Teaching Children in Terms They Can Understand

Following the Great Commandment of Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (ESV),  God instructs his people to teach these commands to their children.  Deuteronomy 6:7 says, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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 (ESV). 

Many of the churches in America seem to have missed this instruction.  Go to most churches on Sunday and you will find parents who joyfully drop their children off in the children's ministry, grab a cup of coffee, and do their own thing in their time of freedom without children.  They hope to have some distraction-free time so they can chat with other adults and learn the Word of God, oh, and maybe it would be nice if the kids learned something too.  Often the parents care very little who is teaching their children.  Little to no attention is given to handouts or activities to do later at home.  And in many cases, children spend as little time learning God's Word throughout the week as their parents.

Sadly, it seems the most important thing for many children and youth ministries is that the kids have fun, even at the cost of learning more about God and loving him greatly. 

The problem thrives through out the week as well. Many mid-week community groups and Bible studies strive to be child-free.  They have childcare or some other plan to keep the children completely removed from the community.  Certainly there's a time to spend with adults, but how does removing children from the equation as often as is possible fulfill the instruction of Deuteronomy 6:7?  

Some parents however, feel the great failure of the Church in regard to teaching children God's Word and are making their best effort at home.  I hope I might be counted among these parents.  The challenge however, is what to do?  All too often, the Church is also falling short in the area of equipping parents to teach their children, leaving parents to rely entirely on talking vegetables to do this important job.

What is a parent to do?

For starters, parents should be praying for their children, and praying with them.  Praying with your kids should go beyond meal and the same nightly bedtime time prayers.  Let them see you pray often and honestly.  And it's never to early to start.

Next, children need to understand God's Word in terms they can understand, it a format that is most appropriate for their level of thinking and reading.  Little children should start with a picture-book Bible.  This will simply help them get accustomed to some of the biblical characters and provide them with a joy found in reading the Bible.  As they grow, you can graduate them up to a higher-level children's Bible.  It's important that these Bibles help demonstrate the big idea of the Bible.  (See some children's Bible's I recommend here.)  The same is even true of adults.  I often recommend that new believers and Christians who have never seen the big story of the Bible (also called the meta-narrative) read the Jesus Storybook Bible so he or she can quickly grasp the big picture of God's redemption plan and know where they're at in The Story when reading a full Bible.

But at some point it will be time to graduate to a full Bible (for some this may be around pre-school or kindergarten, for others around first or second grade depending upon the child's reading level and the child's understanding of the gospel).  This Bible will allow you to direct them to specific passages, study, and even start memorizing verses.  But the Bible is a big book, full of big words.  What should a parent do with the big words?

One approach--with which I disagree--would be like that held by Trevin Wax.  In his book, Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture, Wax explains that he prays the Lord's prayer with his children.  He know that words like hallowed, kingdom, debts, and temptation are lost on his little ones.  He writes, "I'm praying my daughter grows up into those words.  I look at her the same way I look at my kid trying on Mama's shoes.  The feet are too small and the shoes are too big, but one of these days, she'll grow up and they'll fit" (B&H, 2013, page 73).

Using Wax's analogy, I wonder why the child would not have her own shoes that fit properly?  Is the expectation that a child can only wear adult shoes?  By no means, and the same is true of the Bible! Children need not move from the Jesus Storybook Bible to the ESV, HCSB, KJV or any other adult English translation any more than a new Christian should immediately starting reading the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek.  Translations are tools that help, and a child should have a translation that actually helps.  The beautify of it is that there are translations with children in mind so they don't have to slosh around in Mama's big adult Bible translation.

Parents, get your child a full Bible that's translated in terms your child can understand.  Being able to discuss God's Word and diligently teach it as you're together in your home, when you're driving from place to place, and in the evening when it's time for bed is how your little one will learn to love God with all his or her heart and soul.  Then, as he or she grows, your kiddo can graduate again into an adult Bible.  But in the meantime, how about communicating in terms she can understand rather than waiting for her to one day learn the terms with which you're trying to communicate? 

* Photo ID 20834 is a United Nations Photo and is used with permission.