Build a Simple Foundation
Consider what the key truth is that children of any age
need to learn from any Bible story. Keefer asserts, "I wonder if a
better question to ask-rather than 'What stories are
age-appropriate?'-might be 'What truth does God want these children
to discover from his Word?'"
For many, removing unnecessary and overly complicated details
from stories is one tried-and-true way to get the story to the
child's level. Greg Baird is the founder of Kidmin360 (kidmin360.com), an organization
that provides equipping and leadership development for children's
ministers. He says his trusted approach to tough biblical topics is
to share the truth-without sharing all the facts.
"Keep to the truth and the essential message of the passage, but
be careful not to raise disturbing and distracting elements of the
story," advises Baird. "For example, we can say
that Rahab was a woman who didn't obey God rather than
that she was a prostitute. As kids get older, we share more
details. In fact, later on those details sometimes lead to more
relevant, life-impacting discussions."
Children's minister George adds that teaching young children is
an organic process, meaning she inserts story details to kids'
learning as they're appropriate to the kids' age and development.
"If I'm going to teach my child to swim, I'm not going to throw him
into the deep end and hope he 'gets it.' I'm going to introduce him
to water in an age-appropriate and organic manner. This way,
children learn in non-threatening and easy ways. And that's your
goal for teaching children the Bible. By the time they get to the
more difficult details and stories, there's not trauma."
Don't Turn Truth Into a Fairy Tale
While simplifying biblical accounts to make them
appropriate and palatable to children is beneficial, experts agree
that there's a risk of over-sanitizing the stories: The stories
risk being stripped of their inherent meaning and value.
"Children's ministers need to be willing to push the envelope a
little," says Brolsma. "Many times it feels like we've watered down
these stories so they're the equivalent of fairy tales in an effort
to not frighten or offend. No wonder so many young adults who grew
up in the church don't believe the Bible is true. We need to be
willing to help children experience God's Word, to let the
emotion and power of God's Word take root in a child's heart.
That's life-changing. Again, I'm not talking about showing The
Passion of the Christ to a class of fourth graders, but
it's okay to talk about how painful it was for Jesus to
Providing kids with just enough detail to identify and relate to
the people or situations involved in the events is extremely
valuable. Ask: What traits or themes do you want to teach? How do
you want your children to relate their personal experience to God's
Word? And, advise our experts, don't be lulled into sticking to the
tried-and-true stories kids have heard hundreds of times.
"Why have we limited the awesomeness of God's Word to a select
number of 'safe' stories?" challenges Brolsma. "Recently we talked
to VBS leaders about our upcoming Babylon VBS, which has the
subtitle, 'Daniel's Courage in Captivity.' I was astounded that a
negative comment was, 'How are you going to make the story of
Daniel in the lion's den last for five days of VBS?' Daniel did
so much more than face lions! If we could look at things
through the filter of 'what truth does God want these children to
discover from his Word?' I think we'd be shocked by the
lesser-known Scriptures we could bring to life for kids."