By Linda Mei Lin Koh
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, how do we parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles find time to talk about our faith to the children in our lives? As we shuttle them between school, music lessons, swimming class, birthday parties, and doctors’ appointments, how do we find the time to encourage our children, through the ups and downs of growing up, to turn to God for guidance? Do we intentionally carve out time to talk to our children about God and how He can be their lifelong friend?
The Bible mandates parents to pass on our faith to the next generation. Through Moses God says, “And these words which I command you 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” (Deut. 6:6, 7).
Intentional teaching needs to begin with children at a very young age, because these are the most “impressionable” years of knowing and accepting Jesus. George Barna’s research shows that 32 percent of children accepted Jesus below the age of 13 years of age. He further reiterates: “What you do with children is the most important ministry thrust you will ever undertake. Why? Because the moral, spiritual, and relational foundations of people’s lives are determined primarily by the age of 13. After that point it is very difficult—and rare—to change those moorings. A child by 13, is pretty much who he or she will be for the rest of their life in terms of beliefs, values, morals, relational emphases, and ideas about faith.”1
Ellen White concurs. “It is still true that children are the most susceptible to the teachings of the gospel; their hearts are open to divine influences, and strong to retain the lessons received. The little children may be Christians, having an experience in accordance with their years. They need to be educated in spiritual things, and parents should give them every advantage, that they may form characters after the similitude of the character of Christ.”2
Teaching Our Fundamental Beliefs
Today’s children are so skilled with computers, iPads, podcasts, and the Internet that many parents are asking how we go about teaching these “techy” children the fundamental beliefs of our church. How do we help them learn correct theological ideas in a fun and meaningful way? Here are a few suggestions.
Table Talk: This is simply “talk time” at mealtimes. When families sit down for their meals, parents can chat with their children about relevant topics of the day. For example, during mealtime mom can ask children what they like or dislike about the food they are eating. Then parents can discuss the importance of making good choices of what we eat, as our body is the temple of God. Use Table Talk, a resource developed by the South Pacific Division Children’s Ministries for families to use at mealtimes.
Children today live in a diverse environment with friends and classmates from many nationalities, languages, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They may experience or witness prejudice and discrimination against certain ethnic groups at school. This is a great opportunity to introduce the Unity in the Body of Christ belief. Encourage children to ask questions and help them find answers from the Bible about how we treat others who are different from us.
Download Apps, Videos, and Computer Games: This generation of technologically savvy children is excellent with iPhones, iPads, notebooks, You Tube, Instagram, and Twitter. They are captivated by fast-moving and action-packed movements on the screen. Thus learning must be fun and engaging. Parents can capitalize on this to teach our beliefs to their children by introducing them to interesting and interactive computer games. The Pitcairn app is one recent example. It is a fun game that helps children learn about Ellen White and the pioneers of the Adventist Church. Debrief with them, after they have played the game, by asking questions and listening to their thoughts and feelings as they learn about the gift of prophecy. Children and teens can also watch the movie Tell the World: The Inspiring Story of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is stored on a paper USB card that they can carry around to share with others. It highlights the Advent movement and the role of Ellen White in founding our church.
All sorts of apps and computer games about health teach healthy habits that parents can introduce to children, such as Awesome Eats and PBS Kids—Healthy Habits Game. Other fun games and activities are available at www.healthyactivekids.com.au, www.heart.org and many others that children can try.
To help children and teens appreciate creation, parents can introduce them to The Creation Case, an excellent DVD that captures their interests as they study the evidence of creation as in fundamental belief 6. Never miss the opportunity to debrief with your children after watching the video, for such reflection and interpretation help youngsters understand important biblical truths.
Use Storytelling: Children love stories, and parents can help them understand doctrines and beliefs through this medium. For example, in teaching them about stewardship, a father told the story of a family’s faithfulness in tithing, even when they knew there would be no food on the table the next day. The family gathered to pray to God, trusting in Him that He would supply all their needs. Right after their prayer there was a knock on the door. When it was opened, the father was surprised to see two big baskets of food on the porch. God rewarded the family’s faithfulness when they trusted Him.
Ask questions, such as “Is it easy to be faithful to God when you know that you may go to bed hungry?” “Is it easy to trust God in difficult times?” This is an excellent teachable moment to talk about being good managers for God.
