Should Your Kids Be Educated Like Jesus?

There is a lot of misinformation floating around Christian circles about how children were perceived, educated and involved in spiritual life during the time of Jesus and in the early Church. Often this misinformation is based on writers who didn’t thoroughly research the topic or didn’t have access to primary source documents and then that incomplete or inaccurate information used as an excuse for the often subpar spiritual education provided by Churches (i.e. “It’s the parents’ responsibility, not the Church’s, to provide quality spiritual education for children. It wasn’t provided during Bible times, so why do we need to provide it now? It’s not an issue if young people aren’t really learning anything in our Bible classes.”)

The reality of spiritual education for Jesus and other Jewish children during his childhood and for the children of early Christians was more nuanced. The reality of spiritual education in those times does not in any way remove the responsibility of the Christian community found in the Church to assist parents by providing quality spiritual training for children. This post may be a bit more academic than most of our posts, but if you want to engage in meaningful conversations on the topic, you need to be armed with some helpful background information.

First, those who dismiss or minimize the need for quality religious instruction in ministry settings are at least partially correct. In the early Old Testament times, parents were the primary source of spiritual education. In fact, parents did not view childhood as a time to focus on play, but rather on preparing for adulthood both spiritually and in the roles their children would play as adults.

Parents actively taught their children the scriptures, gave them correction when they disobeyed or showed character that was not what God would want and modeled the life God wanted them to live. They also used the various Feasts in the Bible as interactive ways to review important Bible stories, commands and principles. Children were also expected to sit and listen whenever the priests read the Law to the people.

Things changed when the Jews were taken into captivity and again when they returned. The synagogues began during captivity to replace at least some of the functions of the destroyed Temple. They were kept upon the people’s return to Israel and it seems every village had its own synagogue that was used for worship and as a school for children.

Synagogues were tasked with keeping the people on track spiritually through teaching and other activities. This included helping the parents educate their children. In 75 B.C.E. elementary education was declared compulsory, so Jesus, like all of the other Jewish children of his time would have attended school at the local synagogue. There is some debate about how much education girls were given, with the general consensus that primarily boys attended the synagogue schools, but girls were often homeschooled with a similar curriculum.

The teachers used what we call the Old Testament as the only textbook. Children began attending school at about the same age as children today. They were taught to read using the Bible and were tasked with memorizing large portions of scripture including Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, Numbers 15:37-41, Psalms 113-118 (chapters), the first several chapters of Genesis and the essence of Leviticus/the Law. They also each had to memorize a portion of scripture that was determined by the child’s name and contained about twenty verses. They of course were also taught what the scriptures meant and how to live them in their lives.

There were two basic types of synagogue schools in the time of Jesus. The one Jesus attended focused more on the spiritual teachings of the Law and the Prophets rather than the many oral traditions that had developed over the years. Children were also taught mathematics, astronomy and the natural sciences, which they somehow related back to the scriptures. There is thought that the science lessons were actually based on writings of Solomon that are no longer available, although I couldn’t find any actual evidence those existed and were used in synagogue schools.

In the afternoon, children went home to learn a trade they would ply as adults. This means about four hours a day were spent in active religious instruction in addition to what the parents taught and reinforced at home. This amount of time is interesting, because recent research is finding kids who are engaged in about 15-20 hours a week spiritually (including independent engagement in spiritual disciplines, worship and conversations about God) were more likely to be active, productive Christians as adults than children who spent much less time engaged in spiritual pursuits as children.

The early Christians must have realized the necessity of controlling their children’s education fairly early. After the split with Judaism and the inclusion of Gentiles in Christianity, the synagogue schools would have no longer been an option. Not enough research has been done on the topic, but the little that has been done suggests an early mix of education for children raised in Christian homes.

Many children who were not Jewish had been attending secular Roman schools. Some parents initially left their children in those schools and supplemented with religious instruction at home. Unfortunately, Roman schools also taught Roman morals and the Roman religion which did not align with Christianity. As a result, it appears many Christians began homeschooling their children. As the persecution of Christians began to die down, the first Christian schools emerged to help parents.

