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Parent-Led Bible Education

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #84, 2008.

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Melissa Morgan

If you could be a fly on the wall in the average 19th century American home, you wouldn’t see modern technology, but you would see something startling: family devotions. Almost unknown and forgotten today, parent-led Bible education was the norm not so long ago. Fathers usually led family devotions, often using only a Bible, although some families also owned a catechism, The Book of Common Prayer and hymnals.

We can follow the examples from textbooks that our ancestors used, such as McGuffey Readers, which seamlessly incorporated Bible teaching into daily lessons in all subjects. How? Via free Internet resources such as this excerpt from a 19th century history text:

“The Bible and the institutions of Christianity are with us, and are presenting to us all the blessings which religion can impart . . . Let but the spirit, the practical wisdom, the religious integrity of the first planters of our soil, prevail among rulers and subjects-let God be acknowledged, by giving that place to his word and institutions which they claim-and all these blessings are ours.

. . . yes, happy is that people whose God is the Lord.”-A History of the United States of America, page 296, 19th Century Textbooks Here.

In the manner of our ancestors, we can begin seeking God’s kingdom in our own home. We can practice family devotions at any time, but it makes sense to associate it with eating, rising in the morning and bedtime, since we do these things every day. Our Lord said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)

We teach our children best by our example of how we use our time, to value those activities which mean the most to us. A simple, sincere prayer before meals and a brief Bible reading after dinner can be a start. To add interest, you could listen to audio-visual Bible resources. Many families (including ours!) can focus on eating together at the table more often, if that has been a problem. After a short Bible passage, parents can ask simple, open-ended questions, such as “What do you think that Bible verse means?” or “How does that apply today?” As a family, consider using supplemental resources such as concordances and Bible handbooks, to help understand any difficult verses.

Don’t feel pressured. You don’t need resources you can’t afford. Seek out inexpensive resources that integrate Bible teaching into everyday life and that recognize the Bible as the preeminent authority. First, consider using materials from your church library and denominational resources. In our throwaway society, it’s easy to find inexpensive or even free Bible resources. In the past, our family has used free daily devotionals (such as Daylights, gccweb.org/gcc/daylights), Bible study/ apologetics books (Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door by Josh McDowell), and Bible story books (The Bedtime Bible Story Book by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut). At a thrift shop, we purchased a second hand copy of The Story of the Christian Church (copyright 1933), by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, and we’ve found numerous Bible resources at dollar stores, library discard sales, and even garage sales.

Although free and inexpensive resources abound, you can afford to be picky. Mary Pride’s Big Book of Home Learning can help you evaluate Bible and character-building resources. Look for materials that you can use with all ages in your household, and for more than one subject. For instance, you might want to practice writing Bible verses for handwriting.

Avoid Bible study programs that require extensive preparation time, as they may cause discouragement. Seek resources that complement your teaching style and your child’s learning style. Do you like to teach using visual aids such as Biblical movies, hands on materials like dot-to-dot coloring activities, or do you prefer just reading out loud with question and answer formats? Do your children learn best when they can move to an mp3 Bible lesson, or do they like to sit and listen to their parents read? It pays to tailor your lesson to your learner, and look for teachable moments that make learning memorable.

The Internet offers an inexhaustible source of Bible resources. Here are just a few to try:

As much as possible, show-don’t tell, especially when you’re teaching young children. The Bible often uses the concrete to illustrate the spiritual and abstract. The Old Testament practice of circumcision and the New Testament ceremony of foot washing are two examples. You can hold concrete objects in your hands, feel that they are real, smell them (in the case of foot washing!), and gradually internalize a deeper spiritual truth. A Bible comic book, puzzle, board game, or computer game (such as Captain Bible) can make memorizing verses fun. Hands on resources can also help keep little hands occupied during family devotions, if that is a challenge. Materials like 20 Bible Verses Every Child Should Know, a book/CD set published by Focus On the Family, helps young hearers memorize Bible verses. Strengthen hands-on learning with auditory methods, such as a song or a rhyme. God’s Words to Live By offers full chapters of the Bible put to music.

Holidays and vacations present golden opportunities to demonstrate to your children what matters to your family. Bring a CD or mp3 player and listen to Bible memory resources on trips. Find more ideas in books such as Thanksgiving Unit Study CD-ROM by Amanda Bennett, and A Family Guide to Biblical Holidays: with Activities for All Ages by Robin Sampson and Linda Pierce. We can learn the Biblical view of holidays such as All Saint’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, National Day of Prayer, and other religions (see World Religions Made Easy: An Easy-to-Understand Pocket Reference Guide by Mark Water). Books such as James Dobson’s Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration focus on the spiritual meaning for Christian holidays, and can help families downplay secular, materialistic overtones.

If we spend time praying and reading the Bible as a family, our children understand that means more to us than if we spent the same amount of time attending sporting events, playing video games or using the Internet. Not to say that we can’t teach our children about the Bible, wherever we go. We can use the Internet as a family Bible study resource, and a concordance as a guide to Bible unit studies. For instance, before a sporting event, you might search for words pertaining to sports such as “strong,” “fast,” and “weak.” What does the Bible say about sportsmanship? Is winning really everything? We can spend time as a family praying about those activities which we deem worthy of our time and efforts. Involve all the children, as much as they are able. Older children who are reading independently can take turns reading Bible passages, and even young ones can repeat short Bible verses.

You may even celebrate informal family communion, worship, and devotionals with friends and family. Consider reaching out and ministering to other families in your neighborhood; host a backyard Bible club through Child Evangelism Fellowship. Child Evangelism Fellowship also offers free and inexpensive Bible courses through their website.

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 tells us that “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” This command is addressed to all of us, not just to pastors or Sunday school teachers. If we make family devotions a natural part of our every-day life, our faith can endure to the next generation and beyond.

Melissa L. Morgan is the co-author of Educational Travel on a Shoestring and Homeschooling on a Shoestring. With her husband, Hugh, she has homeschooled their three children from birth, taking advantage of many educational opportunities in the real world. She invites you to visit her website here.

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