Who’s the Hero Here? How to Tell Kids a Bible Story: Jared Kennedy
How to tell a Bible story seems straightforward. But could there be a “wrong” way? Children's ministry expert Jared Kennedy suggests methods to make sure we point the next generation in the right direction.
About the Guest
- Connect with Jared Kennedy on Twitter @JaredSKennedy, or catch more of his thoughts at his website: The Gospel Centered Family
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How to tell a Bible story seems straightforward. But children’s ministry expert Jared Kennedy suggests wiser methods to point kids in the right direction.
Who’s the Hero Here? How to Tell Kids a Bible Story: Jared Kennedy
Dave: Here is a question I think every Christian parent wants an answer to: If I pour into my kids and lead them to Christ and disciple them their whole life, when they leave why do some follow Christ and others don’t?
Ann: So good.
Dave: Is there something I should know or do or not do as a parent while they’re still under my roof that I got to do, and I’ve got to get this right?
Ann: We all want the formula. [Laughter] Give me the formula that my kid will love Jesus and walk with Him the rest of their days.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife
Dave: We’ve got Jared Kennedy in the studio with us today. You’ve spent your life, at least the last twenty some years, right, just this is your focus, children’s ministry, families, gospel-centered family. I’m giving all terms you’re connected to
Dave: So, Jared this is a question you deal with all the time, right?
Jared: Well Dave and Ann thanks for having me. It’s really good to be with you. I don’t think there’s a formula but there is a message.
Dave: Oh good, let’s hear it.
Jared: So the message is the gospel and I think sometimes we can, even as parents, have a tendency to become Pharisees in the way that we raise our kids, or begin to trust ourselves and what we’re doing in our parenting to change our kids more than we’re actually trusting the good news of who Jesus is-
Jared: –and what Jesus has done.
Dave: Explain ‘we can become Pharisees.’
Jared: I think the subtle way you become a Pharisee is thinking that your school choice or your family worship routine or your chosen way of disciplining your kids is going to guarantee that your kids are going to turn out right.
The truth is there are faithful things the Scriptures teach about godly parenting, but keeping God’s good law, even though it’s God’s good law is no guarantee that a child will be saved. It’s no magic formula that a kid is going to be able to become a Christian.
Yet we know how you become a Christian and that is by trusting Christ as your Savior. You know Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.” What do we need to teach our kids when they’re young? What do we need to model for our kids when they’re young? It’s a trust in the Savior. It is the good news about who the Savior is and what He’s done for them so that the fact that He’s Lord is the confession that’s on their lips. The fact that He was raised from the dead is the belief that’s deep down in their heart.
At the end of the day, looking not at, not at our strategies but outside of ourselves at who Jesus and what He has done for us is the pathway to salvation. And for our kids not looking at themselves and what they need to do but looking outside of themselves at who Christ is, is the pathway to salvation for them.
Ann: And Jared you’re a storyteller. Story is important to you. You’ve written a bunch of kids books as well and a Gospel Story Bible. I think this would be so helpful for parents of let's just say elementary school aged kids and lower elementary. How would we share the gospel? Hopefully, we’ve been sharing these nuggets, this is who Jesus is, God loves us, you know, so we’ve been sharing parts of it. But give us a little like, okay, it’s Easter, you’re going to tell your girls, you have three daughters, you’ve been married twenty years, what did that sound like in your house? I’m sure you share this a lot.
Jared: Yes, when I worked with children’s ministers, I tell them there’s three different ways to tell a Bible story in your classroom. When I get to the third one, I want to talk about what parents do in the home too.
Jared: But the first is what I like to call the example lesson. All of us grew up with this lesson. You know you think of David and Goliath.
The example lesson is all about David. He was too little for Saul’s armor. He was little and the giant was big. The main point of the story is be brave like little David when you face the big obstacles in your life. Be brave and fight the giant.
Now I think that example lessons are good. I think that we do look at the Bible and we see examples. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul says these things about the children of Israel and the events of the Exodus were written down as examples for you to follow. So, we do see examples in the Bible, but the struggles with examples is sometimes the characters in the Bible aren’t good examples. [Laughter] The other struggle with the example lesson is it really does put the focus on us and what we should do rather than putting the focus on who God is.
Ann: Like I need to be brave.
Jared: Yes. I need to be brave rather than who God is in the moment.
