Teaching Kids to Take the Bible Seriously, but Not Literally

Jul 27, 2023 9:00:00 AM / by Emily E. Ewing

Sometimes, Christian education doesn’t keep up with kids’ growing abilities to understand complicated concepts as they get older. As the world increases in its complexity, and as children grow into adults, the ways we engage with faith and Scripture also need to grow and deepen.

One of the easiest ways to help kids understand to take the Bible seriously, but not literally, is to talk about the metaphors in Scripture, especially the ones that Jesus uses. Many kids grow up with object lessons in children’s times and other settings, so as they get older and more able to understand complex concepts, talking about the object lessons themselves can help them understand metaphors and similes and how comparisons don’t make perfect sense. This is a great bridge for kids, because it affirms and supports a learning tool they are usually familiar with while also helping them dig deeper.

The conversation can begin with recalling a recent object lesson or way of talking about God being like something (wind, water, apple, etc.). Start with talking about ways that the comparison works and makes sense (we can’t see God, there are different ways that God shows up that are all still God). Invite the kids to share what they think. Then move into talking about ways it doesn’t make sense (God is always present, unlike the wind; God doesn’t leave our clothes wet and soggy or grow on trees).

That conversation leads into a fruitful conversation about how people don’t always have the words to describe or explain things, even the people that wrote the Bible! Kids will get not knowing or having words to communicate, so this conversation can also be affirming of their own struggles and growth with language and vocabulary. Then the conversation about using the words and things around us to help us talk about God can be much more fruitful. This could turn into a series with kids where each week, you talk about a different I AM statement (building up toward “I AM the resurrection and the life” and “I AM the way, the truth, and the life” at the end, as they are the most abstract) and how it makes sense and helps us understand Jesus and how it doesn’t quite fit literally. This works well for kids who are just learning beyond concrete/literal interpretations of the world all the way through middle school, as they’ll engage with it at different levels.

Topics: Children Ministry, Bible, children

Emily E. Ewing

Written by Emily E. Ewing

Rev. Emily E. Ewing (they/them) dedicates their life to justice work locally and globally, revels in creativity and art, and is fed by Lutheran theological geekiness. They are a proud member of Proclaim, a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and they curate www.queerying.org, a blog that queers and queries weekly Bible texts. They also cohost both Nerds At Church, a podcast connecting weekly Bible readings and all things nerdery, and Horror Nerds At Church, a podcast exploring horror and faith. You can find them on Twitter at @rev_ewing.


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