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All Bible studies are not created equal. At least, they shouldn’t be.

The way you engage a preschooler with the Bible is very different than how you engage a high schooler. We know this is true. We also see it throughout Scripture:

  • Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, that we should minister to different racial/religious backgrounds differently.
  • Paul’s message to the Biblically-astute Jews in the synagogue (Acts 13:15-42) was very different than his message to the Biblically-illiterate, free-thinkers at Athens (Acts 17:16-33).
  • John said, in 1 John 2:12-14, that we learn we should minister to different ages differently.

So, how you teach children differently as they grow? Here’s a simple guide:

Teaching the Bible to Preschoolers:

  • Emphasis:  Bible stories & fun!  At this stage, children need to see you can have fun with the Bible. It’s time to make the Bible stories come alive. They need to learn the basics about obedience and respect (Ephesians 6:1-4) as well as right, wrong, and forgiveness (1 John 2:1-3).
  • Best Practice:  Focus on teaching children the Bible stories, but be sure to have fun and bring the stories to life by acting them out together or by using action figures/dolls (“Who should be Jesus today? Elmo? Great!”)

Teaching the Bible to Elementary:

Emphasis: Bible questions & faith. At this stage, children need to be engaging with the Bible at church and home (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:14-17) and be allowed to ask any question they want. This will communicate the truth to them that God encourages us to bring our questions to Him and root our faith in the Bible.

Best Practice:  Listen for questions your children will have about the God/Bible/life (Exodus 12:26, 13:14, Deuteronomy 6:20, Joshua 4:6). Don’t be afraid of question. If you don’t know the answer, that’s great! Just say, “I’m not sure what the answer is. Let’s study it out together and find out!”

Teaching the Bible to Middle School:

Emphasis: Bible interactions & discovery. At this stage, children need to be interacting with the Bible and learning how to apply the Bible to gain victories in their daily lives (1 John 2:12-14). Our children need to understand that their “real parent” is God and that a human parent’s job is to teach them how to follow their “real parent” God the Father on their own (Acts 20:29-32).

Best Practice: Get away with your child one night a week at a restaurant of their choice (e.g. my son loved going to a fast food restaurant with a never-ending soda dispenser) and lead a “wherever-today-takes-us-is-great” Bible discussion (e.g. starting off with questions they might have, then using a pre-written lesson if needed). Look at how Jesus answered someone’s question: “(a) Where in the Bible does it talk about that question? (b) What do you think God is saying in those passages?” (Luke 10:25-28)

Teaching the Bible to High School:

Emphasis: Bible study & ownership. At this stage, children need to be encouraged to “own” their own faith. The success of this stage is built on the years of investment in three areas:

  1. Cultivating a close, healthy relationship with your child (Proverbs 23:26)
  2. Modeling what it looks like to follow Jesus with your own life (1 Corinthians 11:1)
  3. Praying without ceasing for their spiritual state (James 5:16-20)

If you haven’t done as much of that as you wished you had, start now. It’s never too late!

Best Practice: Communicate your desire for children to follow God with the assurance they have the freedom to choose differently. Let them know that your hope for them is that, no matter where they live or what they choose to do for a living, you hope they always keep “The Great Commandment” of loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:34-40), they always live “The Great Commission” of making disciples here and among Unreached People Groups (Matthew 28:19-20), and they focus on making disciples to the fourth generation spiritually (2 Timothy 2:2). You hope they follow God on their own (3 John 2-4).

A few thoughts as we close this section:

  • There is no perfect parent, except God
  • Even God, the perfect parent, had his children go astray in the Garden
  • God addressed His children’s failure in the Garden by asking lots of questions, providing a way for redemption, and moving forward together
  • As a parent, you always could have done more
  • As a parent, you always could have better
  • It’s unhealthy to beat yourself up about the past
  • It’s healthy to commit yourself today to grow and get better
  • Sometimes the best thing we can give our child is a sincere apology
  • Finally, remember parenting is an imperfect, messy, gut-wrenching, wonderful thing — a gift from God — likely the hardest job you’ll ever have — and something God designed to be impossible without Him

—Tim Howey