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 Exploration
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 two-wheeled bike.
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 biblical story.
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 more than 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 Illustration
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 blogger (godsgiftmylife.com).
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 more than 25 years and has written curriculum for more than 20 years. She’s written numerous articles on children’s faith and she blogs at childrenteach.blogspot.com.