Teaching Young Kids About Scripture

June 08, 2023

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Join host Elizabeth Urbanowicz in this episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast as she addresses the question: how to help younger kids, seven and under, understand passages of scripture. Through examples and strategies, Elizabeth explores how to guide children in developing a firm understanding of the biblical worldview.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the kids that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "how do you help younger kids, seven and under, to understand passages of scripture?" Great question, and I love that this person is thinking of equipping kids seven and under to understand scripture.

Now, before we dive into this question, would just ask that if you found the content of this podcast beneficial that you would like and subscribe to make sure that you don't miss any future episodes, and also ask that you would consider writing a review and sharing this content with those within your sphere of influence, that we can equip as many children as possible to understand the truth of the biblical worldview.

Now, if you're listening or watching this podcast today and you are working with kids eight on up and you're wanting to help them understand how to solemnly read, interpret, and apply scripture would highly recommend that you check out a recent webinar that I did called Teaching Our Kids How to Read the Bible. And in that webinar we spend an entire hour looking at what skills do our children need to soundly read, interpret, and apply scripture on their own.

Now, when thinking about kids seven and younger, a lot of people might say, "oh seven and younger, you know, don't need to expose them to scripture yet storybook bibles are the way to go." Now, storybook bibles can be helpful in certain circumstances and especially when our kids are really little, like two and under, however I say by the age of four, ditch the children's Bible and start immersing kids in scripture. You can even start doing this by the age of three or potentially even younger.

And now the question is, how do we help kids understand passages of scripture? Well, the first thing we need to recognize is we're going to have different understandings at different times in our life. That doesn't mean that scripture means different things to different people. That is not what I'm saying. Scripture has one meaning, and it's the meaning that God intended and inspired through the men He used to write different books of the Bible. B"ut what I am saying is our understanding grows throughout our lives. Think about how many times you've read a passage and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit illuminates a truth in that passage that you might have read 50 times before and all of a sudden you're like, oh my goodness, I didn't understand that before.

So we can't expect our children to have the same understanding of scripture that they're going to have when they're 17 or when they're 30 or when they're 50, but we can expect them to have a basic understanding of a passage. So what I recommend is for kids seven on down, every time you read a passage of scripture, focus on truths revealed about who God is in that passage. Just ask your kids, "okay, what truths do we learn about God from this passage?" I'm using this model right now, even with a high school girl that I am discipling Every Thursday night, she'll come over to my house for dinner and we'll have dinner. And then right now we're reading through the Gospel of John together. So each Thursday we'll read through three chapters in the gospel of John, and every time we get to the end of a chapter, we'll stop and we'll talk about, okay, what truths are revealed about God in this passage?

It's a simple question, but a really important one and helps set the correct focus that so often we primarily come to scripture with the question, "okay, how does this apply to my life?" And does scripture apply to our life? Yes, it does, but scripture is not primarily about us. Scripture is primarily about God because it is his gracious self revelation to us. So by asking ourselves and our children what truths are revealed about God in this passage, we're setting their focus in the correct direction, not on themselves because scripture is not meant to have us be completely inward focused. It's meant to have us upward focused, focusing our eyes on who God is and the truth that he has revealed, which does in turn transform us.

So I'm just going to model for you how you could do this with different well known passages in the Bible. So think about the story of David and Goliath and the story of David and Goliath. Think about what do we learn about God from that passage? Well, we learn that God is a faithful covenant keeper because God promised the Israelites when He gave them his law on Mount Sinai, that if they would love and trust and obey Him and follow his law, that He would bless and protect them. And that's exactly what we see in first Samuel 17. While the rest of the Israelite army as well as King Saul is over cowering on the hillside, David comes and he says, who is this uncircumcised Philistine who challenges the armies of the living God? David trusted God, he believed His promises, and as David trusted God and obeyed his law, God blessed him by protecting him as well as the nation of Israel. So in the story of David and Goliath, we learned that God is the faithful covenant keeper that God will always fulfill all of his promises.

