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How Not to Teach the Bible to Our Kids – Part 3

In previous posts, we explored several common mistakes we make when instructing our children in Scripture. In this post, we will finish the series by exploring one final error.

Error Three: Aim for Excitement Rather Than Independence

“In all honesty, I don’t know how to go about reading the Bible. Where do I start? What questions should I ask myself? I feel completely lost.” These were not the words I expected to come from my young friend’s mouth. This eighteen-year-old had grown up with two Christ-like, theologically-sound parents, and attended a thriving, gospel-centered church. Yet, by her own admission, she had no clue how to read the Bible on her own.

Sadly, this situation is not at all uncommon. Many Christian teens and young adults do not know how to approach the Bible. And the fault is mostly ours. From their infancy through their graduation from youth group, we adults have done all the work of Bible study for them. And, in so doing, we have stripped them of any ownership in the process. Here are three reasons we need to change our approach.

1. Independence Should Be the Goal

One of the main goals of raising children is to gradually move from dependence to independence. Infants need us to feed them, change their diapers, and hold their hands as they take their first steps. As they grow into toddlers, preschoolers, and beyond, we work toward independence in these areas. (Think how tragic it would be if the average twelve-year-old needed his mom’s hands to walk him to the bathroom or spoon-feed him his lunch.) However, often we do not strive for independence when instructing our children in Scripture.

Too often, our goal in Bible instruction is engagement and excitement, not independence. Why? Does the Bible need our help engaging children? Are our children so simplistic that they cannot understand and apply a short passage of Scripture on their own? No. The problem is we have been aiming at the wrong target. We shouldn’t strive for kids who jump up and down at the thought of attending church or starting family devotions. We should strive for kids who are growing in their ability to approach, interpret, and apply the Word of God.

2. Independence Fosters Ownership

By making excitement rather than independence the goal, we have robbed our kids of any ownership in Bible-reading. Think about a hobby or skill you enjoy. Part of your passion for this activity stems from the fact that you have mastered some level of independence. But what if you hadn’t? What if you continually needed to wait around for an expert to walk you step-by-step through the process of fly fishing, motorbiking, or piano playing? Would you ever genuinely delight in those activities? Probably not. Why? Because you had no ownership in them.

The same is true for our children. Too often, we make ourselves indispensable in the Bible-reading process. We plan interactive lessons. We print out Scripture verses and hang them on the fridge. We read Scripture to our children. We ask them questions about the passage. We draw application points. We, we, we, all the way into adulthood. By doing all this work ourselves, we have stripped our kids of any ownership in the process of reading, interpreting, and applying God’s Word. This means, when we aren’t there, there’s little chance they will read the Bible on their own.

3. Independence is Practical

You may be thinking, “Having kids take ownership of Scripture reading sounds well and good, but is it practical?” Yes! Around my eighth year of teaching 3rd grade, I realized that my students were too dependent on me when it came to Bible class. So, I completely changed the way I taught. Instead of planning creative and engaging lessons, I began training my students to read passages of Scripture on their own, answer basic Bible study questions, and share what they learned with the class.

The next year I held my breath, wondering what the 4th-grade teachers would observe. Would the kids from my class have huge gaps in their understanding of the biblical narrative? Would they be turned off to the idea of reading Scripture? To my delight, the 4th-grade teachers reported that the students from my class knew more about the Bible than any of their previous students. On top of that, a number of my former students daily read the Bible on their own. Independence and ownership in Bible reading are possible!

If we want to raise children who read, interpret, and apply God’s Word, we need to aim for the correct target. Instead of seeking excitement, we need to make gradual independence the goal. When we equip our children to read the Bible independently, they take ownership of the process, and we are setting them up to make studying God’s Word a part of their everyday lives.

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2 thoughts on “How Not to Teach the Bible to Our Kids – Part 3

  1. Thank you Elizabeth! This series is so helpful and encouraging. I’m curious, how would you recommend starting this with toddlers? What should we be doing now (for ages 1 and 3) to lead us down this path to teaching the Bible correctly and leading them to independence in this area? Thank you!! Hope you are well!

    • Hi, Stephanie!

      Thank you for the encouragement. I’m thankful you found this series helpful! I love that you are thinking proactively about how you can develop this independence with your children.

      At the toddler and preschool level, much of what you are doing is training and modeling for the future. When you read the Bible with them, you can ask your three-year-old to tell the story in her own words. You could phrase it as, “Let’s practice how we can tell Daddy about the story we read when he gets home from work!” This will begin to give her some ownership in the process.

      You can also begin to practice independence by giving her something to do while you have your own quiet time. For example, if you read your children a biblical narrative out of an illustrated children’s Bible, you could have your three-year-old look at the pictures by herself to “reread” the story, while you read your Bible. (With a toddler’s attention span, this will probably only be for 3-5 minutes. However, even this short period of time is training.) If you prefer to read to your children straight from the Bible, as opposed to an illustrated children’s Bible, you could have your three-year-old draw a picture of the story you read while you read your Bible. This again will give her some ownership in the process and will show her that reading the Bible is important to you as well. As your children grow and learn to read, you can gradually release more and more of the responsibility over to them.

      Thanks again for making time to comment and, more importantly, being intentional in training your kids to read God’s Word.

      With joy,
      Elizabeth

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