OOPS #2: We gloss over the hard stuff to protect kids–and
we confuse them.
Someone once said, “When children think, they must be allowed to
think about everything. If there are some things we don’t allow
them to think about, soon they won’t think about anything.”
One of the most memorable early stages in every child’s
development is when he or she begins asking the incessant question
“Why is water wet?” “Why can’t I stay up?” “Why is grass
When kids think critically and ask “Why?” you have the perfect
opportunity to teach them some amazing things about God. At every
turn, the events in the Bible beg children to ask the question
“Why?” “Why did God make such a big flood?” “Why did David kill
that man?” “Why did they kill Jesus?”
Kids LOVE these Sunday School resources!
For several reasons, we tend to dumb down biblical events and
lessons. We make animals talk like humans and add butterflies to
the Resurrection to protect kids from harsh reality. This isn’t
necessary–or even helpful–for nurturing kids’ faith. Kids are
capable of knowing God and extracting significant meaning from
biblical events–despite our efforts to simplify or soften the
content. We only need to listen, ask good questions, and accept
their childlike perspectives as a guide.
Remember: Kids need context to understand the
Bible–even the unpleasant stuff. I visited with a second-grade
Sunday school class–typical children from typical homes with
caring parents. I was curious about how Bible lessons–even some of
the more unpleasant ones–affected these kids’ spiritual
development and influenced their images of God. I asked them to
answer basic questions to discover their candid thoughts.
• What kinds of things happen in the Bible?
• What are your favorite events in the Bible?
• What makes the stories in the Bible true?
Everybody had an opinion! The kids I questioned had obviously
soaked up the Bible like thirsty sponges. Most of them knew several
events from the Bible, though they often confused the characters
and sequences (“Noah’s wife’s name was Joan of Ark” and “The great
flood happened when Grandpa was a boy”). They also frequently
inserted contemporary circumstances as substitutions for ancient
ones (“Bombers blew up the pontoon bridge Moses built over the Red
Despite inaccuracies in some details, the
kids demonstrated they understood the core of the lesson when
they had the context. They understood why David killed
Goliath–and they could see how God would protect them, too, when
they felt scared or threatened. They knew that many people died
during the great flood–but they saw that God gave Noah an
important purpose and that he would do the same for them.
The truth, in age-appropriate terms, gives kids context for
meaning. Many of the kids’ favorite events came from the Old
Testament–and they contained evidence of violence. I wondered how
kids felt about this violence.
What I found was that despite kids’ claiming the stories as true
and their uncanny ability to recall gory details, kids really
seemed numbed by the violence. What to do about the violence in the
Bible–violence sometimes seemingly condoned by God–has always
been a troubling point for children’s Bible publishers and
children’s ministers. What I found is that violence is nothing new
to children. In our culture it’s always nearby. We have to explain
to our children why we butcher an animal before we eat it. The same
children will be exposed to the violence of the American Revolution
in the fourth grade. Those were violent times when David and Saul
faced the Philistines and when Jesus was crucified by Roman
authorities. To ignore these stories is to turn a blind eye to
biblical content. You don’t have to cover every gory detail and
give kids the blow-by-blow, but to help them grasp the core and
meaning of what happened, they need the whole story.
Tell it all. Don’t pick and choose which parts of a lesson you
share with kids; rather, tell the lesson in an age-appropriate way
that preserves the context.