It was at the tender age of nine years old that God rescued me from a home without Christ. There were no Bibles read, no prayers before meals, and no talk of a God who sent his son to save a lost world. A school friend invited me to church and it was through efforts in children’s ministry, and ultimately the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that God saved me. No one is more aware of the possibilities in children’s ministry than I am. But it was as a young mother (more than 35 years ago) that I first engaged in and fully understood the importance of knowing how to teach children in the local church – Knowledge of God-honoring instruction of children flowed from progression in my own love and study of God’s word. In this post, we will consider why the Church teaches children the Bible, how the Church teaches children the Bible and the result when the Church teaches children the Bible rightly.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives one long sermon before his death. The book recounts the teachings and events of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The Ten Commandments are recounted in Chapter Five, and in Chapter Six God gives Moses instructions to give to Israel. Deuteronomy Six is an encouragement to love and fear God by not only keeping his commandments but also in passing this on to future generations. A pattern occurs that is worth observing: They are to keep God’s commands (v. 1-3) and what follows is teaching them to their children (v. 4-9). And we see again they are to keep God’s commands (v. 16-19) and what follows is teaching them to the children (v. 20 – 26).
Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. – Deuteronomy 6:1-2
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, – Deuteronomy 6:5-7a
In the midst of this passage, v. 10-15, The people are told to not forget God. This passage speaks of when the Israelites come into Canaan and receive all the good things. Again, they are told to not forget God.
then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— Deuteronomy 6:12-14
This pattern reveals to us why teaching children is so important, the main point being to not forget God himself. For God’s glory, the children’s ministry of the local church is designed to supplement biblical instruction given by the parents. And when opportunity arises, with children like my case, the church introduces biblical teaching.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 3:14 – 15
It is out of obedience to the Scriptures the Church teaches children the Bible that we might become co-laborers with God in the work He is doing. All the while, the training of young lives is for the future of His Church. As the Church teaches children the Bible, we must consider removing hindrances, proper attitude, accurate theology, and disciplined planning. An important part of preparing to teach children a Bible lesson is removing hindrances. Unwillingness to read and study the Bible for one’s self and lack of joy in your own salvation will pose as hindrances in communicating a lesson appropriately. Self-examination and confession should be a necessary part of prayer before we even consider teaching. Approaching the task of teaching children with an attitude of humility requires we approach God rightly with the task at hand. There is a very close connection between one’s own humility and your ability to lead children to Jesus. Bathing the lesson in prayer helps the teacher to not rely on her own ability to present God’s word.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted… But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.– Luke 18:14; 18:16 – 17
praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, – Ephesians 6:18-19
At the time of lesson presentation, preceding first in prayer instills in children how they too can talk to the Father. Prayer habits that last a lifetime are most often formed in childhood and it is by example we, as their leaders, model meaningful prayer lives.
Accurate theology teaches children that all the Bible is for them but not all the Bible is aboutthem. When passages of Scripture are developed into individual stories, we can err in giving the impression of a book filled with rules you must keep or God won’t love you. Also, the biblical heroes setting examples can become role models or God won’t love you. And through the eyes of a child, can leave him or her feeling not nearly brave enough to be a Daniel, not as faithful as Ruth, or as good as Moses.
If we do not point to Christ in each and every lesson, we take the risk of artificially turning a story into a moral lesson. A children’s Bible lesson must be clear that the Bible isn’t mainly about us and what we are supposed to be doing. The Bible is about God and what he has done. Therefore, to insure accurate theology is communicated, the teacher must ask clarifying questions of those children whom she is teaching. She should ask questions about the character, plot and resolution of the story. Stick with the story’s details when questioned, and resist reading between the lines. Rightly taught, the teacher should desire children see the Bible, not as a collection of moral tales, but as God’s story of redemptive history.
As much as is appropriate with the age group, it is important the children become involved in the reading of the lesson text. Depending on the age, you might need to stop after each sentence to ask questions. Older children may be able to handle two or three paragraphs together. The goal is to learn to comprehend what the author is communicating in the text. Therefore, the teacher must be well informed of the meaning of the text in her personal study. Disciplined study and planning is a vital part of preparing a children’s Bible lesson.
A structured plan will go a long way. Not only lesson content, but working within a proper time frame has value in preparing a children’s Bible lesson. With young children, a good rule of thumb is 15-20 minutes maximum for each Bible lesson. A good teacher will be respectful of the rule, “Your mind can only endure what your bottom can.”
Children are quick to learn songs, Bible verses, and they enjoy listening to stories. We all learn in different ways and with children the more visuals, the greater impact. Use visuals like flannel graph or shapes cut from paper. Object lessons are another useful tool for illustrating analogies. When possible, involve the kids in the lesson – dressing up as a character or making the lesson into a skit to reenact the story. Adults are often surprised at what even young children absorb when they become invested in sharing a narrative passage.
Developing the art of storytelling is helpful. Effective storytelling focuses on Who, What, When, and Where. Telling the story, the teacher should develop an outline with three progressive steps:
- Telling the details behind the story
- Adding the spiritual lesson
- Applying the truths of God’s Word
Body language and posture of the teacher can provide opportunity for eye contact and physical illustration best when on the same level as the children. Use voice inflection for emphasis and interest. When using books to aid your lesson, choose those with colorful illustrations for greatest impact. The Jesus Storybook Bible is a good choice.
In application, children tend to jump straight to personal application without any foundation: What does this say about me? What am I supposed to do (or not do) right now? Those aren’t bad questions, but they miss the main point. These three questions can prove helpful when presented as application:
- What does this passage teach me about God?
- What does this passage teach me about human beings (or myself)?
- What does this passage teach me about the need for and the coming of a Savior?
Our goal in teaching children is not merely information transfer. Offering these foundational questions with each lesson will open the door for further application. In addition, it’s important to go back and reinforce what they have learned with short, more concise sentences. And finally, ask why questions to help them see broader redemptive themes, pulling in lessons past. Children can only apply the Bible properly when the gospel is the driving force.
From the lives of biblical characters and God’s dealings with them, we learn about God’s own character, about our nature, and about man’s relationship with God. Remember, if we want children to understand the Bible, we must help them to see their need of Christ and encourage them to look for Christ in all of Scripture. They must grasp the gospel as not just one of many stories in the Bible – It’s the ultimate story of the Bible. With this as our goal, the job as their teachers is to help children understand each individual story within the context of the ultimate story. When truths are discovered in this way, practical application suddenly has meaning.
When older children’s questions follow the lesson time, not knowing answers to all their questions can be constructive. Make it a fun learning opportunity, searching together for answers. In this way, you become a model for them to know how to find an answer in their own journey of Bible knowledge.
The result when the Church teaches children the Bible is we become planters and waterers in the name of Jesus Christ. When the Apostle Paul addressed the church at Corinth, he made clear that Paul was the planter, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase in salvation of souls. The same applies in the Church today.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
Not every outcome of teaching children the Bible looks like my own testimony. May we remain faithful, as God’s people, in the task he has set before us in the preparing of our lessons with care and confidence. May we rest in His results of growth when the Church teaches children the Bible.
Note: this blog post was adapted from the 2019 Mujer Conference at Iglesia Bautista Melquisedec in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador.