When it comes to reading the Bible with our children and young people, the best thing we can do is to inspire their imagination with some of the individual stories, something I know we all do a good job. There are lots of stories: Jonah in the whale, Noah's Ark and Daniel in the lion's den. These are inspirational stories, they often come with craft and kits and various cuddly toys. My concern, and this is speaking as a parent, is when our kids get to around the age of seven or eight, they're making significant turns in their own development. They're able to be more logical, or a little bit more abstract and they're able to join the dots. As parents, I don't think we're very good at making the turn when it comes to the Bible. Their education moves on, but we're still teaching the Bible as cute little isolated stories.
I think part of the reason later in life children lose confidence in the Bible is because they've never really moved on from thinking that it's just ancient mythological stories about arks and lions. We've got three kids and it always frightens you as a parent how differently they go through this stage, it's never a one size fits all. But in different creative ways, we've got to help each of them make that turn and see know the Bible is actually one cohesive narrative that makes sense of life. Here are my top tips for parents:
I think more of us than we realise are visual learners even as adults, but in particular, in the more concrete stages of educational development, you've got to be visual. I don't just mean by that pictures - you want them to see a logical sequence that the Bible actually has a coherence to its larger narrative.
With the Bible course, we put visual right at the center of it for adults, so with our new family resource the Greatest Story Ever, it's exactly the same. We want our kids to see how the story builds from one small story into the bigger story and joining the dots between them.
Don't make assumptions
Don't assume things for our kids that actually may reduce their the expectations we put on them. One day my son, ten, said: "I'm going to reading the Bible every day", and I said: "You know, don't start the beginning. You'll never make it". And he looked at me like I was stupid and said: "Well, of course you start books at the beginning".
So he ignored my advice and just began with Genesis and over the following 18 months, he read the Bible and I read it with him. It was an amazing journey reading through the Old Testament with a nine-year-old. The Bible's knotty and complex and sometimes challenging, and even adults get offended by it, but we just realized, actually, he wasn't as fazed by some things that we thought he might be. Kids can handle a bit more than we realise sometimes. I don't think we need to shelter them.
Put the right kind of challenge before your child - and that's a real need for wisdom to know what that is.
Join the dots
Make sure that you join the dots between the Bible story and our story, because the risk with our middle son was that it was a race of information. It's so important that the Bible doesn't become a pub quiz of how many facts can you learn who the oldest person in the Bible is. It's got to be an embodied experience. If this is a vision for how I will live my life and it will manifest in my prayers, we've got to join the dots between what we're reading in the Bible and what we're doing and praying about.
Dr. Andrew Ollerton is a theologian and pastor, and works with the Bible Society. You can hear more of Andrew's Bible reading tips by keeping your eyes on our podcast. Andrew's latest resource for families is available online at https://thegreateststoryever.org.