I grew up in church. As I look back there are certain things that have been common practice for decades, maybe even longer. Some of these things are great, but some I think have done some degree of damage. I know this may sound a little extreme, but stick with me. One of these things is our continuous references to the people of the Bible as “characters”. Here is what I mean:
Is Abraham Lincoln a character? When we teach the Bible we tend to refer to the people of the Bible as “characters”. But, do we do this when we teach history? Do we refer to Abraham Lincoln or George Washington as “characters”? No! We talk about them as if they were real people that actually existed. Why? Because they are real people who actually existed. The people of the Bible were also real people who actually existed. For this reason when we teach the Bible, we need to talk about these people as if they were real, because they were.
The holocaust never happened. Ok, I know it happened and it was one of the worst events in human history. However, that didn’t keep some of my father’s seventh graders from doubting that it ever happened. That’s right, they didn’t believe that the holocaust was real. If kids could believe this about an event that happened less that 100 years ago how much easier would it be for them to believe that events that happened hundreds, even thousands of years ago actually happened. It’s important that we teach in such a way that kids hear and can believe that these people were real.
No more Bible Characters. How can we help this problem? For starters, stop referring to the people of the Bible as characters. This makes them sound fictional without intending to. I know that this can take some adjustment, but I think that the result can be great. As you plan lessons and sermons think about how you will talk about the people that are included in the lesson. Take some time to think about the words you currently use and what words you will use in the future. A short time of intentionality can turn this into something that you do without even thinking about it.
What’s the big deal? You may be asking yourself if this really matters. After all, I was raised in churches that referred to the people of the Bible as characters and I came out ok. Certainly this idea is not going to effect everyone. But, it will effect some. If simply changing the way we talk about the people of the Bible can help a kid grow up knowing that the Bible is true and it’s people are real, then that’s what I want to do.
What are some other common practices of the church that might be harming the way that kids think about Jesus, God, The Bible, church, etc? I’d love to hear your thoughts.