Several months ago, my husband and I felt a growing need to provide more guidance and spiritual mentoring for our two children, Emily (11) and Erin (9). Though our girls had always been involved in Sunday-school programs and clubs while Lorne and I attended our own church meetings and Bible studies, we felt there was something missing.
We knew what that something was. We weren?t sharing as a family what we were learning about God. Our children had no idea what exactly we did at a Bible study. In fact, they rarely saw us open a Bible because any personal study waited until they were in bed. While our daughters knew that we were a Christian family, that conclusion came more from the types of meetings we attended than from actually seeing us spend time with God each day.
I really admire families who are disciplined enough to maintain regular devotions. Mine is not one of them. We had tried family devotions when the girls were preschoolers (I think twice counts as "trying"). I hope they cherish those moments.
The yearning to express our faith as a family and the failure to do that consistently sparked an idea. We invited two other families to join us in an all-ages
Bible study. We envisioned something that went beyond just finding things for our children to do while we studied Scripture with other adults. We wanted to create a way for our family to grow closer to God together. Our family Bible study turned out to be one of the most fulfilling experiences we?ve had as a Christian family.
A Surprising Start
Our group of three families, which included seven children ranging in age from 2 months to 11 years, met on Sunday evenings for a potluck supper and
Bible study. As parents, we were so excited about the first meeting that we just assumed our kids would be equally captivated?listening intently and asking sweetly naive yet perceptive questions. That wasn?t exactly the case.
When we finished the meal and were ready to begin the study, we called the kids from the basement where they were just about to start building forts. With varying degrees of enthusiasm they sat down in the living room, Bibles in hand.
Each family had chosen a different Scripture passage about building one another?s faith through teaching and fellowship. These would act as our "mission statement" for the Bible study. As we read, the kids began to make their escape, beginning with the 2-year-old for whom we had set out toys "just in case." It wasn?t long until even our 11-year-old was engrossed in Duplo blocks like she?d never seen them before. So much for our great idea!
But later that evening when I was tucking in our 9-year-old, she asked me for her Bible. I didn?t think anything of it until the next morning when I asked her what she?d read. "Romans, of course," she said. That was the book we?d decided to study the night before and I didn?t think she?d even been paying attention. "Oh, that?s great, Erin! Good for you!" I exclaimed. She responded, "I don?t know why you?re making such a big deal about it. We?re all supposed to read it for next week. That?s what Rich (our leader) told us to do."
So while some things hadn?t worked as well as expected that first night, one goal had already been accomplished: our children felt included as participating members of the group.
Something for Everyone
Despite Erin?s enthusiasm, we realized we had to plan our study so that it had more appeal to younger minds. After that first evening, we started including a "family feature" as part of each Bible study. Remember that our goal was to include children rather than divide the family for separate experiences. These family features were often the most memorable and beneficial parts of the study for children and parents alike. We created plays, told stories and illustrated key parts of Bible passages with drawings we made together. Anything we created during our family features was saved in a scrapbook to remind our children of what we learned and the fun we had doing it.
Our kids actually enjoyed the family features so much that on a camping trip with the group, the children could hardly wait for their Bible-study activity, a Polaroid scavenger hunt. We divided into two groups, each with a list of verses and a Polaroid camera. The goal was to take a picture of something that represented each Bible passage. We came back with pictures of "trees planted by streams of living water," "birds in their nests," "lilies of the field" and even one deer, who, while not exactly panting for water, was chomping on a discarded pancake!
One of the keys to making the family feature work is to make it flexible and age-appropriate so children can participate no matter how young. We found that when the younger children couldn?t (or wouldn?t) participate and instead went off to play, it was more difficult to keep the older kids interested in the study.
After dinner, a time of singing, the family feature and prayer, we?d let the kids go off to play while the adults continued to study the week?s Scripture passage. To our delight, the older children often chose to stay for the whole study.
By meeting as a small group of families, our children built an identity as members of both a Christian family and a small Christian community. Our children contributed to the planning and preparation of family activities and therefore began to learn how to use their gifts. By committing to a group, we were held accountable to the spiritual goals we set. Most of all, we developed a sense of wholeness rather than separateness in the expression of our family?s faith. And that, after all, is exactly what my husband and I were seeking for our girls before this new adventure began.
Julie Deimert is a writer and former elementary school teacher. She and her family live in Alberta, Canada.
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