Jared: Think about David and Goliath story again. The second way to tell a Bible story is what I like to call the God-centered lesson, or the theology lesson. I live in a seminary town. The tendency of the first-year seminary student is to teach all of the big words to children in a Sunday school lesson [Laughter] so we all are learning about justification and sanctification and all those things mean. They are big theological stories you know. In one sense that’s a step in the right direction. David, if you listen to him in the story, doesn’t talk about himself he talks about God.
Jared: –He says to King Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this uncircumcised Philistine.” David is not looking at himself and his five stones in his sling. He’s looking at the God who fights the battle for him. He’s confident that God, this day, is going to deliver the Philistines into the nation of Israel’s hands.
That’s good. The trouble with the theological lesson is it can be really high minded, and it can teach the big terms. It can be all about a big theology of who God is but unlike the example lesson it’s not as practical in like your daily life.
There’s a third way of teaching a Bible story. This is what I really want to encourage children’s ministry leaders to do in the classroom, and it’s what I want to encourage moms and dads to do at home too. It’s what I call a gospel-centered lesson, or a gospel-centered story. The way you would go about that is the first thing you would ask is, “Who in this story does the author want you to see as the people who really need saving?” You want to help your kids identify with those people in the story. Not identify with the hero, not just learn the big theological truth, but identify with the people in the story who really need saving.
In 1 Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath, it’s the nation of Israel. It was written to the nation of Israel so the nation of Israel would have identified with themselves [Laughter] in the story when they read that. In that story they had a really weak leader who didn’t want to go fight for them. They were shaking in their boots every day as Goliath came out and challenged God’s people and said, “Our god is greater.” They needed someone who would go to battle for them, and God chose this little boy from Bethlehem out of the pasture, brought him there, and the people who were there in the moment didn’t know this but we know this is if we’ve read 1 Samuel 16, he had just been anointed as the new king, the better king.
That king goes out on the battlefield. He represents the people as their representative. When he wins all of Israel gets the victory. He goes out with confidence in God as the perfect King, the perfect Savior for them, who and every elementary school boy loves this part, cuts the head [Laughter] off the giant. He’s the one who defeats the great enemy.
When you tell the story that way, when you help kids identify with who needs the good news in a story, and then you help them see what good news there is that they got, you can begin to ask the question, “Wait, wait, wait. This reminds me of someone. I know someone from Bethlehem. Ask yourself the same question. How does God do this for us in our Savior Jesus Christ?” And so first of all when I’m telling stories to kids, I want to tell it that way.
Jared: I want to tell it in such a way that they’re identifying with people in the story who are the most needy, whether that’s the grumbling Israelites in the wilderness who are complaining that there’s no food in the refrigerator, or whether that’s the sick person who needs healing from the Savior in the New Testament, or the Israelites that are threatened on the battlefield. Help them identify there then show them how God comes and saves. It puts the focus one on what our need is, and then secondly where God provides the solution for that need. Help them look outside of themselves to the Savior. You ask the question, “How would you share this with your toddlers?” It’s just like, “If this is true, if this is how God has provided salvation for you, do you believe?” Bringing kids to that point of responsiveness.
Ann: So, you’re asking them [kids] that question?
Jared: Absolutely. I think it’s absolutely essential to actually ask them, “Do you believe? Will you trust that this is what Christ has done for you?”
I think you recognize like kids are at different developmental levels and oftentimes when they’re in that preschool age they’re just going to repeat back what you said. “Of course, I do daddy.” You know but as they get older that’s harder to believe, or because they’re angry about doing family devotions today they say, “No, I don’t believe that.” It’s okay to leave it there and say, “This is the call to you. The call is to trust and believe that truth. If you do believe it, then keep on believing it all your life.” For me that is the pathway to those conversations and Easter Sunday is a great time to do that.
Jared: Because that is the heart of our salvation that Jesus was raised from the dead so it's the perfect time to do that.
Dave: Well, it’s interesting the way you presented David and Goliath, is every kid wants to be David.
Jared: Yes, that’s right.
Dave: As a parent it’s easy to go, “You are David and you can walk up against any big giant in your life and you can take them down,” and to say, “No, you’re Israel.” It’s like, “What? That’s a bummer.” [Laughter] They’re afraid. They can’t save themselves. And it’s like yep, that’s the truth.
