My previous post suggested that our children may be missing out on the most crucial aspects of the Bible’s stories. As parents, what can we do?

Tell the Next Generation

Let’s begin by taking up the responsibility that God has given to parents, and not leaving the task of nurturing our children’s faith to church or Sunday School alone.

We (fathers, and mothers, too) are commanded to teach our children the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, so that they can put their trust in Him (Psalm 78:5–7).

This is markedly different from why the world wants to learn anything!

So a useful rule of thumb for parents is this: when you tell your children stories from the Bible, show them Jesus.

We’re to show our children who God is—not primarily to improve their self-esteem, help their relationships, boost their social status, increase their earning potential or even solve their problems—but so that they can respond to God in faith.

This, in fact, was the goal of the apostle Paul’s ministry. His strategy, accordingly, was “to proclaim . . . the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). By that, did he mean that he read to the Ephesians every single word, told every single story, in the Scriptures?

Given that he had only three years with them and no podcast technology, the answer is: probably not.

What Paul meant, verse 32 suggests, is that he’d not left out anything that his hearers needed to respond in faith to the good news that Jesus had died for the sins of humankind, saving believers from God’s punishment and giving them eternal life with Him.

We’re to show our children who God is.

Bible scholar, writer, teacher and theologian D. A. Carson puts it like this:

What [Paul] must mean is that he taught the burden of the whole of God’s revelation, the balance of things, leaving nothing out that was of primary importance, never ducking the hard bits, helping believers to grasp the whole counsel of God that they themselves would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently, comprehensively.

When we tell the stories of the Bible, then, we do not necessarily have to tell every single story in every single book, but we should respect the Bible’s overarching storyline, God’s story of our rescue through Jesus.

This is because only the good news of Jesus has the power to save! So a useful rule of thumb for parents is this: when you tell your children stories from the Bible, show them Jesus.

Where to Begin?

Some questions to ask ourselves when selecting a new Bible story book, video or app are:

  • What can we learn about God or Jesus from the story?
  • What can we learn about right or wrong ways to respond to God or Jesus?

In the words of Marty Machowski—family pastor, dad and author of The Gospel Story Bible and Bible devotions for the whole family—biblical storytelling is all about “reaching the coming generation with the gospel”.

So you want to show children humanity’s biggest problem and God’s ultimate solution i.e., point out sin and show God’s grace in Jesus.

I can think of two main ways we can do this:

1. Show Them Jesus by Showing That All God’s Promises are Fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

This “big picture” approach is suitable for children from their earliest months up to when they can read independently, and beyond.

…you want to show children humanity’s biggest problem and God’s ultimate solution…

It provides a bird’s eye view of God’s dealings with humankind—how, as pastor-author Vaughan Roberts says, “the whole Bible fits together, from Genesis to Revelation, telling of God’s wonderful plan to save the world through Jesus Christ.”

The advantage of such an approach is that the big picture can be customised to your child’s age and maturity without distorting what Dr Carson calls “the balance of things”.

This means that you can teach about sin, God’s anger against it, our need for rescue and God’s grace in giving us a Saviour.

And you can teach these things to your youngest children, using the simplest Bible stories, for a start.

…think of the Bible’s central story and its long timeline as a kind of scaffolding…

In my previous post, I mentioned more controversial stories, such as the grisly end of the evil Israelite queen, Jezebel. These, along with the violence of episodes such as the later chapters of Judges, do sit uncomfortably even with grown-ups.

However, the big picture approach gives parents and teachers some flexibility in deciding when to go ahead with controversial topics. By never leaving out the essential teachings, the big picture approach prepares children for more complex topics.

My teens, for example, have long had a framework for considering unhappy endings and troubled lives—in the light of Jesus’ eventual return. Of course, my family continues to have many discussions about difficult and current issues, being confident that the big-picture framework is broad enough for my children’s life journeys and discoveries.

The story of Lazarus shows that Jesus is the promised Saviour…

In other words, think of the Bible’s central story and its long timeline as a kind of scaffolding, on which you can later build more complex details, such as characters, politics, the rise and fall of earthly kingdoms, Jesus’ interactions with His disciples, His sufferings on the way to the cross and the implications of His resurrection, the role of the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journeys, the life and witness of the church, and so on, as your child grows up.

