E SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS believe it is our God-given right and parental duty to pass on our Christian faith to our children, bringing them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, KJV). This responsibility is emphasized repeatedly throughout Scripture. From Moses’ command about God’s laws, “Impress them on your children” (Deut. 6:7), to Paul’s admonition to “bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), the Bible is clear on this subject.
Raising children to develop a sincere and personal faith in Jesus Christ, equipping them to recognize and celebrate the presence of God in their lives, and modeling how to live in grateful response to God’s love and grace requires intentional teaching and nurturing. Knowing God is more than going to Sabbath school regularly, memorizing major Bible texts, or even attending church schools. Children need to know God as a loving God and understand the effects of sin and other fundamental beliefs of the Bible. However, many children easily misunderstand theological concepts. Christian authors Donna Habenicht and Larry Burton suggest the following reasons for such misunderstandings:1
1. Theological concepts are often abstract and symbolic, and thus difficult to understand. If you ask kindergarteners or primaries to tell you how Jesus is “the bright and morning star” or what it means that “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,” you might be surprised at their responses.
2. Children experience mental overstimulation because too much television-watching and other mass media input clutter their minds, making it difficult for them to organize or assimilate ideas.
3. Teachers and parents sometimes place too much emphasis on memorization of Bible verses and stories without explaining the concepts they teach. Children may repeat the words mechanically, but have no idea what the verses mean.
4. Children also pick up a great deal of misinformation from their friends who probably don’t understand spiritual concepts either.
5. Children sometimes put in a word they know with unfamiliar words from the Bible and soon come up with incorrect ideas. One little boy prayed, “Give us this steak and daily bread, and forgive us our mattresses.”
So parents have the responsibility to help their children understand the fundamental beliefs of their church and learn how these beliefs can be lived out in their daily lives as they develop a closer relationship with Jesus. It must begin in a child’s early years, for this period includes the most “impressionable” time for knowing Jesus as their Friend.
Ellen G. White wrote: “It is God’s design that even the children and youth shall understand intelligently what God requires, that they may distinguish between righteousness and sin, between obedience and disobedience.”2
She also advised: “These things should be explained to the children in simple language, easy to be understood; and as they grow in years, the lessons imparted should be suited to their increasing capacity, until the foundations of truth have been laid broad and deep.”3
Yes, while young children don’t have the mental ability to understand theological ideas and doctrines as adults can, they are building a foundation for later theological understanding. Godly parents will do all they can to teach, explain, and provide interesting experiences that will help children understand theological concepts and Christian doctrines.
Well-known evangelist Billy Graham urges parents that “The only way to provide the right home for our children is to put the Lord above them, and fully instruct them in the ways of the Lord.”
Teaching the Fundamental Beliefs
So how do we go about teaching children our church’s fundamental beliefs? How do we help them learn correct theological ideas? Here are a few suggestions. Remember, good teaching utilizes variety and interactive involvement.
1. Tell stories every chance you get. Children love stories—stories from the Bible, stories about the history of the Adventist Church, stories of missionary heroes, and others. Parents can help children understand the doctrines and beliefs of the church through stories.
One father, trying to teach a lesson about God’s love and His great sacrifice of His Son for all of us, told the story of the watchman of a drawbridge whose little son had missed a step and was hanging over one side of the bridge. Suddenly, he heard the sound of the express train approaching the bridge at great speed. The father had to decide whether he should run up the tower to close up the bridge in order to save the lives of 400 passengers on the express train, or run to save his son. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he decided to close the bridge, leaving his little boy on the track to be crushed by the oncoming train.
After such a powerful story (that may not be suitable for all ages), don’t stop there. Talk to your children and debrief them. Ask them questions, such as, “Is it easy to make such a sacrifice?” “Would you be able to sacrifice something you love dearly?” This is an excellent moment to talk about God’s sacrifice of His Son and His plan of salvation.
Parents can also share their own from-the-heart faith story with their children. Imagine the impact on a child who listens to his dad telling how he became a Christian. A personal testimony carries considerable weight. When you share your journey to faith, you illustrate to your children that Jesus changes real people’s lives today, not just the lives of people in Bible times. You can take this opportunity to talk about sin and the great controversy between good and evil, between Jesus and Satan. This is also a great moment for Dad to clarify what it means to be a Christian and encourage his child to have a relationship with Jesus.
