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Operation Open Book

Dana Wilkerson

 

Strategies for getting your kids hopelessly hooked on reading the Bible.

"Hmmm. What if a customer wanted cheese on his hamburger?"

"I wouldn't put it on. I'd be afraid I'd mess it up since I've never done it. And when I first started making hamburgers, nobody wanted anything on them. I think what worked then will work now."

"Okay. What if a whole table wanted the fish special?"

Jennie answers, "Well, since I only do hamburgers, I'd just make hamburgers. My hamburgers are so good, I don't think they'd mind."

"How long have you just been making hamburgers, Jennie?"

"Oh, about 25 years now."

"Well, thank you for your time, Jennie. We'll, uh, be in touch."

Sound ridiculous? Definitely -- in the restaurant world. But this scenario's not too far off the mark in many of our children's ministries. Well-intentioned teachers stick with ineffective methods to get kids to read the Bible because it's how they've always done it. The result? Kids don't feel the Bible is relevant to them -- and they're certainly not motivated to dive into it on their own.

Are there Jennies in your ministry? Are you a Jennie? If so, don't despair! Just keep reading -- and learn how to make the Bible irresistible for your kids!

It's About the Kids

If you want kids to be interested in the Bible, here's the first step: Forget about yourself. Focus on the kids and giving them what they need -- and even sometimes what they want! If our goal is to make the Bible an open book for kids, we need to stretch ourselves.

You're probably thinking, "Okay, that makes sense. I think I can do that. But I still don't know exactly what to do." These six steps will help you captivate kids' interest when it comes to reading the Bible.

1. Discover kids' interests.

Are your kids into music? Is there a poet in the crowd? Do they come from families who travel a lot? Who are their heroes?

You probably already know much of this information because it's a basic part of building relationships with kids. But you can also use this information to help get kids into the Bible. If you can tie their interests to a biblical event or passage, you'll hook them.

Music is an excellent way to get kids into the Bible. Many contemporary praise and worship songs take their lyrics straight from the pages of Scripture, and many secular songs include biblical references. Merely having kids sit and listen as you read a psalm might not be very interesting to them. But if you start with a song they've sung in church or heard on the radio and then have them read and study the Scripture it's based on, they'll love it.

If your kids are veteran or wannabe travelers, use that to draw them into the Bible. Just hanging a map of first-century Israel on the wall probably won't do the trick, though. Be creative. Research. Do your homework. Many of the places and landmarks mentioned in the Bible still exist today. Get travel brochures of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ephesus, and Egypt so the kids can see what it's like today. Help kids imagine what it would've been like for Paul to travel the distances he did during that time in history. Make it real however you can. But whatever you do, base your teaching on kids' interests rather than yours.

2. Use kids' life experiences.

It's true that the world is much different from the way it was two or three thousand years ago. But people are pretty much the same. Throughout history, people have been born, lived, and died. We love and rejoice; we sin and grieve. We have so much in common with the people in the Bible. Use those commonalities to get kids into the Bible. Show them that the people in the Bible are just like them.

Sibling problems? The Bible is full of them! Cain and Abel. Jacob and Esau. Mary and Martha. Bad day? Even Jesus had them. Death of a loved one? Everywhere. Falsely accused? Talk to Joseph. or Jesus.

But don't focus only on the negative things that happen in kids' lives. Scripture is packed with good things that happened to people, too. Noah was rewarded for his faithfulness. Abraham got something he really wanted after waiting a long time. A shepherd boy named David was made king. Peter was forgiven after doing what some would call unforgivable.

And don't forget the most important experience we can have in common with people in Bible times -- a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

3. Think like a boy.

If you're male, you can probably skip this one because you already think like a boy. But to all you women out there, this is very important. To make the Bible interesting to boys, you need to start thinking like boys.

For instance, let's talk about the book of Ruth. The fact that the book itself is named after a girl might turn off some boys. But if you have them watch for the "coolest dude" in the story, and focus on Boaz as well as Ruth and Naomi, you'll likely catch their attention.

Who are boys' heroes, and what are their characteristics? Now think about God's characteristics that boys would most relate to. Kids constantly learn that God is loving, kind, and merciful. But he's also strong, he can do anything, and he's not scared of anything or anyone. Those are traits boys look for in a hero. Show boys the "macho" side of God, as well as the tender side. Make God their hero.

4. Bring on the girls.

Conversely, to girls it may seem that all Bible stories are about boys. They cling to the stories of Ruth, Esther, and Mary like a lifeline. But almost every story about a boy has a girl in it, too. Sure, some of those women weren't exactly role models, but then again, neither were a lot of the men.

Even if women are only mentioned in passing in some of the stories, they played a big role. What about Mrs. Noah? Think about her part in that historical event. Noah probably wasn't the only one who was considered a lunatic by the neighbors. And just imagine her running the kitchen and cleaning that ark for more than a year. We don't really know her personal story, but we do know she got on the boat.

Some words of warning: If you speculate about a woman such as Mrs. Noah, make sure kids understand the difference between your speculation and biblical truth. Also, don't make a woman in the Bible something she wasn't just to make her appealing to girls. When it's all said and done, let girls know there are plenty of female role models for them in the Bible.

5. Show kids the bigger picture.

I've gone to church my entire life. Do you want to guess at what age I learned that all the events in the Bible are actually part of one big story that spans all of history? My freshman year of college. It blew me away. I thought it was amazing, but I was also a little annoyed that I'd never learned that important fact.

Most kids look at the Bible like they look at a book of fairy tales. Fairy tales are all about magic, but the stories don't have much of anything to do with each other. Likewise, to most kids biblical events are all about God, but they don't have much of anything to do with each other. Kids know that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, and they know that Joshua fought the battle at Jericho, but do they know that Joshua was part of the exodus from Egypt (and a major player in the events between those two events)? The majority probably don't.

You may be thinking, "Does that really matter?" I believe it does, especially when it comes to getting kids interested in the Bible. Think about this. At any given time, what are the most popular kids' books on the market? Often, it's books in a series. Kids want to know what happens next. Even in a series where some, if not most, of the characters change from book to book (think Chronicles of Narnia), there's enough of a common thread among the books to make kids want to read more.

So does this mean you have to teach the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation? No. But it does mean that if you can help kids make the connection between the Bible stories, it just might make things more interesting for them. For example, after teaching them about Ruth (and Boaz, of course), show the kids where that famous couple fits into Jesus' ancestry in Matthew 1. Or let them know (or discover for themselves) that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were friends of Daniel.

So then maybe, just maybe, if you teach your kids about Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery and then tell them there's much more to the story (with such exciting happenings as false accusations and prison sentences), they'll take the initiative to read the rest of the story on their own.

6. Be a model.

Get excited about the Bible by reading and studying it yourself. If the kids see that you're eager to read the Bible and that you find it extremely interesting, there's a good chance they will too. Be a role model.

Also let kids know that you don't just read the Bible in church. Talk about what you've read during the week and how it's made a difference in your life. Tell them how God's Word changes you on an ongoing basis. Show the kids that the Bible is real to you!

You Can Do It!

So what do you think? Can you do it? Sure you can! You don't need to be a Bible scholar with a seminary degree to make the Bible an open book for kids. The most important thing is to know your kids and keep their best interests at heart. And remember your goal-making the Bible an open book for kids. cm

Dana Wilkerson is senior editor of Hands-On Bible Curriculum and Hands-On Bible Blitz (Group).

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