Jared: The good news is you have Jesus and Jesus is David, in fact He’s better than David.
Dave: Right, yes.
Jared: But I think the struggle is if the kids just thinks they’re David, what do they need?
Jared: Do they need Jesus?
Jared: By helping kids identify that need - I talked about the Numbers 21 story for just a moment ago where the Israelites are grumbling about their food and water in the wilderness. One of the things they say in Numbers 22 is, “We have no food. We have no water, and we hate this miserable food.” [Laughter] Which we have no food, we hate this miserable–which is it? Do you have food or not? It’s exactly what every kid does [Laughter] standing in front of the fridge. “Mom, there’s nothing to eat here.” [Laughter] “There’s meatloaf.” “There’s nothing to eat here. I hate this, I hate meatloaf.” I think the more that we can learn to see ourselves in those stories as the sinful ones, as the needy ones, the more our hearts can turn away from ourselves in terms of our trust to the One that has done great things for us. That’s what we really want for our kids. We don’t want them to always be the most competent kids in life.
Jared: Because we know we’re not always [Laughter] the most competent people, and in a broken world our kids are going to experience suffering too. We actually do want kids, who are willing when they see the end of their competency, to look away from themselves and look to the One that is always competent for us, the One who is always there to save, to look to who Jesus is for them.
Dave: I remember decades ago learning how to lead a Bible study. I was the chaplain of the Detroit Lions, so we had weekly Bible studies. I had been to seminary, and I came across this simple little process you mentioned in your book and I want you to teach parents ‘Hook, Book, Look, Took.’
Dave: That little formula, and again it’s not this magical thing but, “Oh, there’s a process of how to lead and teach,” and parents need to know this. So, help parents understand how do I lead my family in a devotion?
Jared: I think about this anytime I lead devotions, or anytime I preach or anytime that I talk to the youth group at church.
Jared: I’m always thinking through these four categories. So “Hook, Book, Look, Took” it’s really four questions that you’re answering.
With Hook it’s the why question. It’s kind of built in some old science on learning styles back from the seventies that when kids come into a classroom environment, or any kind of learning environment, they’re bringing these questions with them. Some kids may ask one question more than the other, but if you answer all the questions, then you’re teaching in really effective way.
The first is “why” is this important? Why do I need to know this? I think about this any time I hear Tim Keller preach. He’s like always answering big philosophical why questions, why this is important. You don’t need to be Tim Keller in family worship. [Laughter] You know we talked about courage just a moment ago and so if you’re teaching about Joshua and be strong and courageous, or David who was a courageous leader, there are going to be times in your life when you need courage. Being able to define what courage is and share why it’s important before you get into the meat of the story. So that’s the hook.
Oftentimes as preachers we think of the hook as the really interesting story that’s going to grab attention, or as a youth leader or a children’s ministry leader it’s like the interesting thing that’s going to grab kids’ attention. That’s good, grabbing their attention at the beginning of a Bible story or lesson is important, but if you can grab their attention and answer the why question, why this is important, that’s a beautiful way to teach kids.
Second is Book. This is where you school them. This is the content, the meat-
Dave: –open your book.
Jared: –open the book to read the story. It answers what” question. What do I need to know? You always have those kids in class that are asking the question, “What is going to be on the test?” [Laughter] This is the part that answers even, though in Sunday school or family worship there’s no test. This is kind of the meat, it’s the main points of maybe the argument or just the plotline of the story you’re telling. There that you’re giving them that truth.
Third is Look. So, I think of looking at your heart and then looking from your heart to Christ. So, the kind of things we talked about a minute ago with identifying who in the story needs the good news, how I’m like that person exposes my heart and the needs I have, then helps me look away from myself and look to Jesus.
This [Look] answers really the how question. How does this truth work out in my life? The how would be just really practical, like really pragmatic. If you read old Puritan sermons from the Great Awakening, they’re going to have a good opening illustration, lots of book and then like a list of like 15 practical [Laughter] applications at the end. That’s the how section. The Puritans were really good at that. “These are the things you do after you know this truth.”
With kids I think role playing is a really great way to get at the how, to be able to put them in a scenario, you’re teaching them the 10 Commandments about not lying and Susie did something wrong and her mom came in and asked you, “Did Susie do this?” What do you do in that situation? You want to tell the truth but you don’t want to hurt your friend and I think wrestling through some of those difficult situations with your kids is a great way to talk with them, instead of being a Puritan and just listing 15 [Laughter] things is a great way to unpack that.
