Story is the fundamental instrument of children’s thoughts. They dwell in stories all the time, inside their own heads. It’s what helps them know who they are and why they’re here – their building-blocks for life and living.
By God’s design, most of the Bible is narrative in character – making it a spiritual playground for children. As the Story of stories, the Bible invites children to enter in and enjoy it. As children enter in, they soon realize that the Story wants them to meet the Storyteller!
No two children enter God’s Story in the same way. They enter arbitrarily – making unique connections that uniquely join their lives to His life. If we try to make children fit in with how we think they should become part of the Story, we do them an injustice. God’s Story must speak for itself.
While we should never tell children how their stories should connect with God’s Story, we should ask questions that help engage their imaginations. By entering God’s Story with their imaginations, children make links to their experiences. When the Bible connects with their experiences, it has meaning and value.
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” When we connect children with the Bible, the aim should never be solely Bible knowledge. Transformation, not information, is the goal. When information is the goal of a child’s interaction with the Bible it results in death, but when transformation is the goal, it results in life.
There’s something in every child that seeks relevance. Children want to be raised-up – set on the path to being all they’re meant to be. Spiritually, they’re looking for redemption, desire deliverance, and want to see what falls being restored. As Christian educator Dorothy Furnish says, “Only if the Bible has meaning now will children look forward with expectation to the discovery of Bible meanings in the future.”
Sometimes our efforts to help children find meaning in the Bible, while well-intentioned, are counterproductive. The Bible study method that equates Bible characters with superheroes is a good example. How can children find meaning in their lives when they’re taught that men and women of the Bible are like Superman or Wonder Woman? Scripture Union’s children’s ministry specialist Wendy Strachan aptly says, “The Bible comes alive to children when we help them to realise that the people in its pages are people like them. Not heroes. Ordinary people.”
Furthermore. Since every child connects with the Bible distinctively, they likewise respond to the Bible distinctively. We should never expect children to react to God’s Story in set ways. Rather, our task is to invite children to engage with the Story in ways that encourage and respect their interaction – however unexpected their questions, comments, or responses may be. By inspiring discussions and valuing children’s responses, we pave the way for a lifetime of Bible engagement.
Along with verbal responses, multi-sensory reactions to God’s Story should be encouraged. Children should have opportunities to connect with the Story through journaling, singing, acting, Godly Play, drawing, painting, writing, reflecting, and celebrating. Helping children connect with the Bible using all their senses enables them to engage their hearts, heads, and hands.
The Nike slogan, “Just do it!” should be the visible outcome of children interacting with the Bible. Children should respond to the Scriptures by helping others, caring for creation, doing what is fair and just, being compassionate, and interrelating with the world in a way that points people to Jesus.
This can’t and won’t happen if the Bible isn’t the window through which children view the world. It’s only when the Bible takes root (in a child’s life), that it produces fruit. In other words, when children are besotted with the Storyteller, they’ll live out His Story.
Finally, while children will connect with the Bible on their own, they’re far more likely to connect with the Bible when they do it with others. Bible engagement happens best in the context of community. Children need their parents and a faith community to “impress” the Scriptures on them (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7). Loving relationships are a big part of connecting children with the Bible. When we appreciate the biblical insights and contributions of children, their connections with the Story and the Storyteller are enriched.
© Scripture Union Canada 2021