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A Quick Way to Destroy Kids’ Faith in the Bible

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There’s one quick way to destroy kids’ faith in the Bible–and if you’re doing it, you may be doing more damage than you realize. It seems benign, but I always think about the warning in Galatians that says “you will reap what you sow.” Are you sure you’re sowing the right things in kids’ hearts when it comes to the Word of God that’ll bear fruit for a lifetime?

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I’m always struck by how modern culture refers to things in the Bible. They often call them “Sunday school stories.” STORIES! Are stories to be believed? A case in point: My son and I went to the Avengers movie this weekend. One of the super-heroes asked another, “Have you ever heard of the tale of Jonah?” THE TALE!? Is a tale to be believed?

No! Stories, fables, tales, myths–all ficton.

So what do we do at church? We have Bible story books. We have Bible story time. We refer to the truths in Scripture as Bible stories! How are we to expect children to believe for a lifetime that these things actually happened?

Even worse–I’ve heard many referring to the entire Bible as the “Big God Story.” Some in this camp even refer to God as the “main character” in the “Big God Story.”

Yikes! We will reap what we sow! If we are guilty of fictionalizing God’s Word, how will our children ever believe in its truth?

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Here are a few things to change.

  1. Cut out Bible story lingo. Instead of saying, “In our Bible story today,” we write into our lessons, “In the Bible today.”
  2. Never refer to anyone in the Bible as a character–especially God! The people we read about in the Bible were actual people who interacted with a living person–God. The Bible is a historical account. Would we refer to Winston Churchill as a character from history? No!
  3. Change your lingo. In my 2-year-old class, we have “Bible time” instead of “Bible storytime.”
  4. Affirm the truth of Scripture. When you open up the Bible with kids, tell them that “this is God’s special book that he has written to us.” Treat the Bible with great honor and respect because it is more than a book.

If I ruled the world–or at least the church (and I don’t)–I’d cleanse these things from our vocabulary in hopes that we’d turn the tide that the truths in the Bible are just a collection of “stories and tales.” Rather, it is truth from God to stake our lives on!

For more insights, check out this article from Children’s Ministry Magazine: “Once Upon the Bible.”

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About Author

Christine Yount Jones

Christine has more than 27 years of children’s ministry experience. She is the Executive Editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine, has authored many books and articles on children’s ministry, and serves as co-director of the KidMin Conference. She’s led teams in the development of leading innovative resources, including Group's Instant Christmas Play, Buzz Instant Sunday School curriculum, Grapple Preteen Curriculum, and the new Dig-In Sunday School curriculum. Follow Christine on Twitter @ChristineYJones

36 Comments

  1. Children's Ministry Magazine

    No No No!

    This article is so wrong!

    "There's one big way to destroy kids' faith"
    I'm not being pedantic here, the are LOTS of ways to destroy faith and to emphasise one of them over others is deeply concerning. Evangelical bias which is not (ironically!) justified my scripture.

    "the Word of God that'll bear fruit for a lifetime?"
    Jesus is the Word of God and the Spirit bears fruit. the bible is the word about the Word

    "Are stories to be believed? "
    Yes. People tell stories of the experiences all the time, everyday. its basic conversation

    "fables, tales, myths–all ficton."
    There is fiction in the Bible (Dare i mention the creation poem?!) – parable are an obvious example – truths in fiction.

    "referring to the entire Bible as the "Big God Story." "
    This is a completely appropriate way to approach postmodern culture, children especially. Archaic, overarching concrete truths are not well responded to by contemporary western people. Truth within poetry and prose is much readily accessible to the experience-centric people of today

    ""In the Bible today.""
    To say this betrays its historical context: It is not a modern text, its 2 to 4 thousand years old!
    Also implies a finite time-slot to the Bible – we should encourage children to read the Bible all the time. You'd be better saying "In the bible this minute"!!

    "Would we refer to Winston Churchill as a character from history?"
    Er…Yes we do actually!
    Character is not separate from person; quite the opposite! Character is an integral part of personal identity. …and the persons we read of in the bible shine a light on Christlike character (some inversely obviously!)

    "God's special book that he has written to us."
    Hmmm… tenuous and a bit warping of the truth. Galatians for example, was written to the church in Galatia (the clue is in the title). Not to little Tommy 2000 miles and years away.

    "If I ruled the world…I'd cleanse"
    Thank God you don't. Christ is the head of the Church and it certainly doesn't need that fascist attitude poisoning it.

    • Even though this article is four years old, it is right on the money! I refer to the events of the Bible as “events,” not stories, because the Bible IS a history of the world from God’s eyes. And God got it right – even the creation story.

