Journeying through the Bible with children
Picture the scene. It’s Saturday night and I suddenly remember I am on rota to lead kids church in the morning. I scrabble around to find my notes to see what I’m supposed to be teaching about. Find my Bible to read the passage. Search Pinterest and my house, to find a suitable craft for the group. Armed with all my knowledge I say a quick prayer. Sunday morning comes and I realise that I only have two children for kids church this morning. My heart sinks slightly…only two. But then I feel slightly relieved that I only have two children and also a little guilty that I have not nearly done enough preparation work. The children come, they are well-behaved, I read them the story, we do the craft, all has gone well. Or has it? I still have that deep nagging that there is something more that I should be doing and haven’t yet managed.
This isn’t an isolated scene. You may have stepped forward to do children’s work on a Sunday with perfectly good intentions, but low numbers of children, the busyness of our lives and time has just worn you down. I’m hoping that I can reignite that passion or just give you a few skills that you can use on a Sunday morning which will help both you and the children, want to delve deeper into God’s word.
There are three kinds of faith. Head, heart and hands. Head faith asks the big questions. Heart faith wants frequent encounters with God. Hands faith takes a journey with God. We can help engage all these kinds of faith in our interaction with children and young people.
If you have been on one of my training courses you will know that I talk a lot about different learning and spiritual styles. We all learn differently and therefore we all teach differently and you tend to lean towards that learning style when teaching. Firstly, get to know who you are. There are lots of different spiritual style and learning style tests that you can take online. Take a step back and see if you can spot the four different learning styles in your group. Make sure when you plan a session you use all four learning styles therefore engaging the whole group.
One of the most important things to do is for you to read the Bible passage on your own well in advance of Saturday night. Read it several times over. Ask yourself questions like; what is the story about? What does God want to show us? How do I feel after reading that? Pray and ask God to open up your eyes and ears to the passage. Dig in to the passage more. If you are following the JSP main programme you will have a planning sheet for each week. That should give you a bit more context surrounding the passage. But also use a Bible commentary and try to read different versions of the same passage. Then get creative. One of our aims as children’s leaders should be for children to be passionate about God’s word and that starts with creative.
Try to capture some of that context for your group. This might mean that you have to move your group around in different spaces. For example, if the Bible passage is about Paul’s journey, why not map that out in the room? Take the group to each city that Paul visited as you read the Bible passage. If it’s about David and Goliath why not visually show the children how big Goliath was by drawing around a couple of children? If it’s about Peter walking on the waves why not sit the children in a ‘boat’ and give them visual aids as to what was happening? The imagination is such a powerful thing and engages a lot of senses.
You could do a contemplative reading with your group like Lectio Divina. It’s basically about reading through the passage several times allowing space to think and pray; each time highlighting different words and tones in your voice. The Bible Society has a good guide on this.
Get the children to investigate the passage. For example, if the Bible passage is about David and Goliath, get one group to listen for clues about David; another to listen for clues about Goliath and another to listen for clues about God. Then share what each group has discovered during that passage.
Explore the five S’s; song, story, slogan, symbol and scheme. Song: after the passage get the group to make up a simple song about what they’ve just heard. Story: just like above, bring the group on a journey. I once heard that a group mapped out the size of Noah’s ark on a football field and then sat in Noah’s living quarters to read the story. Slogan: can the group sum up what they heard through writing a slogan? Symbol: engage their imagination through art – can they draw what they heard or what it would be like to be there in that moment? Scheme – things such as Godly Play offer a wider exploration of the passage.
Teach the group about the structure of the Bible. It’s 66 individual books all written by different people at different times. Teach them what a book, chapter and verse is and how to find different things in the Bible. Definitely don’t do Bible races to see who can find a certain passage the quickest as this might just put off those children who are just learning to navigate the Bible.
Have cards with the big story on and try to see if the group can discover where the passage fits within that. The big story could look like:
1. God creates 2. Sin spoils 3. People wander 4. Jesus dies 5. Jesus lives
6. Jesus in heaven 7. Spirit comes 8. Church grows 9. Us now 10. Jesus returns
Most of all, ask questions. The JSP material gives some suggested questions to engage the three kinds of faith. Ask questions like; Why was it written? Why did God want us to hear that? How do you feel about hearing that? What do you want to say to God now? And remember to actively listen to the group. Don’t be scared at not being able to answer a question. We as adults don’t have all the answers. Instead go on a journey with that child and try to discover God’s meaning together.