The Bible and Children
After earning her degree in Bible and Primary Education from Columbia International University, Mrs Vivian taught in both state and Christian schools in the USA. She is the wife of the Rev Mark Vivian, Associate Minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Bull Creek in Perth, Western Australia, and mother of three.
When I was about seven, my father challenged the Sunday School to learn the books of the Bible so well that we could say them in one breath. The idea struck a chord with me and I practiced until I could say them all. Given a deep enough breath, I probably could do it still! Now it’s my turn to teach Sunday School, and I am always amazed at the number of children who need the index in the front of a Bible to find a Scripture passage.
Many of us made vows before the Lord that we would raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Yet, when it comes to putting that vow into practice, we falter and wonder how to accomplish it. Perhaps we take our children to church and/or put them in a Christian school and consider that we have done our duty. Yet our children still seem Biblically illiterate and ignorant of the things we think they will just pick up.
How can we be pro-active in assisting our children to know our wonderful God through knowing his Word?
First, we must believe it is essential for our children to know and love the Bible. This seems obvious, but an examination of our lives’ priorities may reveal that we don’t really believe this. Deuteronomy 6:7 demonstrates the priority God places on teaching His Word: ‘You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.’ We teach our children to brush their teeth to maintain good health and to clean their room to maintain an orderly lifestyle. We make sure they get to school because we believe a strong education will help them in the future. We enrol them in sports leagues and music lessons because we think it will broaden their horizons. But too often, when it comes to teaching them God’s Word, we cry, ‘Too busy!’ Instead we leave it to the pastors, the Sunday School teachers, and Christian School teachers, because they are the ‘professionals’.
If our children are ever to place value on the Word of God in their own lives, they must first see that it has value in the lives of their parents. If we tell them that having a relationship with God is the most important thing in a person’s life, then they must see that their parents make time for it and teach it to them. If every other activity takes priority over this, then they will come to believe that it really isn’t so important, after all.
Second, we must find opportunities to place God’s Word consistently before our children. While a devotional time with your children is ideal, our creativity must stretch beyond it. As a busy parent myself, I recognise that my two-year old is unlikely to sit still and gain much benefit from an hour’s Bible study with her and her brothers. So do I throw my hands up and decide that it will all just have to wait until they are older?
By no means! By the time they are old enough to sit still for a long devotional time, you will have already demonstrated to them that it isn’t important in your family. In our home, we have found some simple ideas effective. We always wish we did more, but perhaps a few of these easy ideas could be incorporated into your household.
1. Use ‘wasted time’. We have a twenty-minute drive to school each morning. My Year 4 son reads the Scripture passage suggested by a children’s devotional. I read the devotional, and my Year 1 son reads the memory verse. Since he is just learning to read, he may need prompting, but eventually he succeeds. We also keep a set of memory verse card provided through the Navigators that we practice during the remainder of the drive.
I sing Scripture songs to my two-year old as I change her nappy or as she plays in the bathtub. In this way she becomes familiar with basic Bible stories in song or with fundamental concepts such as ‘Jesus Loves Me’.
This ‘wasted time’ in our home may not be the same as yours, but there may be other such times for you.
2. Use technology. Modern life has given us a number of conveniences, which can be extremely useful in communicating God’s Word. We purchased the entire Bible on CD’s. As the children sit down to eat breakfast in the morning and get ready for school, one of these CD’s is usually playing. While they may not catch every word, it is amazing the things that stand out to them and they will ask about. A few days ago, while listening to a section of John’s Gospel, my son asked the differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Even this morning, as we listened to sections of Romans, he wanted to know why Paul said that sin was at war within him if Paul was a Christian. I seriously doubt he would raise these questions if the CD’s were not being played!
From the time our children were very young, we played tapes at bedtime. At first, they listened to Scripture or praise songs, then ‘graduated’ to story tapes. Children are more willing than adults to listen to tapes over and over again! Since my parents live overseas, my mother began to read Bible stories, Christian biographies, and great Christian literature adapted for children on tape. In this way, even their grandparents are able to have an influence on their spiritual development.
Most of you probably have access to the many fine Christian videotapes and movies that will help to teach basic Bible stories to children. For the busy parent, some of these may be a better choice than the television programming on which we often rely.
3. Use teaching tools. I remember reading through the Old Testament sections on kings and prophets with my parents in devotional times. It can be very confusing, so my parents posted a timeline on our dining room wall to help us all keep them straight. It helped place all the events and prophecies into perspective for me. When I taught the same sections in a Christian School, parents were amazed that Year 4 students could name all the kings of Israel and Judah and tell whether each was a bad or good king. A bulletin board in the back with a symbol for each king (i.e. a harp for David, a set of steps for Hezekiah) along with either a black or white heart, helped the children’s memory.
Knowing my oldest son’s love of comics, we gave him an ‘illustrated’ Bible that presents the stories of the Bible in comic book form. I often find it in his bed as the book he was reading when he fell asleep. While he will never get deep theology from reading it, it guarantees that he will at least be familiar with the Bible stories that flesh out the truths God desires us to know.
Songs are great memory devices. We use CD’s by artists such as Colin Buchanan (whose Scripture songs include the reference) and Sons of Korah (who sing the Psalms directly from Scripture) to help our children memorise verses or whole passages. Much of the work has been done for you if you use the tools at hand.
4. Use age-appropriate methods. Toddlers love to be read to – why not read Bible stories? The first time my son saw a picture of Santa Claus, he thought it was Noah, since it looked like the picture in his Bible Storybook!
When a child is old enough to read, they are old enough to read their Bible. Children should be encouraged to read the Scripture in family devotions. Every child should be expected to take their Bible to church and those that can read, should follow along with the pastor when he reads the Scripture passage. In this way, they learn that the Bible is a book for them, and not just for their parents. It develops an essential life-long habit they will eventually treasure.
We set the spiritual tone for our children – it requires prayer, planning and creatively bringing our children under the influence of God’s Word. As the Word of God becomes a daily presence in our family life, our children can grow in their relationship to their Father in Heaven.