From Bible story to their story
I love teaching children Bible stories and seeing the wonder, excitement, sadness and surprise as they see how God has worked since the creation of the world, has given us the gift of salvation, the help of the Holy Spirit and a place within his church. However, sometimes I wonder if children know how to apply those stories to how they live their life – to their school work, interaction with their friends and making decisions. What if there were tweaks that we could make in how we teach the Bible to children, or read it with them, that better enabled them to follow Jesus at their age and stage of life?
God-smart to God-connected children
Rachel Turner, Parenting for Faith founder, called children who have head knowledge about God as “God-smart”. Children who know the answers, how to act in church and are comfortable with Christianity, but it stops at their head. She contrasts that with the idea of “God-connected” children, those who live in a vibrant two-way relationship with God, sharing life with him, knowing they are loved and handling the world with a confidence that comes from that.
Over the next three blogs we are going to look at some key tools that can be used, both at home and in children’s ministry; small tweaks that could make a big difference to the discipleship of children.
Let’s focus on how to create God-connected children.
God has made our brains to work best by watching and then trying. We often see children playing ‘schools’ or ‘mummies and daddies’. They are watching the adults around them, seeing how they do things and then “trying” those things out to see how they work. Or if you watch an apprentice and their teacher. The apprentice watches and then begins to do the tasks – they watch and then learn from trying.
And the same is true of our faith. We can’t see God but we can see other people who follow him. We can listen to their stories. We can read in the Bible of how people followed God. We see and learn what it means to have a genuine, yet flawed, relationship with God. As we watch and learn, we build our own relationship with God and our faith grows.
Windows at home
As parents, we desire to help our children see what that relationship with God looks like. They need to see what our faith looks like in all its forms – good and flawed – and hear how we follow Jesus. We need to create windows into our faith to help children see, try and learn.
Think about what’s most important to you as you live out your faith. Which key things would you like your children to see about your relationship with God? How could you create a window into that at home? Perhaps one thing is how important reading the Bible is to you. Perhaps you could choose to read it while your children are around, rather than when it is quiet after they have gone to bed or are at school.
Windows at church
This isn’t just for parents either. Parents need children’s ministry leaders to also be supporting their children’s faith journey and helping them as a family to live out their faith. As you tell Bible stories to children, try not to skip straight to the worksheet or activity. Can you tell a story from your journey of faith, or have another leader to share, so as to help the children connect the biblical story to a present-day faith story and then to their story? For example, as you tell the story of Jonah not listening to God, do you have a story of not listening to God too? Or a story of the difference when you did listen to God and how he used that situation?
One of the things that we can do to help children move from knowing the right answers to knowing what it means to follow Jesus is to give them a spiritual framework for their lives. This is about helping them learn to see the world through God’s eyes.
Framing helps children to see how God works in life, tackling tough questions that come along and preparing them for things to come in the future. Framing can be used for little things as well as the really big things that we face in life, like world disasters or death, providing simple ways to see God working in the world.
One way to do this is to explain everything to children with God as part of the conversation. Sometimes we can assume that children understand all that’s happening around them, when we haven’t taken the time to unpack and explain it to them. Similarly, it can be easy to do things as a family without talking about God’s place in it.
This can happen in the little things - ‘I’m sorry your finger is sore, let’s ask God to make it better because we know he has the power to do that’.
It can happen in the big things - ‘It’s wonderful that God gave mum a new job and a new house for us to move into. We’ve been asking him to show us what he had next for our family and this is his answer.’
Similarly, as children’s ministry leaders at church, we can help to walk with families, modelling how to frame the world. As we talk to children about things they are experiencing in the world around them and they ask questions, we can suggest ways to see their situations through God’s eyes. How do we pray in our children’s ministry for those who experience natural disasters and show that God is in control? When looking at themes of school or friendship, how can we help children see how God feels about all the ordinary everyday events and situations that they deal with.
How can we help to frame the world so children see God in the big and small of life?
Next time we’re going to look at two more tools that both parents and children’s ministry leaders can use to create God-connected children.
Ruth Bromley is PCI's Children's Development Officer.