Three Ways to Tell a Bible Story to Kids

What do the kids in your class remember after you’ve taught a Bible lesson? Who do they identify with in the story? Think about the story of David and Goliath. There are at least three ways to tell it.

1. An Example Lesson. You may have heard this story taught so the main point is to be brave and face big obstacles with courage. When we tell the story this way,  kids will remember all of the little details about David. He was too little for Saul’s armor. He took five smooth stones and a sling. David even cut off Goliath’s head! The kids will also remember to be brave like David! They will identify with him, because David is the example to follow.

That’s one way to tell the story. But if we just teach example lessons, the kids may only remember the key Bible characters. What will they remember about God?

2. A God-centered Lesson. As I've written before, God is the Bible’s main character. We shouldn’t overlook or forget about David. But focusing on David shouldn’t keep us from seeing that God is the true hero. David reminds us that God rescues his chosen servant from wild animals and enemies (1 Samuel 17:37). When Goliath came against him with a sword and spear and javelin, David didn’t start naming his weapons: “Well, here I come with my sling!” No way! David said, “I come against you in the name of the Lord” (1 Samuel 17:45). David’s weapons may be weak, but God is strong. The battle belongs to Him. If we’re listening to David, we’ll hear that this story has little to do with David’s example at all. It’s a story about God. That’s who we want our kids to remember.

It’s true. One of the first things we should ask ourselves when crafting a lesson is, “What is God doing in this story?” The Bible was written to show us God. He’s the main character. But when we’re crafting lessons, does that go far enough? 

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from   The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible     by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

3. A Gospel-centered Lesson. I recently heard Marty Machowski talk about one of the best ways to craft a gospel-centered lesson. He said, “We want to help our kids identify with the people in the story who need the Good News.” In this story, that’s the Israelites. They have a strong enemy and a weak king. When Goliath marches out into the valley of Elah, he challenges king Saul, all of Israel, and Israel’s God. Israel needed a courageous hero to save them from their oppressors.

Enter David. Even though the people there didn’t know it yet, we know that David stepped onto that battlefield as Israel’s newly anointed king. He was the people’s representative. God won the battle, but he won the battle through David. In this way, David gives us a sneak peak into a specific way God saves his people. God saves his people by sending them a representative king. David points beyond himself to Jesus! After we’ve discovered what God is doing for his people in a story, we should look for how that action points to what Jesus has done. We should ask, as Jack Klumpenhower has phrased it, “How does God do the same for us--only better--in Jesus?” In this way, we can move from a lesson that is merely God-centered to one that is Gospel-centered.

Which of these kinds of lessons do you find yourself teaching on a regular basis?

The illustrations in this post are from my book, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible. Check out the New Growth Press website to purchase a copy or learn more.

Sharing the Gospel with Your Kids

As our kids grow, we have a responsibility to make their spiritual growth a priority. This doesn’t simply involve reading a Bible storybook to them a few times a week. It also means having intentional times when we simply share the gospel and invite our children to respond by believing it and then obeying the Bible’s command to be baptized.

I know many parents feel intimidated by these kinds of conversations. How do I help my child understand things that are still a mystery to me?  Be encouraged. While you bear some responsibility to teach your children, God is ultimately the author of their faith. So, when the moment comes, say a quick prayer. Lean into the Lord and ask him for help, wisdom and discernment as you share the gospel with your child. 

The next step is simply sharing the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Here is a simple way we teach it in Sojourn Kids. This gospel presentation contains five simple truths.

  • First, God rules. God is the king of the universe. God made the whole world and everything in it. And because God made everything, he is also in charge of everything. But God isn’t mean, selfish, or weak like human kings. God is the good king. He is just, loving, and powerful. And he wants us to be close to him—to trust him and live a good life in his kingdom – the life we were created for.

    Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

  • Second, we sinned. The problem with our world is that we have rejected God as our king. We’ve said no to God, and we’ve tried to live life our own way apart from him. Whenever we fight—whether it’s over the last cookie or the first place in line—we’re trying to get our own way instead of his. The Bible calls this sin. Sin is saying no to God. The Bible tells us that everyone has sinned, and this sin separates us from God.

    Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

  • Third, sin leads to death. Here’s the truth. We were made to be with God. Though it may work for a little while to live life on our own, eventually the pain of being far away from God in a broken world shows us that something is wrong. People start to see that nothing else will satisfy and they look for ways to get back to God. We try to be good enough—to make a fresh start. We want to be smart enough so we search for the right answers. We might even get busy with churchy activities. But these are broken bridges that lead to sadness, confusion, and judgment. God is still far away.

    Proverbs 16:25 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.

  • Fourth, God provided at the cross. The pit created by sin is so wide that you can’t measure it, and there is nothing we can do to bridge the gap. We can’t pay for our crimes and put things back the way they’re meant to be. We can’t climb up to God, but God has come to us. Jesus is God’s son. Jesus was born on earth—fully God and fully man. He lived with God perfectly. Then, he suffered and died on the cross to pay the punishment our sins deserve. Three days later, Jesus rose to life and won victory over sin and death. Because of Jesus, we can live close with God again.

