David, Daniel, Moses and Jesus … Four Buddies?

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by John Tietsort
As National Director of eChurchDepot, John talks with churches everyday about effective children's ministry. John lives in Idaho, speaks at conferences around the country and teaches Walk Thru the Bible seminars. Share your ideas to motivate kids at John’s blog, KidsintheBible.blogspot.com.

It began when I was asked to fill in as the teacher of the 3rd-5th grade class at Boone Church. The kids came dragging in a little late, some a lot late, since they preferred downing another cookie to getting to Sunday school on time.  I was prepared with the lesson for the day, but wanted a little time to get to know the kids.  A couple of games, a few stories and then I began to ask some Bible questions.  I was encouraged when they could relate parts of Bible stories and some Bible characters.  But, when I asked them about David, Daniel, Moses and Jesus and one boy said. “They were four buddies,” I knew there was an issue.  “Yeah, four Bible buddies,” the class chimed in.  Really.  Four Bible buddies?  Yet, should I be surprised? 

My class at Boone was probably quite typical.  They recognized many Bible characters, lots of stories and at least a few places.  But, asking them to put the places and events from the Old Testament in chronological order and it became just downright hilarious!  Try it with an adult group and they may revolt and stone you. 

ATTEMPT THIS – Put the following in chronological order:

Moses, Joseph, Joshua, Nehemiah, Judges, David, Daniel, Saul (King), Samuel and, of course, Jesus.  Bonus: add Judges and the Exile!

I believe that one of several key priorities for the elementary years is to provide your students with biblical knowledge and Bible skills.  Kids who come through your children’s ministry should be able to think through the story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, know the books of the Bible and what is in each book, and have the Bible skills to open “The Book” for themselves.  They should be able to find a passage, read it, and begin to hear God speak to them directly through His Word.  

George Barna, when asked to list five top trends in the church in the past 20 years, quickly replied, “A growing sense of biblical illiteracy.”  We live in an age when there are more Bibles in the Christian home than anytime in church history.  Just stop to think how many Bibles are in your home.  Men’s Bibles, women’s Bibles, family Bibles, children’s Bibles and the little pink or blue New Testaments.  Bibles everywhere, yet little time is spent in the Bible in our homes today.  You might say we are over exposed but under developed.

What if …

Just dreaming, what if in three years, in addition to their regular Sunday school lessons, each student would be able to:

1)    Think through a chronological timeline of the story of the entire Bible--Old Testament, Life of Christ and New Testament (Acts)--in less than 90 seconds!

2)    Know each book of the Bible and what each talks about! 

There are 66 books in the library of books we call the Bible.  That’s a lot!  There are hundreds of people, places and events from the Bible we introduce kids to through our children’s ministry over the course of several years.  Do we really expect them to recall all of them, in order, and understand their relationships?  A timeline is like looking at the earth from 10,000 feet.  Wow, all the buildings, streets, lakes and parks make sense when seen from above and all at once. 

Imagine the amazing gift we share with our students if we help them see the timeline or the story of the Old Testament and the New. We may have a timeline in our Bibles or a book on the shelf, but imagine if we had it in our heads … we just knew it … we owned it so well we could repeat it forward and backward any time.  “So what?” you say.  Knowing the timeline is not an end in and of itself.  It is a tool, though.  It is a place to organize all that we already know, a way to see and understand the relationships and a place to hang every new person, place or story we read from the Bible--for the rest of our lives!  Every sermon we hear, every Sunday school lesson we experience, every verse we read in the Bible … we understand so much more because we immediately see it in context and relationship!  

If you would like your kids to get the big picture of the Bible, you can make it happen. There are many resources that can help.  Walk Thru the Bible seminars are the cadillac for teaching this.  The children’s version is called Kids in the Book.  If you ever have a chance to go, take some students to, or host a Walk Thru, do it. Even if your kids have a basic timeline they know, this will help them to expand. It’s fun, creative and amazing. It also teaches the books of the Bible in creative visuals, along with a keyword to remember what is in each book. Another is Chronological Bible Storying.  This method teaches the major stories of the Bible and provides a visual for each, which makes review easy.  I especially like this for use in missions or evangelistic efforts.

At Boone, with my 3rd-5th graders, I chose to create my own timeline.  I began with the Old Testament and picked 20 key people and events. Picking just 20 was brutal, but I decided it was better to totally know 20 points on a timeline than kind of know 30 or 40 or 50.  This was in addition to our regular lesson, so I used  8-10 minutes a week and started the class a little early.  The first couple of weeks were simply introducing the 20 points on the timeline.  (It is tempting to want to do a quick lesson on each point, but resist.)  Here the goal was to give them just enough so they have recognition, not to dump the entire truckload.   

In the following weeks we reviewed on a white board. To test how I was doing, I gave them the timeline with just the first letter of each point.  Volunteers could try to repeat the timeline in front of the class or write it on a blank sheet.  If they could do it successfully in less than 30 seconds for the Old Testament, I gave them a coupon for a great shake at Hamburger Connection.  It was fun and all the kids helped each other out.  Soon, after the first few passed in 30 seconds, everyone wanted to pass, and the shake became secondary--THEY JUST WANTED TO OWN IT!  After they grasped the timeline, we learned a simple map that coordinated in the same way as the timeline. Then, we used visuals to learn all the books and what they talk about.

It was amazing to see the kids blossom.  They moved from reading their Bibles because they ought to to reading because they wanted to.  Their confidence soared as they began to see through the fog of the Bible and grasp how all the stories fit together.  They were also excited because they knew some things that their parents didn’t.  They came to class early, wanting to get into the Word, because now it made sense to them.

On a spring Sunday morning, twelve 3rd-5th graders walked up to the front of Boone Church and, one by one, recited the timeline of the Old Testament in less than 15 seconds!  The last one recited it backwards!  The timeline only had 20 points but clearly put in order the major characters and events of the Old Testament. The faces in the audience were priceless, filled with amazement and awe.  More than one adult leaned to the person next to them and quietly whispered, “I couldn’t do that.”

I don’t know about you, but so often I know lots of information, but none of it sticks because it does not connect with anything.  For instance, my wife constantly tells me about people she works with, their jobs, and what school they work for.  Does she actually expect me to remember all this for longer than it takes her to tell me?  But, when I have a chance to go to a school, meet a person and observe what they do, I remember that very well!  I am confident it is the same with all the Bible stories, Bible characters and places in the Bible.  Without understanding relationships or seeing how this story fits with all the others, it is very difficult to remember.

ResearchRyan Frank