Written by Nathanael Vissia
Like buildings, faith is built one story at a time. A gift of the Bible is that it stacks numerous human experiences of God until an understanding of the divine emerges. At the same time, the faith stories provide anecdotal dos and don'ts for how we can best interact with God and what to expect when we do.
Therefore, the better we know the stories of our faith, the stronger we make the foundation upon which we live our own faith life. The same is true for our children and their faith.
If you think about what Jesus taught the disciples, you might also notice what Jesus didn't teach them. He didn't teach them about who the patriarchs, the judges, the kings or the prophets of Israel were. He didn’t need to do this basic level of teaching because the disciples already knew these stories.
We need to provide the same preparation for our own children as the disciples received before they were disciples.
The fancy word for knowing the stories in the Bible is Biblical literacy. Achieving Biblical literacy needs to be a primary goal of Christian education and benefits greatly with help from the parent(s) at home.
Before discussing what Biblical literacy is, let's be clear about what the Bible and Biblical literacy is NOT: It is not the memorization of verses. It is not a weapon of judgement to be leveled at those we disagree with. It is not a conglomeration of rules summarized as, "Life's instruction manual." It is not a way to show off and “prove” that we are Christians. And, it is most certainly not about ensuring our entry into heaven (because God’s salvation does not come from text).
Instead, Biblical literacy is primarily about increasing one's familiarity with the stories of the Bible and the characters in those stories. It is also about gaining a better understanding of the setting (i.e. environment and context) that the stories and characters are placed in. Finally, Biblical literacy offers context and depth to our spiritual language.
The best way to achieve Biblical literacy is to start young. At home, the best approach
is for the parent(s) to share the stories with their children, to read the stories
After reading a story, talk about what happened in the story. What were the names of the characters? Who did what? And why did they do it?
The point is not to imbue the children with theology (a certain set of perspectives
of God), but to help them be familiar with the faith stories. Talk about the characters
and the stories in the same way you do with sports figures: With respect and astonishment
and on a first-
In Sunday school, the approach, especially with the younger ages, is much the same: To plan, begin by selecting stories to share throughout the school year. Consider spending more than one class on each story (the Workshop Rotation Model is a fantastic approach to teaching the same story for more than one week. See the side column for more information).
In the actual classrooms, create lessons that ask questions about who the characters were in the stories. Ask the students to think of the other stories they know these characters from. Remind the students of when the story takes place in relationship to those other stories that those characters appear in.
The activities of each lesson should be geared toward helping the students remember and think about the characters and their actions and motivations in the story. Yes, sometimes there will be concepts (like prayer and worship and discipleship) that need to be taught as well. But, again, Biblical literacy should always be a primary teaching objective of the curriculum.
When habits in the home and Sunday school teaching objectives are in agreement about achieving Biblical literacy, then we are well on our way to creating a strong, solid foundation for the Church’s next chapter of disciples, our children. There is no reason not to do this. And plenty of good reasons TO do this. If you and your church don’t have Biblical literacy stated as a primary goal of Sunday school, now is a good time to change because it is NEVER too late to get started.
An essential teaching objective for Sunday school
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