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Studying the Bible as a Family

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Have you relied wholly on the church to teach your kids Scripture? God says that's your job as their parent. Here how you can help your children learn about God's Word.

My first church service in Kazakhstan was an eye-opening experience. For one, the gathering lasted three hours and included three sermons! As a guest preacher, I sat on the stage facing the audience. I could see up into the balcony, where all the children sat. A few adults sat scattered among them. I wondered why the children weren’t learning in a more age-appropriate setting.

Later, I asked my hosts, “Don’t you have a Sunday school for the children?” Their blank look revealed that they didn’t understand my concern. “Their parents teach them” was their simple explanation.

At the time, I thought that answer was . . . well, weird. Didn’t the church want to teach kids the Bible? But maybe their approach wasn’t really so strange. After all, the Bible states that it is the responsibility of parents to impress God’s Word on children.

Now, I’m a firm believer in children’s ministry, and today that church in Kazakhstan has developed a thriving kids’ program. But I also think that, in today’s fast-paced culture, it’s too easy for loving, well-meaning parents to rely entirely on the church for the teaching of the Scripture. God says it’s the job of parents to lead their children in studying God’s Word.

So how can we make this a priority every day? I think one of the clearest models for studying Scripture as a family is found in the pages of Scripture itself. God, through His servant Moses, gives families a pattern from which to organize family study of God’s Word:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)

When you sit . . .

Think about the phrase “when you sit in your house” for a moment, and consider how it might relate to Bible study in a modern home:

It is planned. Taking the time to study Scripture probably wasn’t easy in the time of Moses—and they didn’t even have the distraction of television. Likewise, spiritual training isn’t going to get done nowadays unless you set aside time to study together as a family. As your kids get older, help them carve out regular, daily time to read God’s Word. Your goal is to teach them to study Scripture on their own.

It is structured. Planning time for study leads to the need for an orderly approach. Is it a chapter of Scripture a day, along with questions to answer, or a thematic approach using a Bible reading guide? Is it memorizing a series of key Scripture verses together as a family? For older kids, are you providing age-appropriate materials that foster independent study?

It includes mealtimes. Guiding conversation around the truths of God’s Word, especially with young children, is a great way to make the most of mealtime. Focus on questions that guide basic worldview, talking about how biblical truths influences their lives. As kids get older, give them opportunities to share their experiences about how scriptural truth relates to their life at school and to the views of their friends.

When you walk . . .

Today we might also read this as, “When in the car.” What we communicate in the times between the events of life is the complement to what we communicate at home:

It’s unplanned and unstructured. Whatever is happening around you, there are always teachable moments. An impressive sunset or thundercloud, the actions of someone nearby, an overheard song or newscast—are all opportunities to link biblical truth to life. Help the Word of God become relevant to the world your children are processing. As kids get older, move from teachable moments to “talkable” moments—times when you give them opportunity to discuss their opinions on how biblical principles might be applied to difficult life scenarios.

It includes real-life events. I recently told my grandchildren a story about how a mechanic had given me too much money back after I’d paid him. In fact, I’d gotten nearly $15 extra back! “Wasn’t that cool?” I asked. My grandkids certainly didn’t think it was cool. “You should have given it back,” they said. “Why?” asked their mom. “That’s like stealing,” the kids responded. “And God says we shouldn’t steal.”

They got it. And I assured my family that I did give the money back.

When you lie down, and when you rise . . .

I don’t imagine homes were very big in Moses’ day, and it would have been easier for the whole family to talk together as they were falling asleep. But the principle of review and reflection at the end of the day is just as critical today. Recite encouraging Scripture verses and pray together with your kids when you say goodnight. Then, in the morning, do the same to prepare for the new day. 

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand . . . write them on the doorposts of your house . . .

Remember those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets? They were designed with the idea that continual exposure to truth helps influence our decisions. We can do the same thing by keeping Scripture before our kids’ eyes at home.

Just as we heed the signs that help our society function, we need to treat God’s Word like important information, worth hanging in prominent locations. Plaques and Scripture memory notes placed strategically around the home provide a continuous reminder of the purpose and foundation of your family. 

Truth and relevance: We need them both

What I love about the pattern in Deuteronomy 6 is the appeal to balance. Structured teaching times are not enough because, on their own, they become an academic exercise with little application to life. Children can excel at Bible quizzes and have the answer in Sunday school but still be unsure how Scripture should guide them at soccer practice. But neither can parents only be spontaneous, as they are likely to miss core truths.

Teaching kids biblical principles is a challenging undertaking. But your willingness to teach God’s Word is the first and most important step. The famous Christian educator Henrietta Mears said, “Not your responsibility, but your response to God’s ability counts.”

Just be diligent. And God will use you.

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