The scaffolding in its barest form, the outline of the Bible, “shows them Jesus” by showing that Jesus is God’s ultimate solution to the problem of sin, a solution none of us can afford to ignore or reject.

2. Show Them Jesus in Individual Stories.

Alongside God’s big picture, whenever we retell episodes that involve one set of characters or events, we can help our children to understand what kind of king Jesus is and what kinds of things matter to God.

For instance, when Lazarus fell sick and died, his sisters Mary and Martha lamented to Jesus that their brother would not have died if Jesus had arrived sooner.

But Jesus’ lateness had been deliberate, for His disciples’ sake, so that they would believe Jesus was indeed the Promised One (John 11:15).

Wherever possible, use the Bible itself as your main resource.

Against all odds and contrary to the wildest expectations, Jesus spoke a single command, and Lazarus, already four days dead, returned to life immediately and walked out of his tomb.

Not only does this remarkable story show Jesus’ mastery over death, it also foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection, His ultimate triumph over sin.

Seen in the context of God’s overall plan, this small-town family drama is not only about how Mary and Martha’s wish was granted beyond anything they could imagine.

The story of Lazarus shows that Jesus is the promised Saviour, come to give all believers new and eternal life in Him (John 11:25–26).

Try beginning with a current event or an anecdote from your or your children’s experiences, then “time travel” into the Scriptures.

The New Testament, especially the Gospels, is the most straightforward starting point, because these stories feature Jesus, were told by Him or are the stories of those who followed Him.

But what about the stories of the Old Testament? Could these be about Jesus even though they happened before His birth? Amazingly, yes!

The Old Testament stories are about people in need of rescue—from destruction, from war, from enemies, from oppression . . . and most of all, of course, from sin. In these ways, the temporary “solutions” (judges, prophets, kings, the law, the sacrificial system) all point towards God’s perfect and ultimate answer to sin, Jesus.

What About Resources?

For Baby’s first Bible (which you will be reading aloud for the next five years at least), look out for bold illustrations and an overview of the Bible story that draws attention to humankind’s disobedience to God and the gift of life that God has given through His Son, Jesus Christ.

You don’t necessarily have to throw out your cute Bible stories, but knowing your own Bible well can help you place them in context and see how they relate to God’s promised Saviour.

Wherever possible, use the Bible itself as your main resource. The time will come, all too soon, when your children no longer need you to tell them stories.

And so, our secondary goal, in showing them Jesus, is also to teach them, by example, good habits in their own Bible reading and understanding.

Once they are reading independently, invest in a Bible translation suitable for primary-school-aged children, such as the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) or the International Children’s Bible (ICB).

Be Inspired, Get Creative

The apostle John reveals that Jesus has given His words for our sake, and invites all who are thirsty to take the free gift of the water of life (Revelation 22:16–17).

The Bible and its stories-within-a-story are that gift—hundreds of variations on the main theme of His love and rescue.

Like the Israelites, we are so forgetful that we need constant reminding. If your child expresses a lack of interest in the same old stories, take your storytelling up a notch: switch in new stories; introduce books of the Bible they haven’t yet read; have them tell you the story instead.

Try beginning with a current event or an anecdote from your or your children’s experiences, then “time travel” into the Scriptures.

Encourage them to connect God’s Word to the situations and challenges they are facing in real life—His Word is alive and active indeed.

Role-model this in your own life, by always allowing the Scriptures to teach, surprise and delight you, as all the best stories do.

May we then grow to know and love His Word more and more, and relish the opportunity to show our children their Saviour. In the words of hymn writer Katherine Hankey,

I love to tell the story;

 ’Tis pleasant to repeat

What seems each time I tell it,

 More wonderfully sweet.

I love to tell the story;

 For some have never heard

The message of salvation

 From God’s own holy Word.


Check out Karen Kwek’s first post in this two-part series, Why Cute Bible Stories Aren’t Enough Part I.

Karen Kwek enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her pastor husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time. Their three sons are now teenagers.
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