What is “Bible depth”?
It’s bandied around in children’s ministry circles, but what is
it really? Bible depth to one person likely means something very
different to someone else. Is it Scripture memory? In-depth Bible
study for children? Rarely covered Scripture finally covered?
We’ve asked children’s ministry stakeholders-from parents and
veteran children’s ministers to researchers and curriculum
experts-to describe what Bible depth means to them. Read on to
discover these captivating-and very different-perceptions about
what Bible depth really is.
BIBLE DEPTH Is Rich Storytelling and
When I think of “biblical depth,” I immediately envision adults
grappling with the meaning of a passage of Scripture-doing the hard
work of considering what the passage would’ve meant to the original
readers or hearers (exegesis) and then considering what it then
means to us (hermeneutics). So should we expect 4-year-olds to do
that? Do we want them to stop acting like 4-year-olds and start
asking what the original Hebrew word would be? Rationally we know
that this view of biblical depth is something that kids are
developmentally unable to do; it’s like asking a toddler to ride a
Another way to consider biblical depth is to think of what
happens when we give a passage of Scripture time to work in us.
These aren’t just ordinary stories. These stories have the power to
shape us and to form us into God’s people. They allow us to meet
God-no matter how old or young we are. Biblical depth for children
involves a rich and thoughtful telling and exploration of the
Suppose we tell about David’s victory over Goliath. We talk with
children and wonder about the story together. Together we ask
questions like, “I wonder if David was scared?” “I wonder if Saul
watched what happened?” “I wonder how Saul felt when Goliath was
hit with the rock?” “Where do you think God is in this story?”
Instead of telling children “what the story means” or “what they
can learn,” the children are invited in to spend time with the
story, to go deeper into the situation, and to perhaps see other
things there that God wants them to know.
Robert Keeley, Ph.D., is a professor of
education and chair of the education department at Calvin College
in Michigan. He’s worked with children in churches and schools for
30 years and co-serves with his wife as children’s ministry
director at his church. His most recent book is Helping Our
Children Grow in Faith: How the Church Can Nurture the Spiritual
Development of Kids.
BIBLE DEPTH Is Relationship Through
To me, Bible depth in children’s ministry means illustrating the
most important principles of God’s Word so children can engage with
them. Depth must often be determined by children’s ability to
understand the principles being taught. The principles must be made
tangible by translating or illustrating them so even the youngest
of children can grasp these key truths. Take “sowing and
reaping”-this concept is easily illustrated with something as
simple as seeds and small flower pots. There are opportunities to
teach biblical depth in commonly known and lesser-known Bible
events in ways that help children engage with the major principles
of God’s Word. The amazing instances of God’s triumph, God’s
presence as more than a conqueror, and God’s desire to be in
relation with us-these are all worthy of illustration for the
benefit of our children.
Doctrines, theological stances, and all the debates that go
along with many of the key points in the Bible don’t belong in our
children’s Christian education. I believe we must focus on the
relational nature of God and the fact that he gave his son who died
so that we might live. These are key biblical principles to
illustrate every chance we get. And probably the most important
component: Who-and how-does God see me, the small child?
Esther Owens is a Christian mom of three
boys, the wife of a church planter, a native of Haiti, and a
BIBLE DEPTH Is Swimming in the Deep End
Lewis Foster, one of the translators of the NIV and NKJV Bibles
and longtime professor at Cincinnati Christian University, once
said that the Bible is simple enough that a child could wade in the
shallow end, yet profound enough that scholars could spend a
lifetime exploring its depths. Too often, children’s ministers
stick to the shallow end, retelling Bible events with simple
applications. Biblical depth in Christian education is preparing
kids to swim in the deep end, equipping them with the tools they
need to study and understand the Bible for themselves.
How do we provide biblical depth in our ministries? First, by
establishing the Bible as the authority for understanding and
obeying God…by holding a Bible in your lap as you retell the
Bible story…by saying frequently, “The Bible says…”
We do it by training kids to read the Bible on their own and by
using creative activities to teach memory work and research methods
such as using a concordance or cross-references. Starting in first
grade, kids are learning how to find Scripture passages. Older kids
learn about biblical culture and historical background through
drama and art projects.
Finally, we do it by weaving the big biblical concepts into
lessons using definitions appropriate for kids’ learning age level.
We do it by using words such as redemption, wisdom, covenant,
and grace-and we’re prepared to explain what each means. At
each age level, we cover the tenets of our faith: the nature of
God, the work of Christ, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the
purpose of the church.
When we teach our children to move beyond the buoys of basic
Bible truths to explore the riches of Bible knowledge for
themselves, we’ll raise up a generation of Bible-literate kids who
know what they believe-and why they believe it.
Karen Wingate is a children’s minister in
East Sparta, Ohio. She’s served in Christian education for 25 years
and has written curriculum for 20 years. She’s written numerous
articles on children’s faith and she blogs at childrenteach.blogspot.com.
What Is BIBICAL DEPTH in Children’s
Content and detail
All the stories, Bible verses word-perfect
Minutia in correct order
Uses: Bible trivia game and daily memorization NO
Texts and contexts
Answers and reasons
Uses: smart teacher and many books NO
Sound and movement
Words eclipsed by music
Uses: rock band and hot speaker NO
Abraham, Esther, and Jesus
Seeing them, hearing them, playing them today
Entering the story, being in story, living out story
Uses: purpose-full, play-full, life-full connects
It takes a friend-adult or child-and perhaps several, for a child
to be in the Bible, to be side-by-side with biblical people,
playing out the event with drawings, felt, figurines, or the whole
body. The friend introduces The Friend, as they are deeply into the
moment and sense the mystery. Deep meaning and deep experience go
together. There is communion, Spirit to spirit.
Depth isn’t just hearing about the event. Rather it is to be in
the event, from inside the child and inside the Bible, then letting
the event move outward to actions in sacred space and not-so-sacred
space. The child hears more than words; she hears God in the words.
He hears more than songs; he hears the Singer. They dance the
event…Spirit to spirit.
Depth means the child wants to linger, to be close to the
Divine, to listen quietly to the One who may speak in silence, to
laugh and play with delight with the Holy Friend. To go deep may
mean to go slow. The child comes to know the Spirit, love the
Spirit, and bring others to the Spirit. The Bible and child are
one, Spirit to spirit.
Don Ratcliff, Ph.D., is the Price-LeBar
Professor of Christian Education at Wheaton College in Illinois.
He’s authored numerous books and has studied children’s religious
and spiritual development since the 1970s.
BIBLE DEPTH Is Age-Appropriate and Engaging
Genuinely teaching children the truths of God’s Word means they
not only learn what you’re teaching them, but understand the
importance of living out those truths in their lives. For instance,
you can teach a child not to lie because lying is wrong. Or, you
can teach a child about the holiness, awesomeness, and sovereignty
of God and that God loves us so much God sent his son Jesus to die
for our sins. And because of that, we should desire to obey and
show God love in return-which includes living a life of honesty
because honesty is God’s very nature.
Appropriate biblical depth is as much a consideration as an
age-appropriate teaching-style (which includes the language and
methods used to convey the lesson). You can teach some deep
concepts in simple language. For instance, if I want to teach a
lesson to 6-year-olds about the omniscience of God, I could start
with, “Today we’ll be talking about the blessings received when we
consider the unlimited omniscience…”
Already I’ve lost the kids.
Or I could say, “What’s something you’d like to know that you
don’t know? Do you know God knows everything? He knows how many
stars there are in the sky! He knows how many hairs are on your
head. Let’s try counting our hairs…
“Omniscience is a word that means God knows everything. Can you
say omniscience with me? Wow! Think how you could impress your dad
or mom by saying you learned about the omniscience of God?” (Kids
love learning big words and saying them to other people.)
It’s not so much what we say as how we say it.
To teach biblical depth, we need excitement about our faith. If
we teach in an unexcited, robotic way, parroting what we read in
our leaders’ guide, our kids will pick up on that.
And we need to use the Bible in our teaching. We need to show kids
that we’re not reading the lesson out of a teacher’s manual, but
that these truths are coming from God’s living Word. Point out to a
child where the Bible tells us to be honest or that God knows
everything. God says it better than we ever could.
We need to prayerfully consider how to convey God’s Word in
kid-appropriate terms-not backing off from the tough subjects, but
breaking the concepts into small, age-appropriate steps.
Linda Weddle is the senior designer of
programming for Awana, where she’s worked for nearly 20 years.
She’s the author of numerous books and articles. Her latest book is
How to Raise a Modern Day Joseph: A Practical Guide for Growing
BIBLE DEPTH Is a Balance Between Knowledge and
There are plenty of people who know the Bible but still hate
Do you remember the religious leaders who had Jesus killed? What
about Saul of Tarsus before the Damascus road? Knowing what the
Bible says isn’t enough. That’s why James says to do the Word, not
just hear it.
When we talk about biblical depth in kids ministry, I always
ask, “What’s the real goal?” Are we raising a generation of
Pharisees who can quote Deuteronomy while they pass judgment on
their spiritually lost peers? Bible knowledge alone must never be
At the same time, children need a basic knowledge of biblical
content to understand the gospel. The goal of our instruction is to
empower kids to love God, love others, and follow Jesus every day.
Biblical depth should always move them further along in that
There are three ways we can take children deeper into God’s Word.
One is to cover the storyline of Bible history and its connection
to Jesus. All these events display God’s glory and illustrate our
need for a savior. They culminate in the words and deeds of Jesus
Second, we can teach the main doctrines that help us understand
the gospel. Most churches have these kind of essentials defined in
their statements of faith. They include the attributes of God, the
atonement, justification by faith, life after death, and the
mission of the church.
A final angle is to tackle the practical implications of the
Bible. Children need to see how all this Bible information can make
a real difference in their lives. This third way could be called
When these three converge, it allows kids to grow in their
understanding of God, his Word, and his plan for their lives.
Tony Kummer is a children’s pastor, father,
blogger, and the founder of ministry-to-children.com.
What’s Your Take?
How do you define biblical depth in children’s ministry? Go to childrensministry.com
and voice your opinion.