“Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”” (Matthew 19:14 NLT)
As someone who came to faith in Jesus as a child, and who now works with children and young people, often helping them explore the Bible for the first time, this verse is important to me. Children need to have the opportunity to hear about Jesus and respond to him, and we shouldn’t underestimate their ability to do so.
This is the first in a 3 part series in which I am going to share my own testimony of coming to faith as well as a few insights from my work with children. This first post focusses on using the Bible with children.
I remember vividly my excitement and anticipation as I entered the church hall each week, eager to hear the next part of the story. At the club I attended, we would spend several weeks following the story of one Bible character and, whether it was Joseph left in prison, forgotten once again, or David hiding in a cave from King Saul, I couldn’t wait to hear how events were going to play out.
There was nothing flashy about the presentation- it was quiet and understated with felt figures on a board to illustrate the stories- but God used these times powerfully. The stories themselves gripped my imagination and, as a child hearing them for the first time, they were full of surprises.
I remember wondering why life had to be so difficult for Joseph. He was constantly doing the right thing, yet he faced so many trials.
I remember my shock on hearing of David’s encounter with Bathsheba. Did David, the faithful giant-killer, really do that?
I longed to be able to read the Bible for myself. I had one I had received as a baby and I tried to read it, but the language was too difficult and old-fashioned. I didn’t even make it to the bottom of the first page before I had to give up and accept that it would need to wait until I was older.
Then one day, in the church, I happened to pick up a Bible and I began flicking through it. It was a more modern translation, and when it opened to the story of Joseph, I was excited to discover I could read it! I asked for a Bible for Christmas that year and never looked back.
As I remember that club, I’m grateful for the love of the Bible that was instilled in me as a child. Yes, the stories were captivating but, more than that, I began to learn who God was.
Life was not easy for me at the time, but from Joseph’s story I learned that God had a plan, that he could cause challenging circumstances to work together for good, even though it may take a while to see. It gave me hope and reassured me that bad things happened even to people who were doing their best, but that in the midst of it God was there. David’s story showed me God’s grace- I couldn’t quite get my head round it but it gave me hope that God could use flawed and imperfect people.
I’m grateful that I had these opportunities, and that now I have the privilege of paying it forward and telling children Bible stories as part of my work. I love to witness their responses as they hear the stories for the first time- to see their amazement, to listen to their insights and questions, and to see God use it to grow understanding and faith.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the years:
- God’s Word is powerful. When I share in schools, it is as part of the curriculum. Children are learning about what Christians believe, just as they learn about what people of other faiths believe. I used to find it frustrating not to be able to explain more, but I hold to the verse in Isaiah which speaks of the amazing power of God’s Word and I have found these words to be true: “I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” (Isaiah 55:11 NLT)
- The stories in the Bible are gripping and exciting. They don’t need to be dressed up with gimmicks. They just need to be told faithfully and well. I have seen for myself how Bible stories captivate children and I love when they make comments like, “I thought the Bible was boring but now I see it’s not.”
- Children need to see how the Bible connects as one big story. While there are benefits in learning individual Bible stories, even children who are brought up in Christian families can easily end up knowing the stories of David and Goliath, Joseph’s Dreams, Jonah, and Jesus’ Death and Resurrection but have no idea what order they come in or how they are related. Using a Bible timeline or setting the stories in context helps a lot. The Jesus Storybook Bible is a good resource.
- It is helpful to think about our approach in teaching the Bible to children. In her book “The Seed And The Soil,” Pauline Hoggarth identifies two approaches we can easily fall into:
“Either the Bible is handled like an important school textbook, a source of information and data to memorize, or it is “managed” as a problematic and dull text that needs to be mediated to children through entertaining activities.”
While education and entertainment are both good, Hoggarth proposes that our ultimate aim should be for children to encounter God and be transformed, and she suggests a third approach: “an approach that encourages our children to enter with mind, heart and imagination into Scripture as God’s Story.”
(I’d recommend this book for further exploration of the topic and it is very cheap on Kindle at the time of posting. You can find it here: UK, US.)
What about you? I’m aware that I’m scratching the surface of a huge topic here. I’d love to hear your insights, either from your experience of hearing or reading the Bible as a child, or from your experience of teaching the Bible to children.