Think about the story of Daniel in the lions den. What do we learn about God from that narrative? Well, that narrative, Daniel faithfully obeyed God. He refused to pray to the king, and he only prayed to God. And what did God do? God protected him from the lions. And then what happened when Daniel's accusers were thrown into the lion's den? Scripture tells us that they didn't even reach the bottom of the pit before the lions started to devour them. So what do we learn in that passage? We learn that God is in control of all details that are taking place on earth and in the universe that it was no accident that Daniel was in the lion's den and the lion's mouths were kept shut. When where his accusers were thrown into the lion's den, they didn't even get a chance to reach the bottom of the pit.

Now, that story doesn't tell us that God will always protect every single person physically who obeys Him because we know there are other narratives in scripture where people obeyed God and they were put to death. Jesus obeyed God and He was put to death. Steven obeyed God and he was put to death. So we're not learning from that story that God will always save from death, those who honor him, but we are learning that God is sovereign and in control and so that we can trust that no matter what happens, that God has sovereignly allowed that to happen.

Think of the stories of Jesus in the gospels. What do they teach us about who God is? Well, Jesus very directly claims to be God that He is one with the Father. And in the stories of the miracles, we see that God has power over sickness. He has power over death. He has power over the elements that are on earth. So we see God's sovereign control again in the life of Jesus. Now, you may be thinking, "okay, Elizabeth, yes, I see how we can clearly see who God is in the life of David, in the life of Daniel, in the life of Jesus. What about all of the sections of scripture that are pretty long and dry and boring?" And when you say that, you're probably thinking about Leviticus or maybe some of the prophets.

Now, I'll give you an example of how we can see who God is from the book of Leviticus. Think about in the giving of the law where God gives chapters of instructions of what is to happen when the people find mold within their houses. When we're reading through these chapters about, and then if it's a whiteish color or if it's a brownish color and the person is to go to the priest and the priest is to examine it, and then all of the furniture is to be taken out of the house and the house is to be closed up for a certain amount of time, and then the priest goes back in, and if it's this, then they just scrape the walls. If it's this, they tear down the house and bring the stones outside the camp, and you're thinking, really, did I really need all of this instruction in my life today? Well, think about that when we read all of those instructions about God giving his people commands for what they're to do when they find mold in their house. Well, what do we learn about who God is and what He values from that? Well, we learned that God is a God of order and that He values order. God didn't just say, "yep. and if you find mold in your house, we'll make sure it doesn't spread." No, God gave very meticulous details of what was to happen if mold was found. So we learned that God is a God of order, that God cares about order and that things are done properly.

Well, what do we learn about God in relationship to his people? We learned God deeply cares for his people, that God loves his people. If God is so concerned that his people do not become sick and die from outbreaks of mold within their society, how great is His love for his people that He's thinking of those tiny details of what's going on in their society, and we see that all throughout the law that God is a God of order and that He cares about his people. Then we think about the prophets in some of those really long narratives in Isaiah and Jeremiah, just these prophetic utterances. Well, we see God's sovereignty that God very clearly proclaims what He is going to do to the nation of Israel, who He is going to use to do that, to punish them. And then we also see proclamations against those whom God is using to enact His judgment, that God has very specific plans for Assyria and for Babylon and for King Cyrus of Persia. We see these very clear pronouncements of what God is going to do, and we see that God is sovereign.

So when we're going through any biblical narrative or any biblical passage with our young children, if we just ask them what truths do we do, we find what truths are revealed about who God is in this passage, we're going to set their focus in the right direction. Now, you may be thinking, okay, yeah, but you don't know my five year old Elizabeth. He's going to say some really off the wall things. And you are probably correct. This is going to take some training. It's going to take some training for our children to correctly understand how to find truths that are revealed about God in a specific passage. And our kids are going to say some bizarre and off the wall things. And when they do that, it is important that we correct them.

Now, I know that not everyone within the Christian community agrees with this. In fact, several years ago when I was still teaching, there was a woman who was a professor at Wheaton College and she taught a lot of spiritual formation classes in their, it wasn't a masters of spiritual formation, but something like that, some degree like masters in spiritual formation. And when she came and talked to our school about spiritual formation in children, she said, any child that is nine on down, you should not correct anything incorrect that they say about God. They're not at developmentally at a place where they can understand that it's just going to harm their spiritual exploration. And I just, I'm racking my brain to think of anything in scripture that would lead us to believe this.

