Take a few minutes and ask yourself some questions:
- What can I do during the grade school years to prepare kids for the teen years?
- What does a spiritually strong 10-year-old look like?
- What type of skills does s/he have?
This is at the top of my list: When fifth graders graduate to youth ministry, I want them to have a habit of reading the Bible on a daily basis.
Do a random survey. Ask your fourth and fifth graders this question, “How many of you read your Bible every day?” I find that most Christian kids do not read their Bibles. They know the Bible stories. They have watched all the Veggie Tales videos, but they don’t read the Bible for themselves.
The reason they don’t is quite simple. They never have. Most kids who grow up in church have never picked up a Bible and read it for themselves, or maybe they tried one time and it was too difficult for them, because they didn’t understand the big words.
What can we do about it?
The solution is to develop a Bible reading strategy for church and for home. Kids are not going to read the Bible just because we preach to them to “read your Bible.” We need to have a plan to help them develop this skill. The kids who are reading the Bible every day do so because their parents taught them to read the Bible.
Choose an appropriate Bible for kids.
Choosing a good kids’ Bible can seem overwhelming. I did a search on Amazon.com and found over 100 choices, so which one is the right one? For the purpose of this article, I am focusing on children who are 8-11 years old. (For kids under eight, you will want to pick out one of the many good Bible storybooks.)
First, make a decision about which translation is best for your kids. Once you make a decision about translation, you can eliminate 90% of the kids’ Bibles. This greatly simplifies your choice.
There are three types of Bible translations.
- Word-to-Word Translation. This includes the King James Bible (KJV) and the New American Standard (NAS). Many people consider this type of translation to be the most accurate as the scholars translated the scriptures one word at a time to preserve the original sentence structure. The down side of the “word to word” translation is that they can be difficult to read, especially for children.
- Thought-for-Thought Translation. This includes the New International Version (NIV) and New Living Translation (NLT). The goal of this theory of translation is to produce the closest natural equivalent of the thought expressed by the original text. The “thought for thought” translations are easier to read; however, the scholars have made some judgment calls. They are not considered as accurate as a “word to word” translation.
- Paraphrase Translation. This would include The Message Bible and The Living Bible. These translations are written in modern English and easy to read; however, one man usually does all the writing, so they are not considered to be literal translations.
Personally, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is my favorite for Bible study, but it is at a tenth grade reading level. For kids, I like the NIV. If the goal is getting kids to actually read the Bible, then it is critical that we use a Bible that is easy for kids to read.
Here is a helpful link to a Translation Comparison Chart: http://www.apbrown2.net/web/TranslationComparisonChart.htm
Once you’ve made a decision about translation, I suggest taking a trip to your local Christian bookstore to look at the selection of kids’ Bibles.
You will want to ask the following questions:
- How large is the print?
- How heavy is the paper?
- Should I purchase a soft cover or hard cover Bible?
- Are the colors attractive to children?
- Are the charts and supplemental materials helpful or distracting?
As you answer these questions, keep in mind the goal is to purchase a Bible that encourages your kids to read the Bible.
After you have done your research, I suggest involving your kids in the process of making this decision. You can do this by selecting three Bibles you feel good about and then let the child make the final decision. This will give them a sense of ownership for “their” Bible.
Let your child take their Bible for a test drive by asking them to read a few verses in the Gospel of John. If they are struggling with the words, you may need to pick a different translation. (This may seem like a lot of work just to pick out a Bible for your child, but think about how much work you put into preparing dinner for one day.)
Of course, you may pick out the perfect Bible for your kids, but there is no guarantee they’re going to read it. In fact, if you just hand them the Bible, the chances are they won’t read it. Including them in the decision gives them buy-in to the idea. You need to have a strategy for helping your kids develop the habit of reading their Bible.
Here are some suggestions for developing reading habits.
- Have a regular time of the day that you sit down with the family for 10-15 minutes. (Keep it short.)
- Pick one Bible story to read.
- Focus on the Gospels, Acts and the historical books.
- Make sure everyone has the same translation.
- Go around the circle. Everybody gets a turn reading a few scriptures at a time.
- After reading the Bible story, ask this question, “What did you get out if it?”
- If nobody has anything to say, then read the story again. Eventually, they will get the point that you want them to use their brain when they read the Bible. This is key!
- Use the same system at church during small group time with your third–fifth graders.
- If one child is not a good reader, then give them a pass on the reading part.
- I encourage you to build Bible reading into your programs at church.
Kids need to know how to read the Bible and get something out of it. It’s the most important discipleship skill you can teach your kids, because it’s the primary way that God speaks to us today. Ten to fifteen minutes per day is all it takes.
Pastor, filmmaker and coach, Mark Harper has over 30 years of experience in the local church. He is the creator of Club Hero and the Super Church curriculum, which is used in over 5,000 churches. SuperChurch.com, ClubHero.net