    John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  • Finally, God gives us his love and grace. God gets close to us, and he still loves us. This is such good news! God accepts us—not because we have earned it or deserve it—but just because he loves us. He showed you how much he loves you by sending Jesus.

    Now, Jesus is inviting you to come into his kingdom and receive his love by trusting him. If sin is saying no to God, then trust is saying yes. Will you say yes to Jesus?

    You can say this to God: Dear God, I trust you with my life. I’ve tried to rule your world as my own. I’ve said no to you, and I’m sorry. Thank for sending Jesus to die so that I might live. I trust Jesus as my king. I trust only him to save me and help me live with you. Amen.

    Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

So, that’s the gospel in five simple steps. And I want to encourage you to intentionally share it with your kids then call them to respond.

At the end of that conversation, if your child just isn’t ready, don’t try to pressure or manipulate them. And don’t be discouraged. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t saved or that they won’t be saved. Jesus didn’t identify his own faith as separate from his parents until the age of twelve, and he was not baptized until age thirty. Keep praying for your child and find a time in the future to come back to this conversation again.

On the other hand, if your child says “Yes!” don’t be tempted to doubt their sincerity. Take it at face value. We know that Jesus loves children and desires to save them, so eagerly encourage your kids to keep on believing—not just today but throughout their life. I pray this simple outline will help you intentionality share the gospel with your child.

 

If you liked this post, check out my Are You Close To God? gospel booklet. The illustrations on each page of this booklet correspond with the training video above. Use them to show and tell kids how God has come to us through Jesus, and how we can receive his love by saying "yes!" and putting all of our trust in him.  Click here to purchase.

 

We Must Be Bad News Teachers

Cross.jpg

Before we can understand who God is and what he has done, we’ve got to see our sin. That’s the only way we can see how costly his grace is.

Early on in my ministry when I was leading a children's ministry at another church , I evaluated and changed our curriculum. The old curriculum was lacking in several areas and a change was needed. One teacher in the preschool area was very unhappy about the change. I asked her why she was not a fan. Her response was interesting.

She explained the curriculum started out well enough by teaching about creation. “But,” she said, “it quickly went downhill, because all the following lessons talked about sin…..the sin of Adam and Eve, the sin of Cain killing Abel and Noah and the flood…” I was surprised by her response, and I asked her,  “Isn’t that the Bible?” Her response was, “Well yeah, but it is so negative. I mean Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah…...all the sin. It’s so negative for kids to hear.” Taken aback by her observation I responded, “You are right. In fact, I think it is negative for adults to hear. Sin has to be part of the conversation if we are to see our great need for Jesus.”

Sin is negative. Sin is bad, bad news! That is why the gospel is such good news. Kids, like adults, need to hear about our sin. Kids know that they do wrong, but they need to understand how great an offense our sin is against a holy and loving God. Parents must address not only their child’s behavior, but to delve into the underlying issues of the heart. They need to help their child understand we all have a sinful nature, just like the people read about in the Bible, and we need Jesus. Our kids need Jesus!

What has been your experience teaching kids about sin?

Show Them Jesus: An interview with Jack Klumpenhower

Jack Klumpenhower’s book, Show Them Jesus, challenges the culture of low-stakes, low-expectations teaching. It makes a radical pledge to do nothing less than champion and treasure the gospel. Jack is not a pastor, but he has more than thirty years of experience creating Bible lessons and teaching children about Jesus. Back in 2014, I published a series of questions and answers from Jack. Here they are all together in one post:

Jared: Why not just say, “Teach them the gospel”? How is “Show them Jesus” different?

Jack: My wife came up with the title Show Them Jesus, and I immediately liked it because it feels broader than “teach the gospel.” For many people, teaching the gospel has come to mean telling what Jesus has done for us so that kids will be motivated to serve him out of gratitude rather than guilt. That’s a good principle and the book is partly about that, but by itself that’s too small.

Looking at what Jesus has done for us should also cause us to look at him—the whole, marvelous person he is. This adds the motivations that flow from wonder and awe: love, admiration, hope, and even a healthy dose of reverent fear. Kids not only learn that they should be grateful, they also sense the majesty of God. They see holiness. They discover divine love. They come to shudder at the ugliness of sin and to gasp at the lengths Jesus goes to rid them of it. They learn to cling to him. They treasure absolutely everything that’s part of being found in him. They yearn to be for Jesus, like Jesus, and with Jesus forever. That’s the Show Them Jesus vision. It’s a big vision, but big fits Jesus.

Jared: Won't kids get bored if we're teaching them about Jesus every week. Is this approach setting us up for failure?