And so eventually I just raised my hand and I said, "so you're telling me that if one of my third graders tells me that God is a rainbow colored unicorn, that I'm just supposed to affirm that and let them draw a picture of that and give them a pat on the back and I'm not supposed to correct them?" And she said, "yes, that's correct." And then I, I raised my hand again. I said, well, can I just ask you what teachings in scripture lead you to believe that this is true, that we're not supposed to correct our children's misunderstanding? And the woman just got very upset and she said, she said a whole bunch of things, but she didn't say anything from scripture. And so it's very clear that this is not biblical, that we are supposed to correct our children's misunderstandings of God because every time we're commanded in scripture to raise our children in the fear and instruction of the Lord, it's to instruct them in like, who is God? What is God's law? What has God revealed to us?

Now, the manner in which we do this is important as is our manner of communication in all areas of life. We shouldn't cut our children down. We shouldn't just say, "no, that's wrong" and quickly go into an explanation of what's right. We need to make sure that we affirm and encourage our children for searching scripture and trying to see truths about who God is. We want to affirm their efforts. We want to encourage them that we're so proud of them for putting in this hard work of thinking. And then say, "you know what? I am so proud of you for doing some deep thinking about who God is. I am so happy that you want to know more about who God is. Now, you know what? Let's look back at this passage, you know, you said," and then say whatever they said about God, and then say, "let's read this again." And read through it again and say, "you know what? In that passage, do we see what you just said about God? No, we don't see, let's think of what we actually do see in this passage" to make sure we're affirming and encouraging them for engaging with the text, and then correcting any misunderstandings.

Another thing that I would recommend that you do after reading a passage and asking, what truths do we see revealed about who God is? Work on memorizing larger passages of scripture with your children instead of isolated verses. Now, I know this is a paradigm shift because the very popular programs that are out there for Bible memorization, many times they're just having kids memorize one or two isolated verses. And if that's what we're doing, the excuse is, well, God's word doesn't return void. That's correct. God's word does not return void, but accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it out. But if our children do not have a correct understanding of God's word, that purpose is not going to be accomplished in them.

So we need to make sure that we're having them memorize scripture in context. We're not just pulling out a verse here or there. And you may be thinking, "oh, but Elizabeth, there's no way my child could memorize a longer passage of scripture." Yes, he or she can trust me, your child, unless there is some sort of cognitive delay, your child will be able to memorize scripture more quickly than you can memorize it, just because of the elasticity of their brain in this stage that when they are 10 and under that their minds have just been designed to be able to memorize things very quickly.

My sister-in-law did such a great job of this during is during our isolation in 2020 when Covid first came out. She did a lot of things with her kids, but they were living in Chicago. And so outdoors was canceled in Chicago because it was like in the negatives for a really long time. We got snow multiple times, even in April that year. And so she was just stuck at home with three kids, three and under for almost two months. And one of the things that she worked on with my oldest nephew who had just turned three, was scripture memorization. And my oldest nephew, he had so many passages of scripture memorized by the time we were done with quarantine. He had all of Psalm 23 memorized. My sister-in-law tried to find things that were of interest to him. So at that time, animals were a really big interest to him. So she had him memorize the passage in Daniel where King Darius is singing a Psalm of praise to God that God has saved Daniel from the power of the lions. And I just had this picture in my mind of my nephew, of this video that she took of my nephew where he sang the whole Psalm of Darius. And then at the end, he says the last verse, he says, "he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions, rah, rah, rah," you know? And he roars. And my nephew at three had so many long passages of scripture memorized, and he was capable of doing that. And I think when we try to do this with our children, we'd be really surprised at how much they are capable of.

Another thing is we tend to think, oh, we have to have one verse memorized before we move on to the next. That is not true. Think about memorizing scripture like wood carving. The more times that you stroke a knife against the wood, the deeper the ridge inside the wood becomes as you're scraping away the wood. And now if you scrape wood 50 times, you're going to have a pretty deep ridge there, whether you are carving out a one-inch ridge or a 20-inch ridge. So rather than just work on one verse, try to do three or four or five at a time. It's super helpful.

Well, that's a wrap for this episode. But if you would like a question of yours to be answered on a future Foundation Worldview Podcast, you can submit your questions at FoundationWorldview.com/podcast. Now, as we leave our time together, my prayer for you is that no matter the situation in which you and the kids in your sphere of influence find yourselves, that you will trust that God is working all things together for your good by using those circumstances to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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