As my kids got older I kept trying a bunch of things, but it was clear the picture Bibles and stories had to go; they were pitching too low and my kids needed some more ‘meat on the bone’.
I was struggling; the picture books and Bibles had been great but now what? Not wanting to make it feel like more homework and at the same time find something that pitched at their level, pushed them and was enjoyable seemed like a tough brief.
When your kids are too old for picture Bibles and story books, what next?
How do you regularly encourage the reading of the Bible and prayer with 9-13 year old’s?
Here’s 4 ideas that are both practical but also very ‘big picture’ and hence what I call, ‘Essentials’ for reading the Bible regularly with your older kids:
1. Show them what following Jesus looks like in practice through short biographies written for kids
Everyone loves a good story, especially when they’re true. Hearing about people’s real lives, how they grew up, how they were transformed by the gospel, what challenges they faced as the took steps of faith makes for engaging reading and listening. We bought some short biographies written for kids and have gradually introduced our kids to the lives of faithful Christians, missionaries, church leaders and martyrs who have trail blazed the gospel both in word and deed across the globe.
Stories like that of Amy Carmichael, Mary Slessor, Martin Luther, John Livingstone and Joni Erickson Tada have been immensely encouraging to our family. We’ve set aside about 10 minutes every couple of nights to continue reading a chapter and reflecting together on the story. Some are better reads than others, so be prepared for some ‘hits and misses’. Overall our kids have enjoyed these, and they really bring some variety into our ministry in the home.
One of the main benefits of reading them together is that as a family you get to see what faith in Jesus looks like in practice. You’ll see things like: Not everyone finds support from their Christian brothers and sisters when they pioneer a new ministry. Tragedy and opposition are common from all kinds of fronts. Incredible determination, love and perseverance are never wasted; God is faithful. Learning to have joy in all circumstances remain hallmarks of their lives.
Tip: Let the kids read sections as they gain confidence and at a length according to their ability as this drives up engagement through ownership.
2. Read chapters of the Scriptures stories out loud together and pray from them as a family
What we are doing here is something very simple but immensely profound. We find a passage of scripture, say the stories of the Kings or Samuel or the gospels and we read it aloud without needing to make any particular observations or efforts to be profound. We remain open to questions and comments and pray from what we have read. We pray for what it teaches us about ourselves, God and his plan for salvation.
What does this do?
First, we are saying to our kids ‘God’s word stands alone…it doesn’t need anything else. Listen. God speaks to us through the Bible. Let’s shower ourselves in His words.
Second, when we pray from our reading of the Bible we are letting God shape what is most important in our lives. We often pray for the things that concern us or worry us. But you know, they may not be the most important. When we pray from God’s word, we know they are His concerns and the most important.
An example here would be reading the stories of Kings or Samuel together in small chunks; each person has their own full Bible takes turns to read. This makes sure everyone pays attention and has responsibility to participate. It’s not easy, as you’ll have different levels of reading and listening ability, so it won’t work every night. But it’s still worth the effort to keep in a mixture of ways that you read the Bible with your kids.
Tip: try and have the same translation if possible as this can cause it to be harder than it needs to be. On the positive side, as the kids get older, its good for them to get their heads around this idea of translation. Some are better than others. Some are more enjoyable. Some stick really close to the text, others are freer. You can help your kids to work out the intention of the text using context.
3. Show them how faith in Jesus always has actions
Don’t you love books like James, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. So do kids! Show them how practical God’s word is by getting them into the wisdom literature of the Bible. The thing is, kids who go to church, Christian schools or are homeschooled, often know the stories in the Bible and are pretty bored by the time they’re 10 or 12. What we need to be doing is putting some rubber on the road, demonstrating some traction here, of what faith looks like; why it matters; how it’s expressed in real life actions. Faith without deeds is dead. But true faith loves the poor; you can’t love God and hate your sister; are you getting it?
Big question is, how do you do this?
Reading letters of the New Testament can be tough with kids!
Where’s the story gone, mum?
I can confidently say they are equally hard to teach in kid’s church. There are so many things that are concepts and where is the story that will help me teach the concept? Kids under the age of 9 generally need more concrete content, but as they get older they can start to handle concepts more.
You can try your hand with Bible activity booklets that have a short reading of Scripture, some questions and puzzles to solve. Each day you work through the next bit of the book of Matthew or Romans or whatever. Unfortunately, we found these just felt like homework and weren’t fun enough for our kids to really ‘buy’ it. Plus, the age they suit (ages 7-9), required us to help out with lots of stuff, like spelling and reading. I guess you could see that as a positive chance to ‘kill two birds’ with their schooling, but we still had to get through their readers and math elsewhere, so they didn’t last. We had to push them too much and that wasn’t something we wanted ‘stress’ over.
So I mulled over how to solve this problem of getting the kids actually engaging with the text of God's word more directly, that would lead to practical application without it being too preachy or homeworky!
My Family Video Devotion Solution – kids discovering God’s word from the ground up
What I noticed was how ubiquitous the screens were becoming in our home and I thought about how I might be able to create a video devotion that incorporated my storytelling with live pictures that I use in live shows for Anton’s Antics.
I knew kids needed practical stuff, not just more content on what happened to Moses or Elijah or a retelling of gospel narratives. I knew they needed to be challenged about what to do with their faith and what it should look like.
By combining my sketching and cartooning with some commentary between myself and my alias Anton, I set about developing a series for kids to watch at home on their iPads all around the Psalms. In particular I chose Psalm 119…the longest Psalm.
Sounds crazy, right?! 176 verses, no way!
But one of the things I liked about Psalm 119 was that it was acrostic, and I wondered how that pattern of following the Hebrew alphabet might have influenced the content and message of the Psalm. Plus it has that 'educational bonus'.
It was a great journey, looking at each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and seeing how it drove the message of each stanza.
I tested it out on my kids and they really enjoyed it.
The great benefit of doing devotions this way is that our kids are discovering the word of God from the ground up and learning a skill for life: to read the Bible FOR THEMSELVES.
You see, instead of reading a devotion and being told ‘this is what this verse means’. We take the longer route and look closely at what’s happening in the text of the Psalm. We identify how the letter of the Hebrew alphabet is used in the Psalm and what that means for each stanza’s message before we apply it to ourselves. All of this is done with sketches, cartoons, lightning lettering and some fun banter between Anton and myself, live as we draw! So it's never boring or too high brow.
Now the series is complete its called ‘Anton’s A to Z for a Good Life’.
With over 22 videos and bonus activity sheets, the course is now available to families to purchase.
4. Teach them to read the Scriptures and pray by themselves
We want our kids to develop their own relationship with Jesus, not just the one we give them.
Introduce to them the idea of reading the Bible and praying by themselves.
Talk to your kids about this as they get older.
Tip: plus make sure you practice it yourself!
Then suggest that you investigate getting some resources for them that might help.
BTW I’ve got a story for how we went about this and how excited I am about the outcome...
Make sure you’re subscribed to antonsantics.com to hear the story!