Jack: They might get bored if we’re teaching the same thing about Jesus every week in the same, tired way. When I get lazy and just tack a bland mention of the cross onto the end of a lesson to make it “Christ-centered,” I deserve students who yawn. But Jesus actually is the most fascinating, best topic in the universe. God the Father is delighted with Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). To notice and love Jesus is a way to imitate the Father. So if kids are bored, it’s not because we’re looking at Jesus too much, but rather because we aren’t looking enough. Skimming over Jesus leaves us with only moralism or self-help or spiritual warm fuzzies. That stuff is what gets old.

To help myself get a big view of Jesus, I try to keep in mind the many blessings that make our salvation in him so big. God’s people are chosen, called, renewed, made alive, bought with a price, forgiven, adopted, made holy, given an inheritance, brought home… and much more. Remembering these things helps me look at a lesson, notice the particular way God is blessing his people, and then apply it to life with Jesus in a new way that has its own richness with each lesson.

Another thing that helps, especially when teaching from the gospels, is to slow down and notice details in the text. We in the Western world are so used to light, fast reading that we often pass over fine points that ought to amaze us. As a teacher, I need to look at the text and think about it long enough that I come into the classroom truly excited over something I’ve already noticed about Jesus. Only then am I ready to teach, because kids will catch what I’m excited about.

Jared: How did you come to make your own teaching more Christ- and gospel-centered?

Jack: I learned it from others. Like many teachers, I grew up knowing only one approach: I looked at how we should or shouldn’t be like the various characters in a Bible story. It’s fine to do some of that, but eventually I met a few teachers who were particularly good at noticing the main character. They first of all taught what Jesus did and how God helped his people. Since I heard preaching that did the same, it was easy for me to see how that was better.

I’d also been in a church that was on the leading edge of what we now call the “grace movement” already in the 1980s. So I understood discipleship that’s grounded in believing all that we are in Christ—justified, holy, adopted children of God. That fit nicely with the focus on Jesus. So in short, I had good teachers. I think most big strides in learning how to teach come from observing other teachers and picking up ideas.

Jared: The Bible is not a G-rated book. Can you give us some pointers for how to approach the sex and violence in the Bible when teaching kids?

Jack: I seldom shy away from sex and violence. Even younger kids understand fighting and killing and that it’s bad to hurt others, so I include it if it’s part of a Bible story—because it’s important to be true to the story.

Kids also understand adultery if you explain it something like, “They behaved with each other like they were married even though they weren’t married.” That’s all the detail necessary for kids to understand that it’s a betrayal and is wrong. The only topic I usually avoid is sexual violence. Most young kids don’t have a place for that in their thinking, and I feel it’s fine to let them stay innocent until they’re older. Not every Bible passage is well-suited for the youngest kids.

The overwhelming majority of Bible stories are good for them, though, even if those stories include violence and evil. It’s important for kids to know, from a young age, that God is at work even when life is brutal and sad. In fact, this is why Jesus came to save us. If every kid’s first exposure to murder, for instance, were in a Bible story where they also heard how Jesus entered into the evil and suffering of this world in order bring healing, that would go a long way toward producing kids who’re well prepared spiritually for whatever they may face in life.

Jared: Kids learn more from what we do than what we say. What can children's ministry leaders do to have a good-news environment in their classrooms?

Jack: My very best classes have been those where everyone felt it was safe to confess sin and seek help from Jesus.

That’s basic Christian living, but it’s still hard to foster that kind of environment. American kids are taught to be achievers, and they come to Bible classes thinking they need to look like the best Christians—memorize the most verses, give the smartest answers, and above all hide their sin. Even bratty kids have the idea that Sunday school is for good kids, and being good or bad is how you fit in or stand out.

Kids desperately need a classroom where that kind of pressure melts away as everyone rests in the only truly good person we know, Jesus. I’ve never gotten it to work as well as I’d like, but I’ve found a few things that seem to help.

First, I as the teacher have to be open about my sin. Within appropriate bounds, I need to talk now and then about shameful things I’ve done, show my sorrow, and share my confidence in Jesus both to forgive me and to help me do better. When it’s clear that I’m a sinner in need of grace, the kids start feeling it’s okay to admit the same about themselves.

Second, I must be quick to pray in class about anything and everything. Prayer is the chief way we practice faith in God. When concerns lead to prayers for help, and sins lead to prayers for grace, and successes lead to prayers of thanks—then it’s hard for anyone to get too self-focused about their goodness or lack of it. Constant prayer keeps us looking to Jesus. Where it thrives, self-pride dies.

Finally, I need to celebrate repentance rather than false perfection. Instead of acting shocked when kids misbehave (“We don’t do that in Sunday school!”), I need to treat the classroom more like a doctor’s office. Everyone is there because we have sin problems, but we expect to make progress and to leave more hopeful than when we walked in.

I’m so thankful for Jack Klumpenhower sharing his time and thoughts with the Gospel Centered Family blog back in 2014 during our first month online. If you’ve enjoyed this interview, share your thanks with Jack in the comment section below.


Be sure to check out more from Jack at his blog, jackklumpenhower.com