Faith at Home, Part 2: The B-I-B-L-E!

I grew up on the Bible. I was in AWANA for 10 years and could quote large swaths of Scripture at one point in my life. I’ve maintained my super church-nerdy party trick of being able to say all the books of the Bible in order… each testament in just one breath.

But in leaving the evangelical church and finding a new home in a mainline denomination, I realized that we mainliners tend to struggle with biblical literacy. 

And I get it. When I started seminary, my kids were 1, 3, and 5 years old. I had already deconstructed my theology to the point that I no longer believed every word of the Bible was inerrant and I no longer claimed to accept a literal interpretation. My new hermeneutic was that that the Bible is true and is an authority, but not that it was historically factual nor the only authority.

photo of child reading holy bible

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

That presented a problem; I wasn’t sure how to teach about the Bible to my kids, whose brains were not developed enough to consider nuance and abstract concepts like “true but not fact.” I remember in my very first Bible class, full of exasperation, I said, “So what do I tell my kids?!?! How can I teach them these Bible stories as true, if they didn’t historically happen? What do I do?!?!”

And my professor, Dr. Jerry Sumney, gently replied, “You still teach them the stories. They’ll understand more as they get older, but your job isn’t to wait. Teach them Scripture now, and nuance will come later.” 

He was right. Just because I don’t believe that David factually, historically killed Goliath with one small pebble doesn’t mean we can’t learn about facing giants that seem too big to defeat.

I heard it once said (by whom, I can’t remember) that some of these Bible stories are “more-than-true.” They aren’t fairy tales or myths, but they also aren’t historical records of fact. They are more-than-true. They embody the great stories of our faith, our God, and our humanity. 

A few years ago I used Sparkhouse’s Echo the Story with the youth group I was leading, and that’s when I started to wrap my mind around this. These stories that are now in our Bible — and particularly Hebrew Scriptures (what we sometimes call the Old Testament) — were verbally passed down from generation to generation, not recorded for hundreds of years. Imagine a family sitting around a fire: a tired mom and dad from a hard day of labor, kids everywhere, and a loving grandmother who spent each night telling bedtime stories, stories of their people and their God. About giants and towers and a talking snake and a great flood. 

Ever since then, I’ve used adapted prompts from the Echo the Story material every time I approach a text, whether for sermon preparation, personal use, or with my own kids:

What does it teach us about God?
What does it teach us about ourselves, individually?
What does it teach us about humanity?
Why was it important enough to write down? 

In the previous Faith at Home post, I wrote about talking to your kids about congregational worship. But what if we took some of those same ideas and practiced them throughout the week?

When my kids learned to read, we gave them each their own Bible (not story Bible). If they can read chapter books, they can read the Bible! Maybe you could even read together as a family – either out loud in the same room, or follow the same reading plan and have one night set aside each week to talk about what you’ve read (using the questions above as a guide) over dinner. 

That said, the Bible is intimidating. It isn’t a story from start to finish; there are dozens of authors and multiple genres. So where to start?

The Gospels – Mark is the shortest and most action-packed; Luke is my favorite because of his emphasis on women. 

Genesis – Why not start at the beginning? The first 11 chapters or so are particularly interesting and full of well-known stories. 

Look up some other stories you already know and read them straight from Scripture! 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of David and Goliath. The book of Jonah (only 4 chapters) tells the whole story of the great fish. The resurrection of Tabitha/Dorcas is found in Acts 9:32-43. Want to know where to find something? Google it!

Compare the same story in different Gospels. For example, Jesus walking on water is in Matthew 14:22-34, Mark 6:45-53, and John 6:15-21. Compare and contrast how the tellings of the story are different. (For a fun activity, think of a memory in your family, of a vacation or special event. Ask everyone to write the story down without talking about it, then take turns reading them out loud. This helps explain why each author includes different details or might have had a different source about it!)

Reread the Sunday School or sermon Scripture throughout the week. No teacher or pastor can talk about everything in the text, so explore it some more as a family! 

Just for Fun… My favorite story that people have no idea is in the Bible is found in Judges 3:12-30. If you have a kid who loves “bathroom humor,” they’ll love this one…

That last one brings me to a point worth mentioning: The Bible is full of violence and vulgarity. As a parent, I am very intentional with what media my kids consume, and let me tell you, there are things in the Bible that are not G-rated! That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to talk with them about what they’ve read, and read along with them — but don’t use that as a reason to avoid Scripture altogether! As an adult, it can even be interesting to read some of the details that Sunday school material conveniently leaves out! (Read Genesis 9:18-28 and try to remember if you were taught that part of Noah and the ark as a kid…)

We can all experience the love of God through Scripture — about a Teacher who gathered children close, about a Spirit of Comfort who is more powerful than our fears, about how we always have hope.

And those are stories worth hearing, no matter our age. 

 

** My next post will be a list of children’s bibles and translations I recommend. In the meantime, I’ll say that for kids, my favorite translation is the Common English Bible!

