How to Help Your Children Love the Bible
In the course of my lifetime, I have owned something like sixty cars. Everything from Alfa Romeos to ZX3s. This is not a boast. And it certainly is not an indicator of my wealth. A majority of those cars would have been just as happy resting in a scrapyard as sitting in my driveway.
It’s just that I love cars. And that is no accident. My dad loved cars, too. Studebakers, specifically. So car conversation was the soundtrack of my youth. “Which model? Which engine? Which transmission?” At home. Round the dinner table. And, obviously, in the car.
Just like “car conversation” found it’s way into just about everything my father did, so “God conversation” was meant to inhabit every part of Hebrew family life. Why? Because God didn’t give the responsibility of passing on his words to a special class of teachers or priests. He gave it to parents.
The Automotive Version
It was very much the automotive version of that passage from Deuteronomy. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”
How to Read the Bible With Your Kids
Many parents find that Bible retellings, written for children, really helpful. I’d like to suggest a collection I have written for younger children.
It’s called The Bible App for Kids. It was created by YouVersion and OneHope and combines Bible stories with interactive illustrations and games. (Neither I nor the creators receive any financial benefit from the app.)
The collection includes forty stories, which together tell God’s Big Story. It’s available in over 45 different languages and can be downloaded onto Apple, Android and Kindle devices. You can read through the stories with your children. Or they can use it on their own.
Best of all, it’s free, and it works. Children find it engaging and are keen to return to the stories time and time again. They get passionate about it. I’ve seen it with my own grandkids — some of whom are too young to care that grandpa wrote it.
And they aren’t the only ones. The Bible App for Kids has been downloaded over 35 million times, worldwide.
— Bob Hartman
Here’s the order to parents: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
One generation bears the responsibility of passing what they know about God to the next. I’m living now in the U.K., after years of being a pastor in Pittsburgh. In a survey conducted recently here, Christian parents expressed concern about their ability to do that. They thought they should spend more time passing on what they believed. But they were felt they couldn’t do it, and worried about what they’d say if their child asked them a question they couldn’t answer.
That’s true in the U.S. as well. We have become accustomed to Sunday School and youth workers teaching our children and grandchildren about the Bible. Many of them do an excellent job. None of them, however, has the access to our children that we do. None of them have the responsibility before God of raising a godly child.
The job belongs, first and foremost, to us. So how do we do it? And how do we overcome the anxieties we have about doing it well?
The answer lies somewhere between Alfa Romeos and ZX3s. The answer has to do with passion.
My dad didn’t talk about cars because he thought it was “good for us.” He didn’t sit us down and say, “It’s Car Time, Kids. Pay attention.” He talked about cars because he loved cars. He couldn’t help it.
And that is the attitude that is reflected in the passage from Deuteronomy: a passion for passing on God’s word that invades every aspect of life. A passion that arises naturally as we talk together, play together, travel together, explore and wonder at our world together, and consider hard questions together.
And reading the Bible together. The folks at Care for the Family, one of the British ministries that commissioned the survey, suggest that we begin by inviting our children to join us in reading a Bible story that has special meaning for us, that we particularly love. It’s the same thing we do with any story we love. Or what my father did when he brought home a car brochure from the dealership.
I’m a children’s author and professional storyteller by trade. When I am teaching storytelling techniques, one of the things I say is that it is hard to tell a story you don’t love. And a real joy to tell one that you do.
So why not start with the Bible stories we love? That doesn’t mean that we never tell others. It just means that we begin in a natural, passionate place.
A Poem About Love
I’ll finish with a poem. An homage to parents and to passion and to passing on what we love.
I remember when Mom showed me how to bake cakes.
The stirring, the sifting,
The flour then shifting
From bag into bowl on to measuring scale,
Then to faces and aprons and floor.
What I recall best were her hands and her laugh
And the way that she smiled and the sound of her claps
When she tested and tasted that very first cake,
Even though it looked like a mistake.
I remember when Dad showed me how to ride bikes.
The wobble, the wibble,
The push and the pedal,
The smell of the grease and the shiny new metal,
The scar I still have on my knee.
What I recall best were the sound of his boots,
His arms round my shoulders,
His cheers and his whoops,
When topple and shake became balanced and straight,
Even though I crashed into the gate.
I remember when Nan told me tales from the Bible.
The roar of the giant,
The roar of the lions,
The roar of the tums of those hungry five thousand.
(I think she liked roaring a lot.)
What I recall best was her obvious thrill
That the God who fed all of those folk on the hill
Loved me and loved her and loved everyone still,
Just like he loved David and Daniel.
What I recall best,
And what makes so much sense,
Is the feeling that
There was not much difference
Between passion for cakes,
And passion for brakes,
And passion for showing me how God is great.
They shared what they loved.
They shared what they knew.
And because of their love,
I now share that love, too.
Bob Hartman, who has pastored churches in Pittsburgh and in England, is now an internationally-known story-teller and speaker. He has taught Bible storytelling throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He is is the author of many books, including The Playalong Bible and The Wolf Who Cried Boy.