My daughters have gone dance crazy this fall. Everywhere I look, I see pointed toes, pliés, and skipping, twirling children.
My girls will join their dance studio’s production of The Nutcracker in a few weeks. You can imagine the preparation this requires—buying costumes, reserving a venue, and cramming gobs of detailed instructions inside little heads. What an undertaking!
Train Them Up
Just as my daughters need months of ballet lessons before they hit the stage, they also need training in the skills and habits of Christians. Following Jesus is the central calling of their lives, and I cannot send them off unprepared.
It is vital that we provide our children with a solid approach to Bible study. At this blog, we advocate the OIA method. While the terminology isn’t sacred, we think the skills of observation, interpretation, and application show up in all faithful descriptions of Bible study.
So how do we pass along these crucial skills to our children?
Gather as a Family
We have opportunities throughout each day to equip our kids to study the Bible. Chief among these chances are meals and times of family worship. It’s a privilege to engage all of your children at once about the most important things in the world!
But most parents know that family devotions can feel more like a chore than a privilege. The adults are exhausted, the baby is crying, and the older children are feeding spaghetti to the dog. It is difficult to steer a ship this large (especially with a mutinous crew).
Let me encourage you to stick with it. Family devotions can be a source of deep joy and they can prepare your children for a life of loving and obeying God. Family devotions are worth the effort.
If you’re feeling guilt about family devotions, you may need to adjust your expectations. We must be both faithful and realistic. If we set the bar too high, we will frustrate everyone.
First, consider your weekly schedule. For most families, our weeks bear more resemblance to each other than do our days. Survey a typical week for your family and seize a pocket of time on each lightly-scheduled day for family worship. Don’t beat yourself up when you miss a few days.
Next, consider the content. I’ll advocate for the Bible below, but ponder what else you might do. Involve your children as much as possible and make it fun. Let them choose praise songs or hymns. Ask them about the best parts of recent days and join in a rousing prayer of thanksgiving. The elements of worship can vary. If you make family worship memorable and fun, your children will anticipate and remind you about it!
Study the Bible
Given my push for realistic expectations, it might seem strange to suggest Bible study. Doesn’t Bible study require long, private periods of concentration?
No! Since the Bible is for everyone, so is Bible study. Training children to study the Bible is as simple as asking three questions: What? Why? So what?
What? Children should observe the Bible. You may want your older children to help out with the Bible reading, but anyone can listen and observe! Ask your children to pick out the main characters, the actions, the commands, and so on. The younger your children, the more time you’ll probably spend on the “what” question.
Why? As children get older, they should move into interpretation. Follow their observations with “why” questions. Why did Jesus heal that blind man? Why did Joseph’s brothers sell him? Why does Paul say we should always pray? Ask questions like this to move your children toward the main point of the passage.
So what? With this question we enter the land of application. What difference does all of this make? Children usually need the most help with this question, but you might be surprised how eagerly they suggest applications once you get them started.
Let me leave you with a few recommendations as you consider how family devotions might work in your home.
- Don’t neglect the Bible. Story Bibles can be a blessing for young children, so feel free to incorporate them. (My youngest really loves the pictures.) But don’t let them replace God’s word. Your children can handle more than you think.
- Involve the whole family. Ask questions of all the children—and all the adults! Children should see the adults in their lives modeling good Bible study habits.
- Revisit Bible passages. If your family devotions bog down, return to the same passage the next time. You might also consider studying the same passage with the family that you (or your children) are reading in personal devotions.
We have several articles on teaching Bible study to age-specific children, along with devotional guides for readers and non-readers, at our children’s Bible study page.