Faith at Home, Part 1: Talking about Worship

In this Faith at Home series, I will be sharing some of the ways Jonathan and I have intentionally parented our kids (currently ages 7, 9, and 11) in a way that centers our Christian faith and faith-based values. My philosophy of pastoring and parenting is “That church would be an integral part of the life of the children, and that children would be an integral part of the life of the church.” Each article will focus on one way we strive to embody that philosophy.

Screen Shot 2019-05-15 at 3.49.12 PMI grew up as a pastor’s kid in a family with ritual Sunday dinner: Once everyone washome from church, we would gather at the table with pot roast, potatoes, biscuits, gravy, and all of our stories from the morning to share. I learned life-long lessons around that table, about the flow of worship, about how to handle unexpected things gone wrong while on the platform, about dynamics of church people and church leadership. I learned that I was a participant in church, not a spectator, even from a young age.

While the ritual in our family looks different, we have similar conversations with our own kids, so it is no surprise that they are actively engaged with worship. As a pastor’s family, we discuss openly the ins-and-outs of church life, particularly around the worship service itself. And, when we visit other churches, we do the same thing: we talk about the service and sermon extensively — the things we appreciate… and the things we don’t. (Lest you think we only critique other sermons, my kids are quite quick to tell me if they disagree with something I’ve said!) This also helps the transition out of children’s church into “big church” (more on that in the future!). 

One of the reasons we do this is because, when our kids grow up and leave the house, we want them to be able to visit a church and have the tools to discern whether it is a good fit, based on more than just whether they “liked” it! We would not send our kids out in the world without teaching them how to operate a stove or a washing machine; we would not expect them to ace college statistics without having fourth-grade math to build on. And yet, sometimes that’s what families seem to expect our kids to do with their faith communities: we hope they’ve absorbed what’s important over the years, but we never really check in to see what’s sinking in and how they experience it. Talking about what happens at church on Sunday morning offers our kids a lens to participate in a faith community throughout their lives. 

How do Jonathan and I talk to our kids about church? Here are some practical conversation-starters in our family, that you can use or adapt to integrate into your own family. It’s never too late to start! And though it might seem awkward at first, the more you return to these questions, the more freely the conversation will flow. I’ve also found that, when the kids know they’ll be talking about it later, they engage with the service as it is happening. 

  • Ask open-ended questions about worship. Instead of asking “Did you like it?,” ask “What was one thing that surprised you?” “Was there anything that confused you or you didn’t understand?” “What did you feel when the pastor said _____?” “What did you feel during the special music/anthem?” “What did you learn or hear about God today?” Then — here is the most important part — really listen to their answers! They might surprise you with some of the things they come up with! **
  • Ask them to tell you their Sunday School or Children’s Church Bible story. There is no better way to learn than to teach, so asking them to re-tell you the story they learned is a fantastic way to cement it in their minds… and to open doors to talk about things they might have misheard or misunderstood (like when one of my kids said they needed to get an idol, because the people in their Bible lesson had idols…) .
  • Ask other questions about the morning. These might be the same questions you’d ask after school or other activities:  “What was your favorite song we sang?” “Who did you talk to or play with today?” “What excites you about next week?”
  • Share your own thoughts and experiences! Kids model what we do. Integrating faith into our families is not one-sided; we never have it all figured out and need to share what we learn! Church is a community, where people of all ages are equally important. You might say something like: “You know, when the pastor said ____ I thought/felt/observed that ____.” “I connected with this sermon because ___ has been going on at work recently, and I could see that situation in a different way.” “I disagreed when the pastor said ____” (yes, that’s okay too!). “During communion I wondered about ___.” “I’ve never thought about ____ in that way until this morning.”
  • Connect your own faith story. For example, if you sang a song that you remember from your childhood, share why that song was meaningful for you. If the sermon text was a Scripture that comforted you in a difficult time, tell your kids about that! Do your kids know why your faith matters to you? This is a natural, wonderful way to talk about it.


What other ideas do you have? What are some of the ways your family discusses and decompresses your Sunday morning worship experiences? Share in the comments! 

 

** The thumbnail photo in this post is a notes-taking sheet for worship services I created – it is suitable for kids but not for kids only! I’m happy to email a .pdf of it to you; leave a message here or email me at revsaranavefisher (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll pass it along! 

Sticky Faith for Youth: Wow, Pow, Holy Cow, How

11041219_10205495899893173_6539258005921909942_nIf you are moderately interested in the church world and haven’t been living under a rock for the past week or so, you’re familiar with Pew’s recent report. Blogs upon blogs upon blogs have been written analyzing this report, but it instilled in me a sense of excitement about my job ministering to and with my church’s youth. How can we encourage the faith of kids and teens in such a way that they will WANT to continue being a part of the church in their adulthood? Do they see themselves as a integral part of the church now, or as an afterthought?

I am using the book The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family to spend the summer encouraging the parents of our teens to implement some of these ideas at home (and implementing them with my own kids!).