Spiritual education for children was a top priority for the Jews and the early Christians. In fact, the Talmud says, “The world is preserved by the breath of children in the schools.” The Talmud also says, “Jerusalem was destroyed because the education of children was neglected.” It’s important to remember the goal of education was spiritual – not secular – even though some secular topics were taught. The writers of the Talmud realized, the moment they stopped doing their very best to teach their children what God wanted them to know, was also the moment everything fell apart. If we look at the world around us and the Church at large, we may be seeing the same dynamic at play. It’s past time to make the spiritual education of our children our number one priority.

Questions to Ask Your Kids After Bible Class

While Christian parents realize they need the extra help teaching or reinforcing biblical concepts ministry Bible classes can provide, they often miss out on extending those lessons at home. One of the easiest ways to do that is to ask your kids a few thought questions after every class.

Unfortunately, after Bible classes for kids and teens end we are often rushing to get them fed, in bed or into the worship service. As a result, we may ask what the topic of class was or ask to see what they did in class and move on to the next activity.

Making some time available within a few hours of class for discussion can help your kids get more value out of the class, increase the chance they will move anything important into long term memory and give you opportunities to reinforce important biblical concepts. Added discussion can also give you an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings or mistakes and encourage your kids to use what they learned in living their lives.

There are a lot of questions you could ask, but here are a few that go beyond asking them to recall the facts of a Bible story (although that’s good, too).

  • Why do you think God put that story in the Bible? What do you think He wants us to learn from the story? These questions are designed to get your kids thinking about the application principles in a Bible story. Most stories have more than one application principle and there are a lot that repeat throughout the Bible….allowing your kids to see patterns of things that are important to God.
  • What does gentle mean? Can you give me some examples of how Jesus was gentle? Substitute any word for gentle that might apply to the lesson they just learned. These questions help you see if they really understand some of the big concepts in the Bible. They may be able to give a pat answer to define a word like justification, righteousness or any of the other big words and ideas in the Bible, but can they put them into their own words? Do they know it when they see (or don’t see) it in their own lives? If they don’t understand important concepts, it’s going to be hard to base their lives on them.
  • What can you do to serve others the way Tabitha/Dorcas did? How can your share the Gospel message with others like Peter, Paul and John did? Ask your kids questions to see if they know how to apply the principles in their Bible lessons to their lives. It’s one thing to know God wants you to handle conflict in better ways than Cain and Abel, but it’s more helpful to be able to realize it also means you need to stop hitting your sibling every time you disagree.
  • Why do you think the mother of James and John was so concerned about where her sons sat in Heaven? Why did Priscilla and Aquila spend so much time making sure Apollos understood and was teaching others everything God wanted them to know correctly? Ask questions to help your kids dig deeper and analyze what happened in the lesson. These are often why questions. Many won’t have precise answers, but require piecing together other things they have learned from the Bible to come to a plausible conclusion.
  • How important is your faith in your life? How hard do you try to obey God in all things – even if you disagree with the command? How much effort do you put into serving others and sharing your faith? These questions ask your kids to evaluate their own choices and lives in comparison to what God wants them to do. Where are they being successful? Where are they struggling? You can ask questions that match what they learned in class or just ask them in general as a spiritual check up. These are questions you and your spouse may also want to answer and make it a family project to stretch and grow spiritually.
  • What are some ways you can use the talents God gave you to serve others and share your faith? What are ways you can glorify God in everything you do? If your kids are young, they might struggle with these last few sets of questions. That’s okay. It’s a developmental process and they will grow into the questions and eventually be able to answer them. These last questions are designed to help them use their God given creativity to see the opportunities God is giving them to serve Him. It helps them notice opportunities and think of ways to use the gifts God has given them in these opportunities to be as effective as possible in bringing others to Christ.

Some of you may wonder how your kids will answer these questions if they can’t even tell you which Bible story they studied or the topic of the lesson. If your kids consistently are unable to tell you anything about their Bible classes, there is a problem. It may be the curriculum, it may be the volunteers aren’t fully prepared or need training, or it may be something else….but something has gone awry. Have conversations. Ask questions. Encourage improvement and growth. Because if your kids aren’t getting anything out of Bible classes, a lot of other kids aren’t either and that’s not good for the Church.

