Here’s How Bible Depth Can Help Grow Kids’ Faith
Published: March 8, 2020
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 emeritus 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 Bridging Theory and Practice in Children’s Spirituality: New Directions for Education, Ministry, and Discipleship.
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.
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.
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 freelance writer and author in Ohio. She served in Christian education for more than 25 years and wrote curriculum for 25 years.
Bible depth is a balance between knowledge and understanding.
There are plenty of people who know the Bible but still hate God.
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.
When we talk about biblical depth, I always ask, “What’s the real goal?” A generation of Pharisees who can quote Deuteronomy while they pass judgment on their spiritually lost peers? Bible knowledge alone must never be our goal.
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 goal.
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 Jesus Christ himself.
Second, we can teach the main doctrines that help us understand the gospel. Most churches have these 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. We can refer to this third way as applied theology.
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.
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