Almost every Christian parent would say they want their children to read the Bible. Some may even read it together as a family. Yet how many of us have children who regularly pick up a Bible without prodding, and read it? How many of us still struggle with our own Bible reading?
Over the years, I started to realize there are some things we do, which actually discourage our kids from reading the Bible. Sometimes our Churches may make the Bible seem boring or irrelevant in the life of our children. What can we do to get our children interested enough in the Bible to read it for themselves?
This quarter we have been experimenting with some of these ideas with a group of teenagers. It is still way too early to tell if it will make a long term difference. At the moment though, we can see sparks of interest in the Bible we have not seen before.
Here are some of the things we are doing that seem to make a difference (in no particular order):
- Tell them the “rest of the story” or a new story with excitement, wonder and awe. Often kids and teens hear the same ten or twenty Bible stories over and over. No wonder their eyes start glazing over in boredom! There are a lot of really interesting stories in there. They may be the rest of the story they were too young to hear or stories they have never heard. Make sure they know there is a lot of interesting reading in the Bible and give them some examples.
- Help them find a version that is easy for them to understand. I realize for theology, it is great to have the most accurate version possible (like the New American Standard). If I am trying to get a child interested in reading anything though, I want to make sure he doesn’t have to struggle to understand what is being read. To give you some examples: King James is 12th grade reading level with archaic English, NIV is about middle school and the NIrV is third grade. Choose accordingly, but feel free to explain that there may be more accurate versions available when they are ready to focus on theology. (Please take the time to study critiques of the various versions online for yourself. One of the most highly touted versions actually has several hundred words that meant something totally different when the version was written than they do now. Even though the version may have been somewhat accurate at the time it was translated, the evolving English language has made it much less so now.)
- Share with them archaeological finds, culture, world history, geography and other fun tie-ins. You may think this would bore kids, but if done properly, it often will be the very thing that clicks with them and gets them interested. Why was it so forward thinking to have that somewhat strange test for an unfaithful wife in Numbers? Did you know they found an ancient document outside of the Bible with Balaam’s name and occupation mentioned? How about the fact that Jacob and Joseph were mummified or that the plague of darkness was a direct challenge to Egypt’s sun god Ra?
- Whenever possible, help them understand why something was the way it was. For example, we had a long dissuasion about Old Testament laws. We discussed how some were general godly principles that carried forward into the New Testament and then to us. Others were made to teach the people good practices for health, conservation and safety or to move them away from the common customs of the time. Those are often the laws we find puzzling, because we are reading them from a modern perspective.
- Help them experience as many things from the Bible as possible. Cook foods from that time and place, take them to museums with artifacts from those areas. If you travel a lot, a trip to parts of Europe, Asia or the Middle East can let your children walk on the very streets the people in the Bible walked. Our daughter will never forget her trip to Rome and seeing ruins of shops where Peter and Paul’s companions may have bought items for them or seeing Peter’s jail cell.
- Teach your kids every Bible story was put there for a reason. There is something we can learn about God and His principles or about how we are to live our lives hidden in even the simplest stories. Noah is not just a story about a flood and a big boat. It also teaches us about trust, faith and obedience.
- Develop or find a reading plan that is best suited to your child’s age and personality. Eventually you want your child to read the entire Bible, but cover to cover is often not the best way to build lifelong Bible reading habits. Practical books like Proverbs and James or books with lots of stories like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts are often great first books to read.
- Teach your kids how to read the Bible and get something out of it. We don’t have many Bible reading comprehension classes. What questions should your child ask himself as he reads scripture? Encourage her to journal about her Bible reading if she likes to write. Discuss things that puzzle them. You don’t have to have all of the answers. In fact, sometimes it may be better for everyone to search together.
Have fun with it and get your kids excited about reading the Bible. You may all be surprised at the new things you discover!