Involve Children in Real-Life Experiences: Getting our children and teens involved in real-life experiences is another effective way of teaching the beliefs of the church. For example, when you teach about spiritual gifts, get your children to identify their spiritual gifts and then encourage them to serve in church programs and other community projects. If Justin has the gift of singing, let him join the children’s choir to sing at a senior citizen home on Sabbath afternoons. For Maria, who is gifted artistically, let her help paint the backdrop for Vacation Bible School.
If your child’s friend is getting baptized, witnessing the service is vital. Talk about what baptism means. Encourage them to decide to follow Jesus and prepare to be baptized themselves. Allow children to ask questions. Share your own experience when you were baptized and the blessings you have received since then.
To teach them about the Growing in Christ belief, we connect children with Him through prayer, Bible study, and witnessing. Involve children in different types of prayer activities, such as popcorn prayers, musical prayers, or scripture prayers. Have a family prayer book for prayer requests so everyone can pray for them. Take your children to the park or bus stop on Sabbath to share some tracts with others. Show them how and what to say when they give a tract to someone.
Capitalize on Current Events to Teach Bible Truths: Today’s children are bombarded with a lot of bad news from the media that may cause anxiety and fear. This is the most conducive time for parents to draw their children’s attention to Bible truths and our beliefs. Use newspaper clippings (under your discretion, of course) about recent tragic events and have your children read them. Allow them to ask questions and lead them to explore how this fits into the big
picture of the great controversy between God and Satan. Relate these events to the promise of a better home with Jesus in heaven. For those who died, explain to them about death as taught in the Bible, and the church’s position regarding what happens to those who die.
Fun Learning With Scientific Illustrations and Object Lessons: Children are intrigued and fascinated by experiments and object lessons. It’s a fun way to teach Bible truths and fundamental beliefs. For example,
if you want to teach about how sin separates us from God but salvation from Jesus brings us back to God, demonstrate that by heating a balloon with a candle until it pops. A balloon filled with water will not pop, even when put directly into a candle flame. This demonstrates how just as one
sin hurts our connection to God, the protection provided from the “living water” is like the protection we receive through salvation. Both are priceless yet free, available to everyone, and necessary for life, physical or eternal.
To explain the doctrine of the Trinity, show them a glass of water, some ice cubes, and steam from a boiling pot. Ask, “Does water appear just in one form?” Talk about water as a liquid, solid (ice), and gas (steam). In the same way, our one God is in the person of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Use Art, Music, and Drama: Younger children can grasp religious concepts better through art, music, or drama than words. Teach children songs that illustrate Bible doctrines. When learning about creation, children can sing, “My God Is So Big,” “Who Made the Beautiful Rainbow?” and others. Children can role-play Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, then parents can talk about the importance of obeying God and our parents.
As each child is unique from another, so must be our approaches to teaching them. Because we love our children and pray for their salvation, our daily goals must include a commitment to finding ways to impart our core values and church belief system in ways that matter to our them and are appropriate for whatever stage of development they are in.
After all, if heaven is our goal, what could be greater than helping our children make that their goal too?
1 Mark Holmen, Church+Home; The Proven Formula for Building Lifelong Faith (Bloomington, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 2010), p. 9.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 515.
Linda Mei Lin Koh is Children’s Ministries director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
Tools You Can Use
Charles Mills and Linda Koh, God Loves Me 28 Ways. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2006.
Adriana Femopase, Learn About God’s Love activities book. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2006.
Jerry Thomas, What We Believe for Kids. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2006.
Jerry Thomas, Step by Step. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2008.
Seth J. Pierce, What We Believe for Teens. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2007.
Sing About God’s Love (songs of fundamental beliefs), 2007
Shawna Vyhmeister and Sonia Krumm, Celebrations! Healthy Inside Out! Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2014.
Amanda Bews, Healthy Inside Out: Fun Skits for Kids. Nampa, Idaho, Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2014.
Richard Aguilera, The Creation Case. Silver Spring, Md.: General Conference Children’s Ministries, 2015.
Adventist Fun-da-Mentals infographic posters. Silver Spring, Md.: North American Division of SDAs.
Kimberley Tagert-Paul, God’s Ten Promises. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2010.
Saustin Mfune and Dumisani Mfune, A Musical Journey: Pro-Active Kids Adventure in the Celebrations Castle! Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2014.
Pitcairn game. www.ellenwhite.org.
Table Talk. South Pacific Division Children’s Ministries, 2012
Handbook for Training Child Preachers. Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division Children’s Ministries, 2014.
Karen Holford and Linda Koh, My Quiet Time With Jesus Prayer Calendar and Journal. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2014.