In this article, I will be limiting myself to teaching children the Bible in
the classes arranged by the local church. The basic need for parents to teach
their children at home is not in this purview. Also, my comments are mainly
directed to the classes for children up to about eight years of age; that is,
for that age group in which so many "activities" apart from actual Bible
instruction are commonly employed.
What used to be Bible class has in recent decades deteriorated into classes
for physical activities. As a result many children of the present generation are
not learning the Bible in these classes. At best they are learning some things
about the Bible, but not the Bible itself! That which started out as "helps" for
Bible study has supplanted the Bible study, and now the "helps" are in the
forefront and the Bible is in the background as far as emphasis and actual
involvement is concerned. We have put the cart before the horse! Today's
children are all hyped up, overly excited, and conditioned to constant motion,
physical activity and noise. They do not know what quiet, attentive, Bible
learning is. Most young teachers don't know themselves! Today's environment in
many Bible classrooms consists of circular tables (which are not conducive to a
child's concentrating on the teacher's presentation), desk tops covered with
crayons, scissors, construction paper, paste, craft items, and other such
"helps." Children move about the room freely, working in group projects,
talking, chewing gum, laughing and handling different materials for the
"project." Teachers' helpers are running back and forth to a "resources room" to
get supplies, run the copier, laminate, and do other similar tasks. (These
helpers ought to be in adult Bible classes, learning themselves!) When the class
is over, the children gather up their crafts or hand-made projects and head out
to show to their parents "what we learned in Bible class today"!
The thrust of this article is to call attention to the substitution of the
Bible class with what has become more properly a kindergarten, an entertainment
period, an activities hour, and a manual arts session. Bible learning with the
mind has been supplanted by creativity with the hands. We need to ask ourselves,
what is it all about? Is it a Bible class, or an activities class?
It should be noted that there is a place for "helps" (large Bible maps,
charts or posters showing the books of the Bible, and the like). I am not
advocating a classroom devoid of all visual aids. I am not saying that there is
no place for a workbook of some kind. However, aids to the Bible have taken over
the Bible itself and often the children do not even recognize that they are
related to some Bible story. What should be foremost in a Bible class is the
Bible! How can we instill a greater love and reverence for the Bible to our
children when we teach them in our Bible classes? We can do it by using the
Bible itself as our "workbook," so that it is primary in our minds, and by
limiting other materials to mere helps of little comparative significance.
An Actual Case History
A. On an occasion I was asked to take the children's class (7-9 year
olds) for a time.
B. How it was when the class was first taken:
B. Changes made:
- All were noisy, milling about after the bell rang for the beginning
of the class. Those who were seated were sitting on a leg, or otherwise
in some distorted position. Some were chewing gum. There was a circus
atmosphere in general. No one was really serious about beginning a Bible
class. It was obvious to me that the children were hyped up, and ready
- Half were not accustomed to bringing their workbooks with them from
home to class. The cover was missing from one of the workbooks. All
showed signs of abuse and depreciation. One had been left outside on the
lawn and was salvaged by the janitor. This is what I inherited from a
previous Bible class teacher.
- I stopped all talking and casual moving about, and removed all
articles from their hands. They all were seated in proper (normal for
serious learning) fashion, facing me, with nothing to distract them. I
got them out of circles and into rows, to face the teacher and the Bible
from which I was reading. This was new to them! They were now ready to
pay attention and do some Bible learning. They now had no "attention
deficit disorder," because I had removed the disorders that had made
their attention deficient! The "syndrome" was now gone! They were now
normal children, capable of learning great truths.
- I held the Bible in my hands, giving it all of the prominence. I
proceeded to show them what the purpose of the class was by having them
find, for instance, the book of Daniel.
a. They were supposed to already know the order of the books of the
Bible, so they were challenged to quickly find the book of Daniel.
(I did not spoon-feed my students, because they were not babies.)
b. I read to them a particular chapter, slowly and deliberately,
having them listen for details concerning which I would later be
asking them. As I read, I explained certain words beyond their
normal vocabulary, and then continued the narrative. They listened
attentively. They knew that they would be quizzed on the narrative
when I finished it.
c. As I read, I made current, everyday, application of the thoughts
to the lives of the children, thus showing them the relevance of
Bible study and the great need for it.
