It is a given for Christian parents that they should teach the Bible (and the good news about Jesus specifically) to their children. This was the case for Old Testament believers and for New Testament believers.
As a parent of 3 boys, my wife and I have tried a range of things to help our children to understand Jesus. We are still trying things, and are not always as diligent as we should be, but here are some ideas that have helped us and are useful for Christian parents to think through. Something outside the scope of this blog, but so so important, is that we must also pray with and for our children and often; this underpins all the rest.
1.Direct, systematic Bible teaching
There is really no substitute for actually reading the Bible to your kids. Reading all kinds of things is useful for their development, but reading the Bible starts conversations about God which are of great importance. There are some great children’s Bibles out there (and some really bad ones); we like the Jesus Storybook Bible as it shows how all things connect to Jesus, and the Child’s Story Bible by Vos as it is well-written and thorough, though for an older audience. Now we are reading short sections from a standard Bible at the dinner table together and talking about what we learn afterwards as a family.
We have mixed this up sometimes with just retelling stories in our own words as well to cover larger chunks of the Biblical message at a time.
2.Making the most of external Bible teaching
Many of us have our children being taught the Bible elsewhere, like at Sunday School or perhaps at a Christian school. Make sure you know what is being taught to them; the discussion in the car on the way home is useful for us in this regard. These great teaching opportunities are not supposed to be ‘sub-contracting’ the teaching to others but having others assist us in our teaching of our children. Sunday School alone will not be enough. If the Bible is never opened and God never discussed outside this it will only seem like another subject that matters little to the family.
3.Teaching theology in a simple, memorable way
For a long time Christians have known the importance of trying to get children to understand the topics about God from the Bible, like how to understand God, sin, grace and the future for example. Many catechisms have been written, which are basic questions and answers about God which over time cover the main topics of the Bible. These can be helpful even today if used wisely.
A resource we recently came across is the series of songs from Songs for Saplings distributed through the Gospel Coalition in the USA (look at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/12/05/new-music-project-helps-kids-learn-theology/ for more info). It is essentially a catechism put to music with simple, catchy songs. Our family is really enjoying this – you will have the songs in your head for a long time – and you can stream the songs for free or buy them for $5 an album online.
4. Living out what you believe, including in how you parent
However well you teach, kids know whether you really believe it. You may be able to deceive others, but they see everything. They see if you read the Bible yourself, and the priority you put on church. All the teaching goes to waste if they see it means nothing to you.
And this includes how you parent! I find myself getting frustrated and upset at the children, as all parents do. But I want to model grace not just works. I want to be careful with my temper and enthusiastic with my praise. I want to show that actions have consequences but in a loving way. And I have a long way to go with this.
So consider how your kids experience Jesus in your house – through teaching of the Bible, and through modelling. Be intentional about it and pray about it. Let’s not just raise good citizens and well-balanced people emotionally; let’s care about their spiritual lives and understandings.