Teach them The Story.
I love Sunday School teachers. I especially loved Mrs. McLauren. She was beautiful. She was kind, gentle, and patient. She loved us and we knew it.
Just like you, every Sunday morning, she sat in chairs too small, wiped runny noses, chased little bodies full of energy, and listened to endless chatter without ever telling anyone the family secrets we shared with the whole class.
When I tattled on that boy in the class who never closed his eyes during the prayer, she gently inquired, “Now, I wonder just how you would know about that?” I started to tell her about my special powers that enabled me to see through my righteously-closed eyelids, but I couldn’t lie to Mrs. McLauren. She was right up there near God in my mind.
She taught me many things in second grade Sunday School, but most importantly, Mrs. McLauren taught me to love the Bible. Now you and I are teaching our children to love the Bible. How we do that is important; and sometimes I wonder, while we are teaching Bible stories, if we are teaching the right story.
Many believe the Bible is a collection of inspirational stories or rules intended to teach us how to be loving, giving and kind. Because we all want our children to grow up to be good, morally-sound people, we often, with good intentions, teach them the stories of the Bible with some sort of moral ending to “be like” the hero of the story, or in the case of the antagonist, to not be like that person! Often we hear the wonderful Old Testament stories ending with a charge to be like young David who was brave and stood up to the giant enemy of God, righteous Noah who trusted God and built the ark, or Joshua who was courageous in battle and tumbled walls.
But is it enough that we teach our children morally sound stories? Does morality lead to a relationship with God?
Of course it is true that we learn moral lessons from the Bible. In His loving graciousness, God supplies us with laws and principles in scripture so that “You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you.” (Deut 5.33)
In addition, scripture gives us human examples that point us to righteous living in Christ. Paul instructed the Corinthian church “to imitate me as I imitate Christ.” (1 Cor 11.1) Paul imaged Christ to the Corinthians just as Christians today are called to image Christ to the world.
But is it enough to be imitators? Does imitation lead to a relationship with God?
We need to teach our children to live a moral life and to follow Godly examples, but our children need more than morality lessons and saintly examples to walk in the ways of the Lord. If we want our children to come to understand and cling to saving faith, our teaching should always be in the broader context of the overarching narrative of The Story from Genesis to Revelation.
I understand that Bible characters make really good story telling. Little boys and girls want to be brave like David and slay giants. But just how far can you take the “be like…” approach? Do you really want to teach children to be like this same David who later fell into great sin? No.
Even David, the man after God’s own heart, in whose line would come our Savior, needed a savior himself. Even Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, needed a Savior.
Regrettably, I’ve taught those same “be like…” moral lessons myself in the past. One of my pastors calls them “killer bee” lessons; such a true description because we easily kill the gospel message of the whole Bible when we reduce biblical stories to mere morality lessons.
Here’s the problem with killer bee lessons: Our children do not need to be like David, Noah or Joshua, not like Abraham, Moses, Esther, Paul or any other great but fallen human historical figure. Our children need to grow up “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb 12.2) Our children need to be morally-sound, but more than anything, they need to know God and be like Jesus.
There is a bigger picture, a bigger Story we should be teaching when we teach each of the great stories of the Bible. It is the overarching story of creation, rebellion, redemption, and consummation (or re-creation). Every book of the Bible, every narrative, every piece of poetry, history, wisdom, law and prophecy fits into this greater Story. Teach this greater Story of the Bible every time and show our children where in scripture these truths are given to us.
How should we teach the greater story within each of the great stories of the Bible?
When we teach the life of the brave shepherd boy David, teach younger children that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John:1.29) and defeated evil once and for all. When David is running for his life from King Saul, teach them what it means to live under the authority of the good King Jesus.
When they are older, teach them that it is only by the gift of grace through faith (Eph 2.8-9) that we are adopted into the family of the good King (Rom 8.15) through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Christ, reconciling us to the Father (2 Cor 5.18) and working His will to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom 8.29). Teach them how Jesus is the promised good and perfect King who rules now at the right hand of the Father and over the new heaven and earth to come.
Teach them to find Revelation 17:14 in their Bibles, “… and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Our children do not need to be like King David, they need to come to know and love King Jesus, the only King worthy of our worship and submission.
What child doesn’t like to imagine all the animals peacefully walking two by two into the great ark that Noah built? Happy and smiling little chubby animals hopping into the boat grace nursery walls and fill toy boxes everywhere. That’s fine, but when we teach our children the story of Noah who was good, trusted God and obeyed by building the ark, we need to teach them The Story. Teach them that just as God provided a way for righteous Noah and his family, he provides a way for us to be righteous and secure in Christ today. Teach them the rainbow is a promise from God, and God keeps his promises.
When they are older, teach them the meaning of God’s covenant with the earth, that the ark foreshadows Christ in whom we find refuge from judgment. Teach them that sin ultimately destroys, the sad reality of those outside the ark who refuse refuge in Christ.
Help them find Romans 8:1 in their Bibles where we are promised “… no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Our children do not need to be like righteous Noah who trusted God; they need to learn to trust Jesus who is their righteousness.
I fondly remember the Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho song we learned as children. We would have a blast blowing our hand-made paper horns and marching around imaginary walls that fell after the seventh dizzying round. It was great fun.
Yes, we should keep it fun for our children while they learn the story of Joshua. We just can’t stop there! Teach them the battle against evil is won in Jesus Christ, who gave His life so we may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10.10). Teach them battles are won when God fights the battle, not us. (Ex 14.14)
When they are older, teach them the great responsibility of the church of Jesus Christ to break down walls of injustice, racism and poverty in our world and what it means to be God’s image bearers to the nations. Teach them to find Philippians 4.13 in their Bibles, where we are told we can do all things, not in our own strength, but in Christ who strengthens us and calls us to his purposes.
Our children do not need to be like courageous Joshua, they need to be courageous “in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2.10)
It is our great responsibility to teach The Story: the holy love of the Father, our need for a savior, the provision in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit, how to live today in the hope of that day when Christ makes all things new. (Rev 21.5) The Story echoes throughout the Bible.
Encompassing the Holy Scriptures, The Story is how the Creator and Redeemer God chooses to reveal who He is to His people. The Story is how our children know who God is. It is how we all know who God is. Through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus comes to us in His Word.
Woven into the very fabric of time and eternity, every page of the Bible, even the smallest element of creation, is this Story we are called to teach our children, not only in Sunday School, but also every day “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 11.19) It is the greatest love story of all eternity.
Let us commit together, parents, teachers and the entire covenant community to teach this Story of love, for without the over-arching work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our children cannot be righteous, they cannot be brave, they cannot fight battles, they cannot hope to overcome; they cannot live in their created dignity, worth and purpose.
Without Jesus, our intercessor, they cannot have abundant life, but even more importantly, without Jesus, they cannot know God.
Precious Sunday School Teacher, thank you for how you love our children and use your talents for the Kingdom of God as we raise up this next generation of the people of God. Your very great reward, Christ, will keep these, His covenant children, using you as He works His perfect redemptive plan in them. There is no greater privilege than to be a part of the mission of God.
What a joy it will be to watch them and their children after them come to understand The Story of the Bible and see them live out the gospel message in all the world. You may be the Mrs. McLauren they remember for the rest of their lives because you taught them to love the Bible and to tell The Story.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1Peter 2: 2)
In Partnership with You,