  2. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Chris Yount Jones on

    ZeitMike,
    Thanks for your comments. I agree there are many ways to destroy kids' faith–not just one. This is just one recommendation to chip away at the belief that the Bible is more than a book of made-up stories. That to me is a scary belief for kids to have–whether they're postmodern or anything else.
    And, like you, I'm grateful that Christ–the living Word–is the head of the church and the world!

  3. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Andrew Richmond on

    I understand the heart of the article in questioning our choice of language when talking about the Bible. If we are not careful we can create a mindset that views the Bible as a piece of fiction. However, the words "story" and even "tale" by definition alone are not incorrect.

    Tale–a narrative that relays the details of a REAL or Imaginative event or incident.

    Story–a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader.

    We use stories in life to protray and teach truth in our lives. If it wasn't for stories the Old Testament wouldn't even exsist because it was communicated as a story through oral tradition for hundreds of years before it became a written word. Again I agree we should be careful to not trivialize the Bible and make it make believe but to throw the baby out with the bath water is also silly.

    • Nida Clayton on

      The definition that you just gave for “tale” and “story” actually seems to seal the validity of the point of this article. Especially if we use the word “tale” because children especially (and really most of our society) equates a “tale” as something fictional (i.e. fairy tales like Cinderella or the tooth fairy, or tall tales like Paul Bunyan).

  4. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Chris Yount Jones on

    Thanks, Andrew. Good points. I wonder if children know the distinctions between terminology. Another reference I heard on a TV show was an adult saying that he thought the Bible was just a bunch of "Sunday school stories." When I hear references like that, I believe they're referring to fiction over truth.

  5. Children's Ministry Magazine

    I understand what you mean, wanting to emphasize the historicity of the Bible, but there are probably better ways to do that than expunging a perfectly good word like "story" from our vocabulary. After all, many English Bible translators use the word "story" for historical events (2 Chr. 13.22, 24.27).
    We can help kids grow in their faith when they understand that the Bible is filled with real life stories loaded with truths that can be applied to their lives. I want my kids to understand that the Bible is a real life epic – a huge story – of a passionate King pursuing His people through love and sacrifice.

  6. Children's Ministry Magazine

    Sorry Christine, I have to agree with the other commenters here and say that, while I appreciate your heart on this I disagree. Modern culture has robbed much of what story and character mean but I don't think that it is time to toss out those words. I do think that we need to be very clear that stories can be true (ala stories in a newspaper) and that the stories in Scripture are true and many verifiably so…but they are stories.
    Stories connect us to one another, it's a natural language of the heart, it is what makes facts easy to remember…I want my leaders to be great story tellers…but I want them telling true stories.
    As a side comment, your mention of "The Big God Story" makes this article sound like a shot at one of Groups 'competitors.' from what I know of you, I don't think that was intentional.

  7. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Chris Yount Jones on

    Denise,
    I'd love to know the better ways to emphasize the historicity of the Bible–what have you done that works?

  8. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Chris Yount Jones on

    Jesse, thanks for your thoughts. While my blog may've made you think of a specific curriculum provider, I'd have to say that I know of more than one that uses this terminology. It wasn't intentionally aimed at any one of them.

  9. Children's Ministry Magazine

    I assumed as much Christine and did not mean to say that I thought you were taking a shot at anyone, just saying it felt that way…

    Sorry if that rubbed you the wrong way.

    Although I do think story is acceptable, I think the best way to help children see the historicity is through chronological story telling. I think that the biggest travesty in "Sunday School Stories" and the part that makes them feel like they are not real is in when they are presented as a jumbled mess. It is difficult for children to know if David or Moses was born first, when did Peter live…and so on.

    Anytime I heard the story of Daniel and the Lions den, even into adulthood, I thought of young Daniel. Any idea how old he is in that story?

    Based on the historical mention of kings, he's likely well into his 70s by that time….

    I want to make sure that the children I help lead have a better grasp on the chronology so they can have a better grasp on history.

  10. Children's Ministry Magazine

    Chris, I totally get where you're coming from. I hate to see the Bible trivialized or fictionalized. The fantastical accounts are already borderline unbelievable; parting a sea? city walls crashing down? swallowed by a giant fish? However, Jesus was a storyteller himself. Stories are powerful tools to teach deeper truths. I love telling my kids stories from the Bible–and telling them, "And guess what? These stories are completely real."

    Also, I got this in my email from Group:

    The Humongous Book of Bible Skits for Children's Ministry

    52 upbeat skits connect kids with the Bible as they act out favorite Bible STORIES! Easy-to-use format makes set-up a breeze…simply copy the script and hand it out to each actor. Each plays for three minutes or less! There's a part for everyone in each skit, so every child is involved.