Teaching Your Kids Reflection

The Bible contains quite a few verses that discuss the idea of meditating on scripture. Psalm 1 lauds people who “delight in the Law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night”. The New Testament also discusses meditation, but often uses terms like “think about these things”, which are perhaps more familiar ideas for us.

Whether you call it meditation, reflection or “thinking about”, God wants His people to think deeply about the scriptures He has given us. He wants us to think about what they tell us about Him and what He wants for us and from us. He wants us to use those reflections to think about how to apply those scriptures in our daily lives. He wants the same things for your kids and He wants you to teach them how to reflect on scripture.

Even though I was raised in a Christian home and attended church regularly, I don’t remember being taught anything about how to reflect or meditate on scripture. I’m not sure when it ceased to be a spiritual discipline, but you may not have been taught about reflection either. If you were taught anything, it was to read the Bible, but the plans they used covered so much scripture in one day, you could barely read it all, much less reflect on any of it.

If you want to start your kids off with great spiritual habits, reflection on scripture is an important one. It’s really rather simple to teach – even if you were never taught how to do it. I’ve broken it down into steps, to make it more like a recipe or set of instructions. There are multiple ways you can teach reflection, but this is the most streamlined I could design.

  • Find a time and place. It works best if your child picks a time when something is already regularly scheduled and can just add on a little reflection time. So for example, if your child always eats breakfast or an afternoon snack, he or she may choose this as a great time to do some reflection. We tend to think of reflection as “quiet time”, where one sits silently or chants a syllable over and over. In reality, some of your kids may reflect better when taking a walk or listening to praise songs. Each of your kids may choose a different time and place. That’s fine, because it’s important to find what works best and will help them establish the habit.
  • Pick a source of scriptures. The version you use is important. Try one like the NIrV. It’s a translation, therefore, more accurate than a paraphrase, but is also on a third grade reading level to make it easier to understand. To make it easier to find meaningful verses upon which to reflect, consider using a “Bible verse of the day” setting in your Bible app or from another source. Or use a book like Proverbs, where each verse usually has a lot to think about within it. Without this help, your kids may end up trying to meditate on a list of names or a description of a bit of action in a Bible story.
  • Teach them to read the verse and then say what it means in their own words. This may mean they need to look up the definition of a word or two. If they can’t explain the verse in their own words, they probably don’t understand it well enough to meditate on it.
  • Teach older kids to look for context. Sometimes verses can be confusing if you don’t understand what happened in the verses surrounding them. Job’s friends, for example, say some things that were just totally wrong and made God angry. Taken out of context though, your kids may think what they said was true and important. Often just reading a couple of verses before or after will give them enough context. In complicated situations, they may wish to use a concordance to help them.
  • Teach them to look for a lesson. Ask your kids to think about why God wanted that verse to be in the Bible. What does He want them to learn from it? What does it tell them about God and what He wants for them and/or from them?
  • Teach them to ask themselves what they need to change or do now that they have reflected on the verse. Reflecting on scripture doesn’t do a lot of good unless it is also used. Have your kids think about their lives in light of the verse they reflected upon. Is there something they need to change or do in light of it? How can they make those changes in their lives?

At first, you will want to teach your kids how to reflect on scripture by doing it together as a family. After they are comfortable with the process, let them attempt reflection independently, then discuss their thoughts with you later. Hopefully, before long they will have developed a daily habit of reflecting on scripture.

Great Way to Motivate Your Kids

“The goal is to die with memories, not dreams.” “A breath of fresh air is a great thing to take and an even better thing to be.” If you have spent two seconds on social media, you have probably seen motivational memes. The idea of surrounding yourself with motivational messages isn’t new. Our world has just provided more and easier ways for your kids to surround themselves with motivational messages.

Some of these messages actually mirror wisdom God has shared with us. Others promote a secular or even at times, ungodly way of interacting with the world. Have you thought about encouraging your kids to surround themselves with scripture as their motivational messages?

