A few years ago, I read an interesting book by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer titled Already Gone. It was written in response to study findings* that indicate our churches are losing their kids in elementary, middle school, and high school rather than in college.
Having spent many years as both a public school and Sunday school teacher, one point in the book jumped out at me as if in flashing neon lights.
When it comes to school-age children, the authors assert that several factors have led to a great disconnect between the Bible and “real” life. But the one that captured my attention was the use of one seemingly little word – the word stories.
According to Ham and Beemer, children in America today perceive that they learn the “real” stuff, the relevant stuff – geography, biology, anthropology, astronomy, history – in school. And that Sunday School is a place for hearing Bible stories – tales and narratives, that may or may not be “real”.
So how do we begin to reverse the disconnect?
I suggest, in agreement with the authors, that we begin by finding a better word than stories. Perhaps instead we teach Bible history or share “the account of Noah and the Ark or Joshua and the Battle of Jericho”. Our wording alone can do a great deal in helping our grandchildren better understand that what is in the Bible is “real” history.
Another thing we grandparents can do is share the Bible with our grandchildren. Children’s Bibles and Bible-based books are wonderful supplemental resources, but our grandchildren need us to share the full counsel of God’s Word with them. You might be saying, “But my grandchildren are so young, and the Bible text can be so difficult.” Don’t let that stop you. There are many ways to engage young minds and bodies with Scripture. Consider the following:
- Involve Your Grandchildren as Cast Members
Turn your living room or back patio into a theater and assume the role of narrator. Before you begin reading a chosen Bible narrative with your grandchildren, let each child assume the role of one of the characters they will be hearing about. Encourage them to act out the storyline as you read. (If you have more parts than grandchildren, let each play multiple roles or grab some stuffed animals to fill in the need.)
- Commission Them as Artists
There are many passages of Scripture that are story driven. When you get to these, take the opportunity to activate your grandchildren’s imaginations. Give them a sheet of paper and a pencil or some crayons and ask them to draw what they hear as you read. The act of drawing will engage your grandchildren with the text as it is being read. Additionally, the completed drawings will become a reference guide. They will help your grandchildren remember the people of the Bible and their stories, help you make connections for your grandchildren as you read on, and create opportunities for you to incorporate the Gospel into what your grandchildren have seen and drawn.
- Create a Mural
Involve your entire family in making art. Locate some poster board or butcher paper and as a family – grandchildren, their parents, and you – work together to create a mural of the passage being read. Feed the imaginations of your grandchildren by including adults in the process.
- Turn the Bible Passage into a Research Project
Passages about constructing the tabernacle (Exodus), building the temple (1 Kings), and others of similar nature are often the ones we skip over when reading the Bible with our grandchildren. After all, these passages are what cause even grown adults to abandon yearly reading plans. When you get to Bible accounts of this nature, increase your grandchildren’s interest by looking things up. A new furnishing for the tabernacle? An article of priestly clothing? The layout of the temple? Google it or look it up in a reference book. Add to your grandchild’s view of the passage by providing visuals as seen through the eyes of an artist.
- Shout “Amen”
Genealogies can be tough. All those names – one after another after another – of names we’re not even sure how to pronounce. Adults skirt around them. Surely, young children won’t get anything from them. Help your grandchildren engage with these passages of genealogy and draw their interest by asking them to shout “Amen” each time they hear a name they are familiar with in the very long list you will be reading.
“Jesus (“AMEN”), when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph (“AMEN”), the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi (“AMEN”), the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph (“AMEN”), the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos (“AMEN”), the son of Nahum (“AMEN”), the son of Esli, the son of Naggai.” – Luke 3:23-25 [(“AMEN”) added for example.]
- Play “Banker”
Another idea for engaging with passages of genealogy is to let your grandchildren be the “banker” as you read. Before embarking on your reading of a lengthy genealogy, fill a large container with beads. Then provide each of your grandchildren with their own smaller container or cup. Instruct them to take a bead out of the larger container and put it into their own cup every time a person’s name is read. When you come to the end of the genealogy, count how many beads are in each cup.
- Write Songs
Prior to reading the day’s Bible text together, challenge your grandchildren to listen for thoughts or phrases that would be a great song title. When you finish reading your passage, share your song titles. Add to the fun by writing your own hymn or worship song to go along with your titles. Bonus points for verses or phrases that come from your reading passage.
- Pray the Scripture
Many passages in the Bible are prayers, but we are not limited to these when it comes to praying Scripture. Any portion of Scripture can be prayed. Model the praying of Scripture for your grandchildren as part of your Bible reading. Demonstrate how to read the Bible text word-for-word as a prayer by reading slowly, thoughtfully, and reflectively. Show them how to personalize Scripture prayers by substituting your own name for pronouns as you read. After some modeling experiences, allow your grandchildren to take turns praying the Scripture for themselves.
- Encourage Retelling
After you have finished reading a passage and before closing your Bible, ask your grandchild to retell the passage in their own words. This is a wonderful way for you to ascertain what they grasped from the reading and where you may need to make some clarifications. Let your grandchild know ahead of time that they will be asked to retell the passage. This will help them be more engaged with the text and listen with purpose.
- Let Them Wiggle
Young children are made to wiggle and move, not for sitting long stretches at a time. Take advantage of some of the wonderful Scripture music that is available today by playing a musical version of your passage either before or after you read. As the music plays, encourage your grandchildren to get up and move. Two of my favorites for kids’ Scripture music are Seeds Family Worship and The Rizers. Both can be accessed with no charge on YouTube.
The Bible is God’s gift to all – to you, to your children, to your grandchildren – and all that lies within its pages is “real”. Begin now to get your grandchildren into the history and accounts that point directly to Him.
*Among the studies mentioned in the book were ones conducted by Barna, LifeWay, and America’s Research Group (commissioned by Answers in Genesis).