- Workbooks were filled in only during the last 5 minutes of the
class, after the instruction of the teacher. (The children did real well
a. The workbooks were left in the classroom, ready to be used when
helpful, but not as a principle activity.
- I taught them how to find each memory verse and how it pertained to
the context around the verse.
a. This gave them a good reason for memorizing all the books of the
Bible, rather than going to the index at the front of the Bible and
then finding the page number of the book being sought. Then the
chapter and verse were found. The children learned fast that they
would be challenged to do for themselves what they could. They liked
- I constantly kept before the class the purpose for knowledge of the
Bible for children of their age group: Boys--to be godly teenagers, to
obey the gospel, to later choose godly mates, to strive to be deacons,
and prepare to be elders, preachers, servants in whatever occupation
they might seek. Girls--the same desire to be good Christians, to be
helpful wives, to be good Bible-teachers for the rest of their lives.
Some General Observations
(No special importance is implied in the following order.)
A. Shortly after taking the class, it was common to hear this type of
comment as the class was about to begin: "Mrs. Reeves, will you read us a
story out of the Bible today?", (after that I had begun to teach their
class, reading to them about Daniel). On one occasion, after mentioning the
patience of Job, Jas. 5:11, and commenting on him, a student asked, "Next
time will you read to us about Job?"
The Bible stories must be read in a way comprehensible for the age group
being taught. Difficult words must be explained in simple language, but the
text itself must be read!
B. In reading Job chapter 1, I told the class, "Listen carefully to the
number of children which Job had, and to the number of the different animals
which he had". Later I asked, "Now, how many sheep, how many yoke of oxen,
etc., did he have?" After reading to them the last chapter, they were amazed
at how many of these animals he then had! "Twice as much," they exclaimed.
They even remembered that the number of sons and daughters was the same
before and after his experience of trial. Bible study can be very, very
C. There is a need for godly parents to instruct their children that the
purpose for attending church services is to honor God. It is not a social
activity such as going to school or visiting a friend's house! Often
children are brought to services dressed in play clothes so they can feel
free to run outside and play with others after the services are over. (Yet
the same children many times are more dressed up, and are made to be quiet,
when they attend a wedding or a funeral! What is this teaching the
Some children come to class with a wad of gum or hard candy in their mouths.
No wonder they cannot properly recite or read the memory verse. (They can be
taught to anticipate having gum to chew if they wait until after worship
service, while in the car on the way home. The same can be said for candy.)
It is the parent's job to instruct children ahead of time concerning the
importance of worship, and the conduct which is expected of them. At the
beginning of a quarter when I taught a first and second grade class I asked
them to refrain from playing after services in the church building, running
and playing tag, as well as playing on the grounds around the building. I
explained to them that young trees (which they were climbing) could not
survive their being trampled or climbed, that they were breaking limbs, etc.
Several heeded my exhortation; others let me know that they had permission
from their parents to play outside, "...just don't play in the building."
So, the problem was not with the children but with the parents (who didn't
want to be bothered with supervising their children, but wanted to be free
to converse with friends).
D. Another failure in parenting: many children are not being taught to take
care of their personal property. In the case of the class which I inherited,
the children had been given new workbooks at the beginning of the quarter,
and had been instructed to work on only one lesson at a time. At the end of
the month the cover of one was missing, and another one had been left
outside after an evening service and had been rained on. There was never a
class where at least one student couldn't find his book at home in order to
bring it to class.
Besides, all of the students had been so caught up in the activities part of
their books that they had worked ahead on some of the activities, and not
understanding the directions, had messed up so many that the activities were
useless (when we finally got to them). Because of this, I recalled all of
them and kept them in the class room. I handed them to the students only
after I had read the particular story from the text (Bible). Now they really
enjoyed working to fill out the blanks because they understood the text! The
children simply needed discipline and direction, which thing they had not
been receiving. Children are to be led, not left!
E. Pictures (in workbooks) don't need to be colored in order to make a
point. If the child wants to color a picture, tell him to take it home and
color it! Bible class does not mean art class! Let mothers at home teach the
child to color pictures, if so desired. Crayon coloring is entertainment,
not Bible study. (I am reminded of a similar situation in adult classes, in
which it is customary to have everyone present read a verse of the chapter
being studied. Some can read well, others cannot. But all must be permitted
to participate! So, valuable time is spent in what is only an exercise in
reading, instead of the teacher spending that time in teaching!)