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Every night at dinner, the Smithson family discusses four topics related to their day: Wow, Pow, Holy Cow, How.

WOW is the best part of their day.
POW is the worst part of their day.
HOLY COW is something in their day that pointed them to God.
HOW is an opportunity in their day to be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

As family members share their experiences for each topic, the Smithsons discuss everything from softball tournaments and science tests to sales presentations and software design. To prevent things from feeling too fake or forced, family members are allowed to opt out of addressing any topic, but the more evenings the Smithsons have these discussions, the less anyone opts out.

Your Family:
*What are your family discussions at dinner like?

*Wow, Pow, Holy Cow, How might sound a bit corny to you or your kids, especially if they are teenagers. Another family tackles these topics by asking about “highs, lows, and how you saw God at work.” Another family simply asks, “How’s your heart?” More important than these labels you use are the conversations you have. Perhaps you could involve your kids in choosing the topics you’ll discuss and the words you’ll use to describe them.

~ From The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, page 136

On Pastors’ Kids and Belonging in Church

I am a pastor’s kid.

Pastors’ kids have a bad reputation, as a group. Sometimes it’s earned; other times it’s not. Many times it’s because we place unrealistic expectations on the children of ministers – and on ministers with children.

When I was in first grade – the age Sophia is now – my dad became a youth pastor. We had attended that same church since I was two and my dad started Bible college, so it was a fluid transition. Having experienced that church as a young child, when I think about what church was like when I was a kid, there is one memory that tops the list:

Tom Ritchie.

Well, not so much Tom Ritchie, as the Tootsie Rolls he always kept in his pocket. As I remember it, all the kids in church knew Mr. Ritchie kept these delightful treats in his pocket and would visit him each week after church.

But the other thing I remember about Mr. Ritchie is that when he gave each child the candy, he would bend down on one knee and look us right in the eye and smile. You see, not many adults do that. Some adults barely acknowledge the existence of kids. Others smile warmly as they run past and remark how cute they are. Some might lean over and ask them what their favorite subject is in school, or what their teacher’s name is.

But every once in a while, you meet someone who kneels down to a kid’s level, looks them right in the eye, and talks to them. Not at them or around them or about them. To them.

I love church people. I really do. God’s people are some of the kindest, gentlest around, if you ask me. And when we all get together? It’s family time – at least, it should be.

What I remember about Mr. Ritchie and his Tootsie Rolls is that, when he handed one to me, I felt like I mattered. That I belonged in church, that I was just as welcome there as the grown-ups.

This is important, more important than we recognize sometimes. Kids – and teens – need to feel like they belong in church, that they’re welcome, that they’re not a nuisance or an annoyance. If we treat kids like they don’t belong – or that they only belong as they are seen and not heard – for 18 years, we shouldn’t be surprised when they leave for college and never come back.

So this morning, as the kids and I kissed Jonathan good-bye as we headed to church and he headed to chapel on post, I was nervous about how it would go. What would it be like doing church with kids without being able to tag-team parent?

At our church, there is an early service, then Sunday School, then another service. The first service doesn’t have children’s church, so I knew the kids would have to sit still and quietly.

But do you know what happened? People.showed.up. I mean, they showed up. The senior pastor’s wife – a pastor herself – showed up for first service just to help with my kids. She got them to Sunday School while I cleaned up the mess of crayons and activity sheets and visited with congregants.

During fellowship between Sunday School and church, people offered to help get the kids fed. I asked another mom to sit with my kids for second service until children’s church was released, and she was more than happy to do so. As soon as others saw the need, I got more offers for the future.

And in that moment, I realized how incredibly blessed my kids are. I mean, sure, they have to sit for more church than other kids. And yes, when Lenora sprawled out on the steps of the chancel during the Children’s Sermon in second service she got the mom-glare to sit.up.right.this.minute!

But they have other adults, people who recognize that It Takes a Village… especially at church for kids of those in ministry. We have never lived near family, but my kids have had stand-in grandparents and aunts and uncles everywhere we’ve lived. They have adults in their lives who make them feel welcome at church. They feel loved. They belong.

It can be a delicate balance, sometimes, with offering to help with other peoples’ kids. Sometimes an offer could be interpreted as a judgment that the parents are doing something wrong or can’t handle their kids. I’ll admit, I even have to swallow my pride to ask for – and accept – help. It’s not that I can’t handle my kids. When I offer my help to others, it’s not that I think they can’t handle the gig.

It’s just that – why should we do it alone? If I deny my children other adults to learn from, to watch, to observe, to give love to and receive love from – I am denying them the Body of Christ. I’m denying them things I could never teach them. I’m denying them the chance to learn that, when we’re in the place or the season to help, we need to step up and do so.

One of my greatest hopes for my kids is that they’ll always see themselves as belonging at church. I want them to see themselves as an integral part of the church, and the church an integral part of their lives. And today, as I watched Lenora cuddle with another girl’s mom, I was reminded that I have countless people to thank for the fact that they already do.