Children are wired to be oral. If you have preschoolers you’ll likely hear their pleas not to just tell a story, but to tell it again! In Truth That Sticks, Avery Willis and I wrote, “The world is doing a better job of discipling our children to popular culture than the church does in discipling them to Christ” (p. 151). One church in Arkansas is working to counter that truism. The idea was that ideally each Dad was to tell one Bible story every week for a year and then discuss its meaning. What worked in Arkansas is possible among the least reached and unreached people groups in the world.
Helping families, Bible study leaders, and the mission force of the Lord see the value of evangelizing children with Bible stories will be an important key in finishing the task among all peoples.
Telling Bible stories to children begins their life of faith and facts. They grow up having a deeper appreciation for God’s Word. At Easter this year, I storied the Crucifixion and Resurrection story for my granddaughter. Meanwhile, her mother, grandmother, and great grandparents listened in. They each chimed in from time to time adding details they loved in the story and wanted to be sure that I included. Sometimes they helped me catch a term that I glossed over such as “centurion.” Storying the Bible with children is a privilege!
We already know that lower-literacy adults who hear Bible stories crave reading the Bible for themselves and are often motivated to improve their reading skills. The same is true with children. If they already know many of the Bible stories, it helps them read the literacy levels of the Bible much quicker, too. Bible stories can be told on car rides, camping adventures, and at sporting events.
Wherever life happens when you can have quality conversation time, children not only find a told Bible story interesting, but it deepens their relationship with the Lord as well as you.
After a luncheon meeting with pastors recently, a ministry leader pulled me aside and asked about evangelizing children. I mentioned Bible Storying methods as a way to help children have a concrete idea of what Jesus did on the cross for their salvation. Having multiple opportunities to share stories from God’s Word leads the child to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I pointed out that using disconnected Bible verses may carry truth, but often out of context.
And we certainly live in an age in which the Bible is not discussed at home! But I also said it would be helpful to share the gospel story with the child in the presence of his parents. If the parents could come to faith in Christ, too, then the child would be nurtured in a gospel-centered home. If the entire extended family is present, those who come to faith in Christ could actually form a small group. In some instances, this small group could even become a new church.
Sharing the Good News of Jesus through Bible stories with a child means linking multiple stories together in a linear sequence.
Among some children who have heard much of the Bible already, it might be appropriate to link some gospel stories together as composites. Although I do not have a specific set of stories in mind, I do believe that there are some Bible stories that are essential for salvation. A child’s religious background must be taken into consideration. A child raised in a Muslim environment has different needs than one raised among Hindus or Mormons. Sin is introduced in The Fall (Genesis 3). Obeying God is in the Ten Commands (Ex. 20) and the Golden Calf (Ex. 32) holds the idea of an intercessor (Moses). The story of Jesus includes what He taught (John 3), His authority to forgive sins (Mark 2), how lives were transformed (Mark 5), and the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection stories. If you continue to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, then there is a natural time to extend an invitation to the child to repent and believe on Jesus. Baptism and the idea of church are also included in Acts 2.
Children can be taught to memorize Bible verses. It can be challenging, but rewarding. Using evangelistic Bible verses can create an environment in which the child asks questions about following Jesus.
Verses from Psalms, Proverbs, and even prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah carry powerful truths and make a case for why it was necessary for Jesus to come in the first place. Scripture songs and acting out dramas also reinforce learning through engaging their senses.
Much of what is taught for adults using Bible Storying is appropriate for children, too. My only caution is to be as biblically accurate as possible. This means to be prepared in advance. When the Holy Spirit moves and the time is right to Story, then you want to be ready, even if a Bible is not available at the time. You want to make sure a child’s “oral Bible” is not embellished and remains faithful to the text they will likely learn to read and love in the years ahead of them, hopefully as born-again believers in Jesus as their Lord and Savior!
Parents who are followers of Jesus need to redouble their efforts to bring spiritual transformation to their children.
This involves more than knowing the right facts, making the right moral decisions, and doing the right things. Beliefs, values, and behaviors need to be manifested from a biblical worldview aligned with a loving relationship with Jesus. Conveying Bible stories isn’t enough. Parents need to help their children fall in love with Jesus and live in obedience.
Bible study leaders who engage children should constantly be challenged to do more than just teach the lesson. They should have an unwavering commitment to making disciples. And then from that bedrock value approach each child with a godly vision that equips them not just for their own life, but those they will influence in the years ahead.
That’s why these teachers must become disciple-makers.
Bible Storying uses inductive question and dialogue to track progress, hold children accountable for spiritual development, and encourage them as they grow in their walk with the Lord. If all a teacher does is lecture in a one-way fashion, how will they ever know of the advances being made? True disciple-makers have a listening task.
Missionaries who work to engage the scores of lost and wayward children they encounter must not be lost in pity and compassion loving children into a Christless death. Yes, in acute problem situations they need to keep children alive long enough to convey the gospel, but children must be prioritized and respected enough to invest quality time coated with patience. Most children they encounter younger than five years of age are much more open to the gospel than those who are in school. This often requires having the trust of the mother however that is accessed.
In this blog, I have intentionally stayed away from statistics about incredible numbers of children and the numbers in our world that are below the age of 15. As part of the Issachar Initiative, you likely can quote very well-known facts.
However, it is my prayer that you will become increasingly intentional helping children have an oral Bible that is relevant and life-changing!
Mark Snowden is President of Snowden Ministries International, a ministry designed to equip church leaders to make disciple makers of all peoples, including oral learners.