Earnest Christian parents want to help their children learn to read, understand, trust, and love the Bible. But most of us find this to be a significant, even daunting, challenge. The Bible is big and complex enough to intimidate adults. How do we help our children get to know the most important book ever assembled and begin to develop habits of enjoying it daily?
There is no simple formula for success here. Each child is different, and the Holy Spirit works in different ways and at different times with each one. But I have found certain means of grace that generally prove effective. As a parent of five children, as well as a pastor, I’ll share eight that I’ve found helpful.
1. Give Them a Bible They Enjoy
Have you ever given your children their own Bible? If they do not have one, invest in one. And buy the best Bible you can afford, one your children will enjoy picking up and looking at, one that communicates how special and valuable this book is.
“Each child is different, and the Holy Spirit works in different ways with each one.”
Bible publishers produce beautiful Bibles with quality covers and paper. You might consider a children’s study Bible. Crossway has just published the Illuminated Bible, and as soon as my teens saw it, they all wanted to hold it, flip through it, and read it.
Give your children a Bible that exudes value, beauty, and quality, one that sends its own powerful message.
2. Give Them an Example to Follow
Having said that, the best of Bibles will eventually just sit on a dusty shelf if our children don’t see us reading our own Bibles consistently, enthusiastically, and joyfully.
As a child, I could never understand why my father would get up long before anyone else just to read his Bible before going to work. I also remember puzzling over my sick grandmother’s habit of reading her Bible at every opportunity. Why would anyone who’s so old want to read the Bible so much? Although I didn’t understand this as a child, both examples made a deep impression on me that affects me consciously and unconsciously even to this day.
3. Give Them a Compelling Motive
One young man I know finds it hard to get out of bed in the morning for work. Sometimes he hits snooze six times. We’ve talked about it, and though he’s a hard worker, he’s lost sight of the why in his work, which makes it hard to stay motivated. The why isn’t big enough to make him want to get up when the alarm goes off.
If we want our kids to read the Bible, we need to give them a big why. “Just do it!” is not sufficient. Why read the Bible every day? Because, along with the faithful preaching of God’s word, regular Bible reading is the primary and usual way God speaks to us today. The Scriptures are not just words of wisdom to make our lives better, but the words of eternal life that can make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
4. Give Them a Clear, Manageable Plan
Once we supply the why, we need to provide the how. How do they go about this? Where do they start? How much should they read each day? Should they read in the Old or New Testament?
“If we want our kids to read the Bible, we need to give them a big Why.”
We need to give them a clear, manageable plan, or else they will just jump around the Bible, and, with no sense of purpose or progress, they will eventually give up. Ideally, the plan will gradually take them through the most important parts of the Bible in daily, manageable readings. There are many Bible reading plans out there, or you could make up your own plan tailored to your children. (I’ve outlined one approach in Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids.)
Don’t think you need to hit on the perfect plan right away. Pray for the Spirit’s guidance and help your children experiment till you find a plan that seems to work for them.
5. Give Them Questions to Ask
When I was a kid, my dad tried various strategies to make me read the Bible, but the most effective was asking questions. Sometimes he gave me a simple question to answer related to what I was reading. This ensured that I had to read the passage to find the answer, but it trained me to ask questions of the Bible. It built a habit of interacting with the Scriptures so that I didn’t read it passively but actively. The questions were usually about the content of the passage, but as I got older, the questions would move into meaning and application.
The questions I’ve tried to train my children to ask are: What does this passage teach us about God? About sin? About salvation? About Christ? About the gospel? About life in this world and the next? You might have other questions. But teach them to query the text.
6. Give Them Answers When They Have Questions
Your kids are going to have questions of their own about texts they don’t understand or about the Bible’s reliability. You should welcome this. Ask them regularly if they have any questions about what they are reading. Let them know that you want them to come to you with questions about the Bible and especially about how it relates to their own lives.
They might ask questions you can’t answer. That’s okay. Just tell them that you will study and find out the answer, or ask a pastor or mature Christian for input. Whatever they ask, make sure you take it seriously and always get back to them with an answer if you want them to keep asking.
7. Give Them Encouragement to Keep Reading
One of the best habits we formed as a family was to gather for 10–15 minutes when we got home from church on Sunday morning in order to discuss their Bible readings in the past week. We would check if they had answered their questions and provide an opportunity to discuss what they had learned.
As the kids have gotten older, we don’t do that as much. Instead, we try to informally talk to them about what they are reading. But just showing an ongoing interest, and communing in God’s word for even a few minutes from time to time, encourages our kids to keep reading.
8. Give Them Grace in Their Failures
Like you, your kids are going to fail. They’ll forget to read. They’ll pretend they’ve read. They’ll be lethargic and lazy. They’ll give you all sorts of excuses. Don’t give up. Give them grace!
“One of the best gifts you’ll ever give to your children is familiarity with the Bible and its message.”
If your children aren’t born again, they will disappoint you in this area again and again. Don’t give up. Give them grace! The more legalistic among them might turn Bible reading into works-righteousness. Give them grace. Keep pointing them to the grace of Christ and his gospel to cover their sins and to motivate their obedience.
One of the best gifts you’ll ever give to your children is familiarity with the Bible and its message. Give them a Bible they enjoy, give them an example to follow, give them a compelling motive, give them a clear, manageable plan, give them questions to ask the Bible, give them answers to their questions about the Bible, give them encouragement to keep reading, and give them grace in their stumbles and failures.