    Coordinate with marketing, maybe? 😉

  11. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Chris Yount Jones on

    Thanks, Adam. This view is really mine…not Group's! I'll never change the lingo completely here…or anywhere else. But I love that it's made people think about it at least!

  12. Children's Ministry Magazine

    I couldn't agree more! This is one of my "pet peeves" right up there with Wise Men in nativity scenes. "Story" does carry an implication of fiction. I remember even as a child hearing an adult speak of "telling stories" when talking about someone who lied about something. Thank You for posting this.

  13. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Chris Yount Jones on

    Thanks, Deb. I appreciate your comment. I've been noticing a lot of "the story of God" language lately. It does concern me!

  14. Children's Ministry Magazine

    Nice points! Very interesting read. I would argue that the word story is fine and not a problem. After all, you can just qualify it by saying it's a TRUE story if you're worried.

    I think a better option for number one would be: "don't JUST tell Bible stories" Read them something from the epistles about treating others with respect or from Jesus' teachings and make it applicable for their age group; they'll learn from a young age that the Bible is more than just "sunday school stories" but also has a wealth of practicality to it. Kids are smart – as long as you explain it clearly and with a well thought out approach they'll get it first time.

  15. Children's Ministry Magazine

    Nice points! Very interesting read. I would argue that the word story is fine and not a problem. After all, you can just qualify it by saying it's a TRUE story if you're worried.

    I think a better option for number one would be: "don't JUST tell Bible stories" Read them something from the epistles about treating others with respect or from Jesus' teachings and make it applicable for their age group; they'll learn from a young age that the Bible is more than just "sunday school stories" but also has a wealth of practicality to it. Kids are smart – as long as you explain it clearly and with a well thought out approach they'll get it first time.

  16. Children's Ministry Magazine

    I understand why there is concern for use of the word "story" but, as a professional storyteller as well as a pastor, I think it is a misunderstanding of the value and use of "story" in our culture and history (look, there is that word "story" again). Is "history" fiction because it is the "story" of our past? Of course not. Just because something is in narrative form does not negate its truth. The far greater dilemma is not our use of the word "story" but that fact that our kids are quickly becoming illiterate and unexposed to these Bible stories. I see an amazing number of kids show up at our Sunday programs who have never even heard of Noah or Jonah or Adam & Eve! And I love to end those storytimes with the proclamation: "…and the craziest thing yet, is that this story is absolutely true!"

  17. Christine, Thank you for bringing forth this discussion. It is an issue that I’ve also wrestled with on certain aspects. A child from a family that occasionally sent their children to our programs came to my group one Sunday. As I told the story, he said to me, I didn’t think that story was true. His exposure had been with a popular video series that told the story in cartoon style. But as I put the story in context of what it meant, his eyes were opened to the reality and meaning.
    I don’t think the problem comes with the word story, but with the way of presentation.
    As a writer as well as a SS group leader, I have had the privilege of attending seminary. That background has made a big difference. When I was given the assignment to write ‘God’s Big Story Cards’ for FAITH ALIVE, the concept of ‘big story’ was powerful because the purpose was to show that every story related to God’s involvement with us and led to the coming of Christ as God’s purpose throughout the OT story and history.
    The caution you bring out, though, is completely valid. The correct connotation of story must be presented for authenticity. Keep up your good work. I look forward to Children’s Ministry Magazine every other month.

    • Christine Yount Jones
      Christine Yount Jones on

      Carol, thanks so much for your very wise and thoughtful response. I love your perspective. And thanks for the encouragement!

  18. Lorraine Wadman on

    Christine, I agree with you. I edit textbooks and teacher manuals for Purposeful Design, a publisher of Chrisitan day school materials, In our Bible series, we call passages of Scripture “biblical truths” rather than Bible stories. This nomenclature is important for all the reasons you mentioned. It is important that we emphasize the truth in what we present to children, whether we use the term “biblical truth” or “Bible story”.

  19. Christine – Hello! I agree with your article 100%!!! The statistics are showing that 80% of kids that attend Sunday School as children, will walk away from church and never return as adults (see “Already Gone” by Ken Ham). With numbers this incredibly troubling – I think that examining drastic changes in how we teach the Bible to children, are in order!
    I am a pastor’s wife, and children’s teacher. We have intentionally stopped referring to events or narratives in the Bible as “stories” – because I agree with you – kids won’t know the difference between a fairy tale, a story book, and Bible ‘story’, if we call them all the same thing.
    We have purchased and hung a 25 foot world history time-line, with both world/secular historical events, right along side the Biblical events, so that I can point out what time period in history the Bible lesson took place during. I also use world or regional maps to show the kids where events happened – to tie them in to real places in the world. I have also mentioned basic archaeological finds that prove the Bible events of a story we are looking at (depending on the age of the kids). They seem to really enjoy this, AND… this is the way teachers at school approach teaching… they present them with facts, and pictures and other proofs in the real world to back up what they have been taught … and kids sadly but often, grow to believe that their school teachers teach them facts, and Sunday School teachers teach stories.