2. Use object lessons and everyday events to teach Bible truths. Jesus used lots of parables and daily events familiar to people when explaining the truths of His kingdom. When we use objects children can understand, and illustrations familiar to them, they can identify with them and abstract concepts become concrete, meaningful, and better understood.
If you’re trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, show them an egg and ask them to break it open to look at its composition. Ask them, “How many parts make up this egg?” Talk about the shell, the yolk, and the white and how they form one unit.
Or you may give children three colored strands of yarn—red, yellow, and blue. Ask them to braid them together. The three colors blend together to form a complete braid. Explain that the red piece of yarn is like God the Father, who loves us and forgives our sins; the yellow color is like God the Son, who created the world and died on the cross to save each one of us; and the blue is like God the Holy Spirit, who comforts us when we are discouraged and helps us enjoy a happy life by teaching us right from wrong. Three different strands, but they work together as one whole.
If a loved one or a friend of the family passes away, seize this opportunity to explain to your child about death as taught in the Bible.
3. Use art, music, or role-playing to teach religious concepts. Younger children can grasp religious concepts better through art, music, or role-playing than through words alone. Ask your children to draw a picture of the Bible story and then tell you about it. You may be surprised by their interpretations. Take the opportunity to explain the doctrine as well as correct misconceptions. Psychologist Habenicht found that more than one child has drawn Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden in a car driven by an angel or Jesus. When you say “Adam and Eve were driven out of their beautiful garden,” you set up young children for this kind of misconceptions. Watch your words carefully, especially when teaching preschool children and young primaries.
You can also teach children songs that illustrate the Bible’s doctrines. When learning about Creation, children can sing, “My God Is So Great,” “The Rainbow,” “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and others. Or children can role-play Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit and then having to leave the Garden of Eden when they disobeyed God. Take time to explain that sin is disobeying God and His rules. Give the children an opportunity to explain in their own words what they have learned.
4. Provide lots of hands-on experiences. Living as a disciple of Jesus means following Jesus’ example. When children participate in hands-on ministries such as preparing food baskets for the needy in their community or packing clothes for flood victims, they discover the true meaning of compassion for others and the joy of self-giving as taught by Jesus. Such experiences provide children a deeper understanding of our belief about genuine Christian behavior and service to others.
5. Involve children in learning activities. Getting older children and teens involved in lots of activities is another effective way of teaching them the beliefs of the church. For example, you could cut newspaper clippings of terrible events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and pass them out to children. Have children read the headlines and the brief stories and then discuss them. Allow children and teens to ask questions and lead them to explore what they know of these disasters and how they fit 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.
To help children understand the doctrine of spiritual gifts, get them to fill out a short spiritual gifts inventory. Then divide them into groups of two to four and ask them to share the results with one another. Discuss and help children explore and discover how they can use the gifts they have.
To teach the doctrine “Growing in Christ,” connect children with God through prayer. Involve children and teens in different types of prayer activities: popcorn prayers, musical prayers, Scripture prayers, and prayer letters. These activities help to enhance and broaden their prayer experiences.
6. Use videos, DVDs, and other audiovisual resources. As the old adage says: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Particularly for this generation, children seem to be captivated by the screen, whether it’s television, computers, or any number of handheld gaming or video devices. Parents can show a DVD or a short video that explains certain doctrines of the church. For instance, after seeing a video on caring for the earth and the environment, children and teens can discuss what it means to be a good steward for God. They can be led to discover the roles they can play in managing their money, talents, time, the environment, etc. Never miss the opportunity to debrief with the children after watching a video or a film. Such reflection and interpretation help youngsters understand important biblical truths.
Yes, life is busy. Families have complex schedules. The constant cry is “I don’t have the time!” But connecting children to God should be our priority. We may not be able to “find the time” for this important task, but we can “make time” for connecting our children to God, the powerhouse of the universe, the God who loves them so much that He was willing to sacrifice His Son for them.
Let’s be intentional in teaching our children to love and adore God. Let’s help them understand biblical truths as expressed in the fundamental beliefs of our church, for nothing is more thrilling than seeing our children accept Jesus and continue to grow spiritually.
1Donna Habenicht and Larry Burton, Teaching the Faith: An Essential Guide for Building Faith-shaped Kids, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2004.
2Child Guidance, p. 81.
3Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 330.
Linda Mei Lin Koh is director of Children’s Ministries for the General Conference.