This guest post was written by Coleen Cotton.
Teaching kids the Bible can be one of the most rewarding responsibilities in a leader’s ministry life.
But how do you do it with the same stories in new ways that go deeper?
Church experts are watching many kids walk away from their faith altogether at alarming rates.
There are a number of reasons for this disheartening trend but I wonder if one reason might be that we continue to teach them what they already know.
Yes, reviewing content is vital and powerful.
We start teaching the basic stories when a child is around two years old and we’re still teaching the same stories when they are in 3-4th grade.
It begs the question: when does review begin to repel kids?
A Case for Going Deeper
One fall, I was talking with a teacher in a classroom just before we started and her elementary-age son happened to wander in.
“What are we going to learn about next?” He asked.
His mom told him we would be learning about Moses.
I’ll never forget how that child responded.
He shouted, ”Moses, Moses, Moses, I’m SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT MOSES!”
When we continue to teach what the children already know, we run the danger of tuning kids out.
They can end up feeling that they already know everything in the Bible because we’re not saying anything new.
We’ve all heard them protest saying, “I already know that story!”
The greater danger is that eventually, a child can walk away thinking: you have nothing left to teach me.
Since changing the curriculum isn’t an option for most of us – how do we take it deeper?
How do we give our kids something they don’t already have?
We have the opportunity to teach kids the bible in such a way that it sticks with them for their entire life.
Here are 3 tips to help you take the kids deeper into the stories you’re teaching.
1. Look for nuggets that are not in the curriculum, but in the Bible.
Sometimes writers can’t put every detail in the curriculum but some of those details can add a richness that your children haven’t heard about before.
When you begin to prepare your teaching each week, as yourself, How does this give them something they don’t already have?
- Start by reading through the story in your Bible.
- Notice details that are not in your teaching materials.
- If that story is told more than once in the Bible, find and study the other version of it and let that add richness. (A number of them are, especially in the Gospels but also in Kings, Chronicles, and other Old Testament books.)
- Consider how to weave in those details to give the children aspects of the story that will be new to them.
2. Check the background, the context, or other scriptures.
Explore the background behind the story: what was going on in the big picture of that circumstance?
Explore the context by asking these questions:
- What was happening before the situation?
- What happened after?
- Where were they geographically?
- What was happening socially?
- What were practices in their culture that may have impacted how people acted or thought?
- What were previous events that played into this?
- Dig deep to find out what the text meant to the original hearers.
- And look for other places in the Bible where that person or people group is mentioned, where that location was part of the story, or where people faced a similar circumstance or tragedy.
A Gospel Example
An example comes from the story of the feeding of the five thousand in John 6.
All through the Gospels, Jesus speaks to the disciple Philip only two to three times.
In this story, Jesus turns to Philip specifically and asks him where they can buy food to feed the people.
Why did Jesus ask Philip?
If you go over to John 1:44, you find out that Philip was from – think “grew up there, knew the area well” – Bethsaida.
What town was the closest to where the feeding of the five thousand occurred? Bethsaida! (Luke 9:10)
This kind of detail highlights that God is in them.
You can follow up with, “If God can use Philip in his hometown, could he use you?”
There are many links like these that you can find throughout scripture; today there are many search engines that could be utilized to discover these links that can add richness to your teaching.
3. Ask hard questions to take your teaching deeper.
Look at the application of your teaching for that passage and ask yourself questions.
- What is a struggle in the Christian life that someone might have related to this issue?
- What is something that might be hard to surrender to God related to this teaching?
- What if this idea or teaching were NOT believed or practiced?
- What impact would that have?
- What is at stake spiritually?
- What is at stake for Christianity or the Kingdom of God?
- What is our culture telling us that is opposite of what God is saying here?
Bottom line: what difference does it make?
Don’t be afraid to bring up some of the hard parts or issues in the Christian life and grapple with them together.
Questions are hard but they give you the opportunity to teach the children that just because you don’t know an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one!
Review and Keep Them Curious
For those serving churches where the majority of children are unchurched – yes – you DO want to give them the basics!
At the same time, let them know there is more!
We want to stop giving them “baby Christianity” when they are ready for an elementary-level faith!
And one final BONUS tip: Leave them wanting MORE!
All of us love Thanksgiving dinner but we often reach the point where, no matter how good the food is, we just don’t want any more.
Don’t let your kids get to the same place in your teaching – always leave them wanting more.
In one church, we had a wonderful teacher who loved teaching God’s Word – but she’d try to get in every single detail and every possible idea in one teaching session.
Often I’d say to her, “Don’t satiate!”
Just announce that you don’t have time to go into that detail, or perhaps they’re not old enough to hear that part of the teaching, or perhaps they are not yet spiritually ready for that concept.
Leave them understanding that there is more out there to explore and understand but don’t give them everything at one “meal.”
That’s truly what we want when we teach the Word of God – God’s teaching turns our whole world upside down.
Our role is to prepare it in such a way that children get a deeper understanding of a passage every time it is taught, and that they can clearly see how what God says changes everything.
Yes, this takes more work; it takes more study and a bit more time.
We can be content with hearing them say, “I already know that story!”
But if we do, how long do they pay attention?
How long before they tune out?
How long before they decide to never darken the door of your church again?
Or…imagine having children on the edge of their seats each week, eager to learn something new and powerful from God’s Word!
Coleen has served God for over 25 years in Children’s Ministry, including six cross-cultural mission trips (three specifically in children’s ministries), as adjunct faculty at a university teaching Child Development, and in leading children’s ministries at eight different churches of various sizes. She specializes in helping medium-sized growing churches grow a strong foundation for a spiritually deep and growing children’s ministry. Her vision is to lead children to Christ, and to an ever-deepening spiritual maturity, and to train pastors, teachers, parents, and leaders how to do this effectively.