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Summer: The Season of the Kid

June 18, 2012

Summer is the Season of the Kid. During this time of year, our store starts smelling like sunscreen as kids from the community pool wander in and cool off in the a/c after spending the morning under the sun. Just a whiff of that smell coming from our children’s section makes me want to sprint for the door and hunt for wide, open spaces (and plenty of water and sand, of course). It’s hard not to be jealous of kids in the summertime.

Summer is also the time of year when churches start scrambling for volunteers and curricula to support their Christian ed. ministries throughout the school year. It’s an exciting time but also an overwhelming one- it’s our experience that most folks who are coordinating children’s ministries are over-extended volunteers who don’t have very much time to sort through and evaluate the resources that are available to them. This is a shame because children’s materials need to be engaged with the same attention to detail and concern that we give any other text, and arguably, we need to be MORE careful about what we teach children precisely because they haven’t developed the same kind of critical filters adults have. Added to the developmental limitations of the learners is the gravitas of the context- this is the stuff we’re teaching children in church. Remember what Jesus said about steering children astray? Something about a millstone around your neck, if I recall correctly. Not to overwhelm you more, but the point is, what you teach to children matters. God will continue to pursue these children even in spite of our teaching errors, but we’re still called to be responsible about what we’re feeding to the kids on Sunday morning.

Interestingly, the way the Bible is taught in Sunday school or during a children’s program is a pretty good indicator of how lay people in the church read the Bible. My thought is that it’s mostly lay people (and let’s be honest; women) who are teaching Sunday school and directing children’s ministries. How valuable would it be for a pastor to sit in every once in a while on the children’s ministries at church? I bet there’d be some major revelations in store for him through how the Bible is taught to the kids, how hard questions are answered- the kinds of deep theological conversations that happen over Play-Doh and crayons (if you don’t think kids are capable of asking some pretty difficult theological questions, you obviously aren’t volunteering to work with them in church).

One book that I want to point out to you, if you’re someone blessed with the responsibility of sharing God’s Word with the next generation, is The Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton (Crossway, 2010). I love this book. I use it every Sunday with the early elementary aged kids at our church. No matter what curriculum you’re using, or what Bible story you’re telling, this resource would be an invaluable addition to your library, if only to help you avoid some of the common mistakes that people make in teaching little ones about the Bible.

Here’s an example. When you think of the story of Noah and the ark, what do you think of? Is it an animal adventure story? A story about being true to what God tells you to do even if other people laugh at you? Or is it a story about God’s judgment and mercy?

And here’s the clincher: is this story about Noah or about God?

One of the Waltons’ major critiques of the plethora of Bible story books and children’s curricula out there is that, very, very frequently, narratives in the Bible get reduced to character studies of this or that individual, and how we are (or aren’t) supposed to be like him or her. Though there is a place for striving to be like those who have gone before us in the faith (Hebrews 11), the Bible is God’s story and about what he is up to. Walton challenges us to avoid reducing Bible stories into morality lessons. Often, there are moral implications of hearing a story, but there’s always something that God is communicating about himself through the Bible.

Other common teaching mistakes that the Waltons warn against are what they call the promotion of the trivial (turning up the volume on a comment made in the text louder than it was intended to be), illegitimate extrapolation (“God protected Daniel in the lion’s den, so he will never let anything bad happen to you”), reading between the lines (over-speculations on the text), and missing important nuance (pp.23-25).

I don’t mean to make it sound like the book is one giant criticism of common ways that Bible stories are taught; this is just one of the aspects of the book that I’ve valued in particular. Each story is numbered, with the book, chapter, and verse next to it. Then, there’s the lesson focus (the major points of the text), lesson application (how this text can be applied), the Biblical context (so interesting, really!), a list of the interpretational issues in the story (ie, does “image” in Gen. 1:26 mean we look like God physically? ). There’s also further background information and last of all, a list of mistakes to avoid when teaching a particular story.

Generally, the sorts of people that write Sunday school curricula are either super strong in content or they’re super strong in method. If you’re using a curriculum that has top-shelf method, but the content is sometimes dubious, this is a resource that can help you bridge that gap.

If you’re curious about the Waltons’ credentials, he is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton and she’s been teaching Sunday school for a couple of decades. Not to mention the fact that they are parents.

Here’s what we’re really excited about. John Walton will be coming to our store later this summer to discuss this book (and some others) with our customers. If you’re planning on serving in your church’s children’s ministry (or just in engaging with the Bible any time soon), you will REALLY value this time with him as he discusses the Bible Story Handbook. As far as I can tell, there is nothing at all out there on the market like this resource. It’s been a long time coming.

Mention this blog post at Johnsen & Taylor and get 25% off The Bible Story Handbook.  (offer good until July 14, 2o12).

photo source: here

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