F. Once my husband was to preach for a small group and I was asked to teach
the Bible class. No literature was in the class; I carried my Bible with me
and went to teach this one class of children (of a wide-spread age range).
There we were: the children of all ages, I, and the Bible! A preacher's wife
and their four children, from age 5 to 14, were visiting the congregation,
and the children were in the class. The 14-year old (a rebel-in-the-making)
continued to provoke the youngest sibling (an adopted child), and all four
of them were in constant agitation. I separated them, putting each one in
the four corners of the seating arrangement. I proceeded to read to them
from the book of Daniel, and to teach them some valuable lessons from that
book. (The accounts in Daniel are more thrilling in the divine story than
any man-made story every written.) They were listening and learning. At the
conclusion of the class, the "rebel" asked me if I would teach them a class
like that each night of the gospel meeting!
G. I know of one class of 7 to 8 year olds which prepared birthday cards for
an elderly sister in the church. (If the Bible lesson had to do with "doing
good deeds", the teacher could have suggested that the children at home
prepare and send cards to such a one.) In the case above, one minute was
spent teaching the children to do good, and 44 minutes were spent making the
cards! The Bible class was turned into a crafts class. This case is not an
exceptional one. In many places it is the common practice. Call it what you
may, it is not a Bible class!
H. One of my earliest recollections of Bible study is about an event which
happened the summer I was seven years old. My uncle who was a preacher came
to visit us on our farm in Ohio. He asked me to find my Bible. Turning to
the index in the front that listed all the books of the Bible he challenged
me to learn all 66 of them before he had to go back home a week later. It
sounded like a fun game to me. Three times a day after each meal we drilled
by divisions: the five books of law, then 12 books of history, etc. Then
came the 27 books of the NT. I could say them by the time he left. He told
my mother to have me repeat them at least once a week. On his next visit I
had learned them so well that I could take a deep breath of air and release
the air so slowly that I could recite all 66 books before taking another
breath. With a little practice I can still do it!
Around that same time my mother taught a Sunday afternoon Bible class in our
house and invited the children from our neighborhood. Some ten or so,
between the ages of 5 and 15, came to the class. She taught the life of
Christ, using the Bible and a map of Palestine. After two summers four girls
were baptized. For several years they rode with us to church services, until
we all left home for work or college.
There were no "helps" then, mainly because of the depression, and none were
needed. Many of the school houses were one room buildings. Textbooks
belonged to the state and had to be properly cared for by the students,
checked out and checked in for the school year. Parents had to pay for any
abused or missing books, so parents saw to it that the children gave the
books proper care. This is what is lacking in our day and time, as churches
buy the "helps" and little teaching is done by the parents concerning care
for the printed materials.
When I am asked to teach a children's class, I want the students to have the
same familiar feelings that I as a child had for the Bible. So, I read them
the accounts directly from the Bible text. It doesn't matter which workbook,
if any, we might be using at the time.
I. On one occasion, my husband went to El Salvador, Central America, to give
a series of all-day Bible studies to adults. They, along with their
children, had come from a number of different towns to attend the three day
series. This is a very poor country, of course. He told me that, while he
was presenting his studies to the adults, two or three teenage girls were
teaching about 30 children of all ages. They had no "helps" of any kind, not
even maps! There they were, all of them in a big room off of the main
auditorium (the whole building was simply what we call a "pole barn" - poles
holding up a roof)! The children's class went on for hours, just as the
adult class did. (They all had brief "breaks" every hour and a half.) These
teen girls taught the children all day long, using only the Bible. The
children were sitting in view of their parents. There was no moving around
to get drinks or running to the bathroom. What and how much do you suppose
the children learned during that class situation of three days? Maybe in El
Salvador that strange disease, called Attention Deficit Syndrome, or
Disorder, hasn't arrived yet! For many there, never having had all the
"helps" (crayons, workbooks, paste, scissors, etc.), their poverty has been
a great blessing to them!
Parents: concerning the Bible classes in the local congregation, love your
children enough to see to it at home, long before the class hour, that the
children have their Bible class lessons ready, that they understand why they are
going to the classes, what is expected of them, and otherwise show your interest
in their learning great lessons from the Word of God. After each class, ask them
about what they learned and encourage them in making application of the lessons.
Finally, exalt the Bible before them in your own daily use of it.