With secular memes and motivational messages, it can be difficult to differentiate between those which contain godly wisdom and those which sound good, but encourage things that are perhaps not so godly. The good news is that scriptures memes and images are easy to find and often free.

The Bible app allows you to take a scripture and create a meme with it using one of probably dozens of different choices for translations, backgrounds, fonts and the like. A quick Google or Pinterest search provides many more free options. Your kids can even create their own scripture art to display, using their computers or regular art supplies. Join the fun and create your own scripture memes or images and place them where not only you, but your kids will also see them.

Surrounding your family with scripture is not only great for motivating yourselves to live more godly lives, but it also helps place those verses in the long term memory, where you and your kids will have easy access to them whenever and wherever your family need God’s wisdom in the moment.

Fun Resurrection Family Activity

It’s that time of year. Each year, readers love to make these special cookies with their kids. If you are like me though, the recipe is hidden somewhere and you only have a few days to grab the ingredients. We are posting again today to give you some time to run to the store and grab what you need before Saturday. Enjoy!

Resurrection Cookies are a great way to review the story of Jesus’ death with your children. I got the recipe from one of my neighbors years ago and suspect it is one of those that has been passed around all over the country. I would love to credit the inventor, but have no idea who that would be. We did this every year the Saturday night before Easter as one of our family traditions when our daughter was younger.

You will need a Bible, preferably an NIrV version for younger children. Preheat the oven to 300* and make sure it has reached 300* before you start cooking. Your bowl and beaters need to be grease free for this to work well. We have used pasteurized egg whites and they work fine although it is more difficult to keep the yolk out of the whites. It is best to do this right before the children go to bed, but aren’t so sleepy they won’t enjoy it. It can take up to thirty minutes at night and about five or ten minutes the next morning.

For ingredients you will need: 1 cup of whole pecans, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (apple cider vinegar), 2 egg whites, 1 cup sugar and a pinch of salt. I am numbering each step with its scripture to make the recipe easier to follow with your children.

1. Read John 19:1-3. Place the pecans in a large baggie and seal it. As your children beat the pecans with a rolling pin, discuss how Jesus was beaten by the soldiers after his arrest.

2. Read John 19:28-30. Allow the children to smell the vinegar and taste it if they are brave enough! As the vinegar is placed in the bowl explain that when Jesus got thirsty on the cross and asked for something to drink, he was given vinegar.

3. Read John 10:10-11. Add egg whites to the vinegar. Explain to your children that eggs represent life. Discuss how by Jesus giving his life up on the cross, he gave us the hope of eternal life.

4. Read Luke 23:27. Sprinkle a little salt in each child’s hand. Let them taste it. Put a pinch in the bowl. The salt represents the tears of those who loved Jesus when they realized he was dead.

5. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16. Add the sugar. Tell your children that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because he loves us. He wants us to become Christians and spend eternity with him in Heaven.

6. Read John 3:1-3. Beat the mixture on high (stand mixers work best) for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed (when you turn off the mixer and lift the beaters it leaves stiff little mountain tops). Discuss with your children how the color white stands for purity. Jesus’ blood allows us the chance to be cleansed of our sins and be pure again.

7. Read Matthew 27:57-60. Fold in the pecans. Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls onto a parchment covered cookie sheet. Explain to your child that each mound represents the tomb where Jesus was laid.

8. Read Matthew 27:65-66. Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Let each child place a piece of tape on the oven door (or roll a large rock in front of it!). Explain how the soldiers sealed the tomb of Jesus.

9. Read John 16:20 and 22.  As you send your children to bed, explain you know they may feel sad about leaving the cookies in the oven over night. Ask them if they can imagine how sad the followers of Jesus must have been when Jesus was sealed in the tomb.

10.  Read Matthew 28:1-9. When your children wake up the next morning, allow them to open the oven and take out the cookies. Have them break open the cookie and see the empty air pocket. Remind them how surprised and excited the followers of Jesus must have been on that first Sunday morning after the cross when they found the empty tomb and realized Jesus was alive.

This is a fun reminder of the resurrection for any time of the year or you can make it an annual tradition. The goal is to create a memorable experience that will place the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection firmly in the minds and hearts of your children.