Telling the whole story of the Bible
How can we teach children the gospel so that it makes sense whatever life throws at them? Our children live in a world that's changeable and hard, and we want them to orient to God and be rooted in him whatever is going on around them.
And the gospel gives us that orientation – life makes sense and we can navigate it confidently when we see the whole picture of who God is, what he has already done and what he is doing now. So our children need to know that story too, but we don’t always tell it to kids very well. In one of our Facebook Live sessions for parents and carers, Rachel talked about how to tell children the whole gospel right from the beginning of their lives so that they can always understand who God is and how he fits in to their world and experiences – whatever age they are.
We’ve added notes below giving an outline of what Rachel said, and to see how that applies for each age group, the videos are below.
Pre-teens and teens
Tell the whole story from the beginning (all ages)
We often tell the gospel in stages (the ‘widening narrative’). Tiny children learn that God loves them and cares for them, but we might not talk about sin or purpose until they get older. The problem with this approach is that if a child has an incomplete gospel, it can be hard to understand why the world is like it is or what God has to do with anything. They need to know the whole gospel right from the beginning so they have the theological framework for them to grow in understanding of God and the world.
But if we tell the gospel as a complete story, life makes sense. Just like you can read the story of Cinderella in a simple board book version or watch a two hour movie of the same story, you can tell the whole gospel age appropriately right from the beginning. The story stays the same: you simply add depth as they grow older.
Figure out how you would tell the whole gospel, and tell that to your kids. This is the version Rachel uses (you can read more about it in chapter 14 of Parenting Children for a Life of Faith – Omnibus Edition):
- God is love and made us to be loved by him and to love those around them
- People walked away from God
- Jesus cleared a way back to closeness with God
- God is active in the world and we can partner with him
- He gives us power through his Holy Spirit to join with him
- One day, it will all be the way God meant it to be
Once you have worked out your whole gospel, step back and think about what holes your child might have in their version on it or where they get stuck? Then you can work on that with them.
The ‘When I am … God is’ tool (under-5s)
Under fives can sometimes make a wrong connection in their head as they figure out who God is, who they are and what life is like. They can believe that God’s love and care for them is related to their behaviour and actions. The ‘when I am … God is’ tool helps correct that. You can see more about this here.
Create windows and frame (5–11s and teens)
As children get older you can use the key tools of creating windows and framing to help them go deeper into the story. Often children have experiences they can’t fit into what they know of God (for example, realising some people are persecuted for their faith, or a pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of people, or why their family is arguing) and we can tie their experiences to the whole gospel as we talk to them. You can also create windows into how the whole story helps you navigate difficult things or persevere with what you do with God (for example, I felt so alone after your dad left but I knew that I could rest in God’s love and be close to him, or I know that it takes a lot of my free time, but I feel that volunteering with the group is something God’s asked me to do to bring his love to those people.) As you frame your answers to their big questions, the whole gospel helps you to orient them to God and his love and purposes so the world makes sense. Stories of other people, friends or Christian biography, will also provide many glimpses of real people living their lives strengthened by their understanding of the gospel.
Wonder together (5–11s and teens)
Talking about who God is creates opportunities to tie in experiences to the whole story. These might be wonderings about specific things you or your child have experienced or are going through at the moment. Asking questions can be helpful: for example, There are times when I’ve struggled to feel loved by God … do you ever feel like that? or I wonder why God hasn’t stopped this pandemic yet? Books like Krish Kandiah’s God is Stranger are a brilliant jumping off point for talking about a God who doesn’t always fit neatly into our boxes yet who is all we need him to be.