HOW CAN I CREATE A REGULAR ‘BIBLE TIME’?
• Encourage your child to give God the best part of their day, or the best parts of their week – the times when they are most alert and free from distractions. This might be before going to bed, straight after the evening meal (instead of watching TV) or waking up earlier in the morning (and going to bed earlier to cope with that).
• Be open to sharing your past experiences with reading your Bible and your current practices. Honesty is what is required here – this is not about false impressions.
• Encourage the child to pray, even briefly, both before and after their Bible time.
• Point out that a good time in God’s Word will usually lead them into prayer.
HOW CAN I UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE BETTER?
There’s a welcome side effect to being a Bible Coach because God will speak to you through his Word just as much as he speaks to your child. Look out for and make the most of these opportunities, by:
• praying and asking the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to what God is saying to you through the Bible;
• sharing what you are learning with other Christians – and learning from them so that we all learn, together, what God is saying;
• seeing the Bible as one big story about God taking action in his world – a story that helps us to see what action God wants to take in the story of our own lives;
• checking that our understanding of the part of the Bible we are looking at is similar to the understanding of the first audience or participants, by asking:
» What were the customs and cultures in those days?
» What type of writing is it? – a poem, a dream, a history book, and so on.
» Where does it fit into the whole Bible’s story?
• trusting the Bible and allowing it to check our understanding;
• realising how our own experiences, culture and world view affect our understanding;
• listening carefully to what Christians from other backgrounds understand and checking it all against the main message of the Bible;
• allowing the Bible to change your life, as you discover more and put more of it into practice;
• using the Bible to answer our own big questions of faith such as:
» Who was – and is – Jesus?
» Why did he come to earth and live amongst people?
» Why did he die and rise again?
» Where is he now?
» What happens when he returns?
• receiving the Bible as a love letter from God that leads us to love God and love others in return.
So get into it with God’s help – and enjoy!
HOW CAN I HELP A CHILD UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE BETTER?
Terry Clutterham, Director of Ministry Delivery for Scripture Union (England and Wales) shares this simple pattern for exploring the Bible together.
‘Thank God together for the Bible and for being there to help you enjoy it and learn from it. (This helps to build up a sense of anticipation.)
Read the Bible verses in a way that will help them come alive – aloud or silently, with great expression or through drama, using imagination or by suggesting things to look for, with pictures or symbols to focus on.
Engage thoughts, feelings and actions to get ‘under the skin’ of what the Bible verses are about; listen to any insights that your child may have; use the Big Bible Challenge prompts and ideas; make your own observations; and try to answer the big questions about God:
• Who does this part of the Bible tell us God is, directly in the words or because of the kinds of things he is doing or saying?
• What is God like in this passage?
• What has he done? Or what is he doing now? Or what will he do?
• What does God want?
• What doesn’t he want?
• What might it be like to live with this God?
Share together how the verses have touched you; have made you think; have enthused you to do something practical or changed your attitude; have reminded you of something else in the Bible or in your own life; have reminded you how Jesus helps to make sense of it all.
As a result of your discoveries, pray together, responding to God in a way that you and the child find most helpful, recognizing what God has said, who we are and what we are like. Try to answer the question, ‘So what do we want to say to God now?’
(From The Adventure Begins, Scripture Union 1996.)
HOW CAN I KNOW THE ‘RIGHT ANSWER’?
Christine Wright, freelance author, Bible scholar and busy grandparent, suggests how to feel more confident about handling children’s questions.
How to ask great questions
It’s all too easy for adults to get into ‘management’ mode and spend their time telling children what to do and how to do it and then asking questions to see whether it’s been done. Let’s check our own ‘mode’ with the children we spend time with, inside or outside the home. How much of what we say is ‘managing’ the children and how much is conversational? If we discover that we spend a lot of time in ‘management’ mode, we need to try to learn the art of conversation. We could change our questions to include those that put us alongside the children, rather than directing their activity.
Listen carefully to how other people ask questions and you may find that the best way of getting others to talk is to use ‘open’ questions. For instance, the question ‘Did you like the Bible story?’ is closed because there are only two possible answers, yes or no.
‘What did you like about the Bible story?’ is more of an open question because there are several possible replies and the child can give a more informative answer.
By asking open questions, we may not get the answer we wanted or even something that we think of as the ‘right answer’. That’s not the point, though. Exploring and learning is more than being given the ‘right answers’. It’s about beginning to think for oneself. This opens up the ability to ‘wonder’ about things as we grow up, for instance:
• wondering who God is;
• wondering who we are;
• wondering why things are as they are;
• wondering about the greatness of God;
• wondering how to pray;
• wondering about suffering.
Asking great questions is an art – but it’s one that can be learned! It’s easy to turn a chat about a Bible story into an interrogation but, by varying the types of question, it is possible to keep the conversation going and to explore different ideas and possibilities.
How to answer impossible questions
What happens if your child asks a question that you can’t answer? It’s something that many adults fear. Often children do ask questions that have no simple answer – and sometimes we just don’t know the answer. An honest ‘I don’t know’ is preferable to a long answer that actually says nothing (as we all know from our own experience of asking questions). The honest answer also leaves the door open for the child to ask someone else and to keep asking and thinking about the question.
Perhaps we have a mental picture of a ‘teacher’ who knows everything and feel that we would have let the children down and embarrassed ourselves if we didn’t know something. If we get into that way of thinking we are still holding on to that ‘right answer/wrong answer’ mentality. Maybe that was the way we were taught the Christian faith, but there are other ways of nurturing children in faith. Children will ask questions, but we don’t have to know all the answers! In fact, sometimes we don’t need to answer at all.
So, what can we say? It helps to know what the child is thinking and what made her ask the question. We might ask, ‘That’s a good question. What do you think about it?’
In this way, the child will reveal something about her level of development, enabling you to see the way she is thinking. In fact, most children will be quite satisfied with their own answer and if so, we need to respect their own insights, trusting that they will move on and will be forming and reshaping their own understanding as they grow up.
When we do answer questions, we must take care only to say just enough to satisfy curiosity. An answer that gives more information than children really want to know may lead to them not wanting to ask again!
“I don’t know”
There will be times when you simply do not know the answer to a question but you know there is an answer somewhere. One way of dealing with this is to say, ‘I don’t know but I’ll find out and let you know, the next time we meet.’ If you promise this, make sure you follow it up and do find the answer and share it with the child. This will show the child that you take their questions seriously and that you are trustworthy: you do what you say you will do.
But an even better way is to say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s see if we can find out the answer together.’ Finding the answer could involve checking a Bible reference book, going to a library, researching online, asking someone who may know – or checking the Big Bible Challenge resources. It may be that you still cannot find an answer. But trying to find out together does much more than answering a question: it shows the child how to research an answer so they will learn how to do this for themselves; it demonstrates that it is OK to ask – and that their questions are taken seriously; it gives them – and you – an answer that you did not know before, and deepens your understanding; and it helps build the relationship of trust between you.
A prayer for your child
‘I pray that (insert name) will rush to hear and respond to your Word, not because they are forced to but because they want to.
‘Please help (insert name) to be sure that, whichever part of the Bible we are exploring together, the words hold what you, Lord, want (insert name) to know. These words won’t turn out to be lies but truth by which they can safely live their whole life.
‘So, Lord, help me to handle your Word with (insert name) in such a way that they will long to be drawn into it often and will be so engrossed in and shaped by thoughts that are your thoughts, that (insert name) never grows out of your Word but is always growing into it.’