    I believe that we have to make more of an effort to make it clear that the Bible is true history, that really happened, with real people, at real dates in history. This has to be paramount – because if they don’t believe that what the Bible records is true, then nothing else matters… they won’t believe they need Jesus as their savior, or that He is the only way to Heaven, or that they are sinners, or that God is big enough to help them through anything. Everything hinges on the complete veracity, trustworthiness, and accuracy of the Bible!

    I will say that another thing I think we can do to discourage our church kids, is to not have solid, Biblical answers when they come and ask about evolution, creation, fossils, dinosaurs, etc. These are things that they are hearing about in school, movies, etc, and if we aren’t willing to engage their questions, and provide Biblical answers that make sense – and not just excuses or “Don’t worry about that, just believe in Jesus” – that was found to be another major reason for kids leaving the church – they believe that the church and the Bible do not have answers, and that the Bible conflicts with science – but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Feel free to engage your pastor or elders to help you answer the questions – we just owe it to the children to give them real, viable answers.

    We have precious treasures in those little ones, and often we have a short time in which to impart truth – we must be intentional, and purposeful – the world is trying to steal away their belief in God and the Bible – and it is our job to equip, empower and educate them to know that the Bible is true and can be trusted!

  20. I had never really thought about how using the word “story” in reference to our kids’ Bible lessons might leave the wrong impression until our new associate pastor started about a year ago. She does not use the word “story” at all- even with the adults for the reasons you mentioned. I do try to be mindful of how I am presenting lessons now, and as the Director of Children’s Min. have passed on these thoughts to my teachers. Old habits do die hard though, so I usually catch myself introducing the “Bible story”. In those instances I spend time talking with the kids about true vs make believe stories and have them tell me what the Bible is and it becomes another opportunity instead of a stumbling block.

  21. Stacey Bittinger on

    Hello:) I just stumbled across this and what an impact it had. I was not raised in the church (building), but had a neighbor who helped me know Jesus. When I came to Christ I wanted everyone to know Him! I became involved in a wonderful church, but taught stories …

    This was how we taught Sunday School. This is how I went on to teach Middle School. This is how we began to teach our children when they were born. Innocent. Maybe …

    But I have a nine year old now who wonders about her faith and if Jesus is real. I have a 12 year old who is so deeply in love with Jesus it shows in everything she does (most of the time). My point is, that although they were raised in the same home, same “stories” … one is very literal and now questioning everything. I am doing my best not to look back in regret, but the “what ifs” are there. At least this helped me know how to focus on truth, God’s word written for us … the language change up is important and I am grateful you brought it to light. Thank you.

  22. Donna Kinser on

    I heard lots of Bible stories as a child and I grew up knowing they are true. Give me a break. Kids are not stupid.As they grow they know the difference in Cinderella and Esther or Ruth or whoever.

  23. Geez…It is so sad to see how vicious some “Christian” people on here can be about a single subject article. I head up my church’s children’s ministry and I think in the day in which we live emphasizing the fact that the Bible is historical with our words and making that point regularly can help them understand that the Bible is different that any other book they will pick up…fiction or not. That can have a tremendous effect on how they see things. Especially when lines are now undefined to the point that boys aren’t boys if they don’t want to be and girls aren’t girls if they don’t want to be!!!! The enemy is using every thing in our lives to question God’s Word and Authority, but there is one thing he can’t do, make a liar or storyteller out of God. We base everything we know and understand about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit from the Bible. Protecting that viewpoint in the minds and hearts of kids is paramount!!! I pledge allegiance to the Bible 🙂

  24. Great article! This is exactly what I’ve been saying, and trying to quietly change. I try to emphasize that the people in the Bible were real people, and the events recorded in the Bible are real historical events. I try to use maps, and pictures of ruins of these ancient cities, and show them that these places existed, and some still do. I was raised with the notion that the Bible is a collection of fairy tales, just like “Cinderella” or “Snow White.” I believe that when we refer to the records in the Bible as “stories,” we unintentionally infer that they are just that. Stories, tall tales, legends, but not facts. And to those who think Ms. Jones said this was the only problem, or the only way to destroy kids’ belief in the Bible, please re-read the article. The title calls it “A Quick Way,” and the body says it is “one quick way.” No where does it say that it’s the only way, or even the main way, simply as one way. Of course there are many other ways, but this article was meant to address this one, which she clearly states is unintentional.

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