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The Bible Uncensored

Lauren Hunter

Use Age-Appropriate Discretion
If you've ever set out to read the Bible from cover to cover, you know how overwhelming it can be to stomach all the violence. The Bible brings humans' true sinful nature to the surface in a multitude of ways. Our challenge is to simplify-but not dumb-down-these lessons for children.

"For instance, the central story of our faith includes a guy being beaten, bloodied, and nailed to a cross," says Mikal Keefer, senior writer for Lifetree Café (lifetreecafe.com) and a children's ministry volunteer for more than 30 years. "Yet we find a way to share that story with everyone from young children to adults; it's not the story-it's the detail and method by which it's shared."

"I believe the entire Bible-every word-is important and good to study," explains Jayne George, children's ministry director for Valley Springs Presbyterian Church in Roseville, California. George has taught children and authored curriculum for more than 30 years. "The real question is: What's an age-appropriate way?"

One tactical example is in nearly every boy's favorite Old Testament "bad guy" story: David and Goliath. It's a safe assumption that in virtually no children's Bible is there mention of the end of the struggle, where David, after mortally wounding Goliath with his slingshot and stone, runs to Goliath, pulls the giant's sword, and makes the final kill by beheading him. The complete account may be okay for older preteens, but certainly not for preschoolers or early elementary kids.

"The Bible is by nature a violent book," Keefer continues. "Pick any child's Bible storybook and no matter how carefully the stories are told, there's violence lurking just around the corner."

Often simplifying certain aspects of a story and presenting them on the child's level is the key to making the story understandable to children. Consider the story of Noah's Ark. It's a treasured scene that adorns nurseries in churches and homes. What we don't see is that once the animals are aboard the ark, a devastating flood engulfs the rest of life. We leave out certain details for the little ones.

"It's a good idea to focus on the parts of the story that make a powerful connection with kids," says Jody Brolsma, senior editor for Group's vacation Bible school programs (groupvbs.com). "For example, in our Egypt VBS, we wanted to talk about Joseph being in prison for something he didn't do. We knew that kids understand what it's like to get blamed for something they didn't do or even to get punished unjustly. Well, Joseph was put in prison because Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph, then claimed that he'd tried to rape her…Not exactly kid-friendly! So we had Joseph say, 'Potiphar's wife wanted me to be her boyfriend…and that's not right!' This was a simple, age-appropriate way to handle the topic, while not making it the focus of the story or an inappropriate distraction."

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