Do the older one’s eyes light up with wonder at their great God? Do your pre-teens desire to try it out? And do your teenagers struggle to do the right thing, because God has said, it is the right thing to do?
Let me know how it goes!