Helping Kids Navigate the Bible

For several summers growing up, I made a weeklong excursion to Boy Scout camp. Few of my memories from those summers are etched in my mind more than my experiences with the small boat sailing merit badge. To be quite honest, I’m not even sure how I actually earned that badge. Trust me, you would not want to small boat sail with me today. If we got in a boat, we might suffer the same misfortunes of Santiago from Old Man and the Sea. Nevertheless, I remember our tutelage by a fellow amateur sailor scout on a scorching hot dock at the lake. We learned a few knots, memorized the various constituents of our tiny vessel, strapped on our PFDs, and set sail for the wild blue yonder.

Given that there was no wind, we pushed ourselves off the dock to get in the open water. We turned our sails this way and that to no avail. We fumbled with our knots that we barely practiced and took turns rattling the rudder back and forth in hopes that we would “paddle” our way back to shore. We stepped in the boat vastly unprepared, overconfident, inept at small boat problem solving, and with clueless smiles on our faces. We simply weren’t trained to navigate the waters. My fear is that we might be unknowingly playing the part of the overconfident amateur small boat sailing scout by sending kids into the Christian life with no clue about how to read, study, and apply the Bible.

Could it be that our curriculum and programming has gotten so “relevance” driven that we have dismissed the foundation of our ministry? Is it possible that we are losing many students because we are not equipping kids with tools that help them to immerse themselves in Scripture? Perhaps we aren’t really sure ourselves how to navigate the Bible, so teaching the next generation how to do it is a hopeless cause. I think we can turn the ship around. I think that people in kids and family ministry care deeply about God’s Word. I think that with the right philosophy of mind, a hefty overhaul in our approach, and a little bit of teacher and parent training, we can see biblical faithfulness in the hearts and minds of our kids. We can catch the wind in our sails and steer the next generation into the sunset of God’s Word.

I’m huge on philosophical foundations. If you’ve ever read anything of mine or sat under me in a workshop, you will see clearly that I want to set the stage for an argument before I even make it. I think it’s profoundly important that we always understand, recognize, and clarify the “why” before we get into the “how.” The “why” of this story begins with the nature of God’s Word. What do we believe about it? Why does that matter? Below are ten non-negotiables about the Holy Scripture. These propositions are uniquely important, because when you believe them, they drive the way you think and speak when you train people with God’s Word. When you firmly believe these things, the kids and parents with whom you minister will “see it and believe it”, too.

1.    The Bible is an inerrant book. The original manuscripts, which we have strict certainty that our English translations are immensely close to, are perfectly pure. If God inspired it and nothing God states can be false, then we are left with a perfect work.

2.    The Bible is a cohesive book. It lines up at every portion. It never truly contradicts itself, even when it may seem to on the surface. It has a continual theme of redemption and unravels the story of Christ from Genesis to Revelation.

3.    The Bible is an inspired book. Though it was written through the agency of men, it is breathed down from God. It has a dual nature, much in the way of Jesus. The Bible is perfectly human and divine.

4.    The Bible is an authoritative book. More attention has been drawn to God’s Word than any other book in history. It shows men their sin, calls them to repentance, and begs for the hearts of all of humanity. It is living, active, sharp, and piercing. When you speak it, mountains move.

5.    The Bible is a prophetic book. God knows the future. When we recognize that God has predicted the future, we can trust in His sovereignty over our future. Fulfilled prophecy leads to great faith.

6.    The Bible is a revelatory book. God has revealed a little bit of Himself through the Scriptures. It makes sense when you read John 1 and see Jesus as the Word in the flesh who came to explain the Father (John 1:1, 14). The Bible is a summation of Jesus.

7.    The Bible is a structured book. Scripture follows a path. Not that our English order is inspired, but that through time, God has been leading His people on a journey of creation, fall, redemption, reconciliation, and ultimate consummation. The Bible chronicles that in an orderly way.

8.    The Bible is a practical book. It provides real world solutions to our problems, passionate encouragement when we are pleasing the Lord, and impassioned fuel for worship and prayer. It speaks to every human need or struggle.

9.    The Bible is a beautiful book. God’s Word employs prose, drama, action, poetry, comedy, logic, biography, letters, parables, sermons, and song. There is no literary equal. To teach it with dryness is to reject its glory.

10.  The Bible is a challenging book. Capable of softening the hardest of hearts, it encourages us toward love and good deeds. It tries our faith and molds us to become what we can never become on our own.

It is not a book of fables. It is not the product of one man or a collective religious group. It is not a list of prescriptive commands. It is not an allegory. It is not simply one of many inspired religious works. When each of these facts infiltrate your mind, you will see them also infiltrate your speech, your teaching, your communication, your exhortation and your leadership. These principles are the wind in your sails.

Now that the foundation is set, how do we get children to understand and interpret the Scriptures in a way that proves faithful to the Lord? I would suggest teaching the use of the inductive study method. I’m not sure who pioneered this strategy, so I take no innovative credit here. The inductive method, as opposed to “deductive”, is open-ended and moves the one studying from the specific to the general, meaning that you learn as much about the details of the passage before you move to apply the passage to life. Get God’s meaning first, then make application. It can be summed up in these four steps: survey, observe, interpret, and apply.

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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including and