Last is Took, which is the takeaway. What are you going to take with you as you go? The big question to answer here is, “What if?” What if I put this into practice? What would this look like in the world? What would this change? You’re hoping kids see the influence or the impact of what obeying God in this way or believing God in this way would change in their life. It’s a way of inspiring them at the end of the time.
Dave: There was a preacher I used to listen to when I was a young preacher that every sermon, every Sunday, three quarters of the way through he’d done all that basically, you know hook, book, look, and the whole congregation would yell this out. He’d start it and they would just jump in. I mean 1000 people would go, “So what?” It was the took.
You taught all of this, so what? How do we live this out? What are we supposed to do with this when we go home? It would be sort of a fun thing to get your kids to do. You know you’re teaching them a Bible study, get them to say, “So what?” You know because a lot of times we do all the knowledge, and all the–and we don’t even get to the application. It’s all about how am I going to live differently.
Ann: Even in the car on the way home, “So what?” Because it’s easy to get in the car and say, “What did you think of church today?” It makes us become consumers. “Well, it wasn’t very good, and the preaching, and the song–” You know we were bad at that. Our kids did that a lot. Instead of that “So what?” How do we apply this as a family? What does that look like?
When kids get bored, especially teenagers, this is the piece. Kids, they need to do something risky. They need to take the gospel and think, “How can we impact our world with the gospel?” When our kids were little, I’d say, “How can we be the light of the world by serving our neighbors? What would that look like?” One of our neighbors is older and we made her some cookies, and we shoveled so many driveways.
Dave: We mowed our neighbor’s yard every week--
Ann: –yes. But I think--
Dave: –she yelled at us because she didn’t like us doing it. [Laughter]
Ann: –it wasn’t good enough.
Dave: –Sometimes you help people, and they don’t like it.
Ann: But I think to put it into action for our kids. This becomes the gospel. Even sharing stories of how we’re taking it to the world and maybe it’s not received well, but it’s the beauty and the risk and how God wants to use you. Even our kids working at church we could see the gifts of each child, of what they had.
Jared: –that’s right
Ann: –Our middle son, talk about puppets, [Laughter] Austin you know Austin, he was the best puppeteer ever.
Dave: His brothers would yell at him at night, “Do a puppet show.”
Jared: That’s awesome. We’re talking about this the next time I see him.
Dave: He was a master. [Laughter]
Ann: And our older son he was a total IT guy so he’s working the sound board--
Jared: –Yes, that’s right.
Ann: –in children’s ministry. But to say, “Oh the body of Christ needs you and the gifts God’s put in you.” These are the things we just talk to our kids when they lay down when they rise up. You know as we are walking along the way. I love how you are walking through these things.
Jared: And using your hands in that way is so important.
Jared: Whether that’s serving at a homeless shelter, or at a medical clinic, even being the kid that’s helping gather supplies up for those kinds of things. I think in my formation, going on a mission trip with my local church. I think back, that was such a big turning point for me in my faith. “Oh, this is something I’m learning how to live out. I’m actually using my hands to serve other people and my mouth to speak about Jesus here.” That takeaway is such a big impact in a kid’s life.
Dave: Yes I was just thinking get dirty.
Jared: Yes, that’s right.
Dave: Get dirty, get in the dirt.
Jared: –get out of your comfort zone.
Dave: –Yes, and that’s for the parent as well because sometimes we’ve got to get out of our comfort zone but take your kid. We went on mission trips with all of our kids. FamilyLife has mission trips you can jump in as a family. It will change their life. It’s like faith in action. Enough talk. Let’s do something.
Shelby: You know we want our children to see the end of their competence and look to the competence of Jesus. To do that we need to really look at our heart and from our heart to Christ and to help our kids to do that as well.
As Dave mentioned, you can do that on a family mission trip. You can go on a mission trip with FamilyLife with your own family. So we’d love for you to check out more details on that. You can go to our link in the show notes to find more specifics on where you can actually go. [familylife.com/missions/home]
I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jared Kennedy on FamilyLIfe Today. Jared has written a book called Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission: Practical Strategies for DIscipling the Next Generation. I know Jared, and he is such a practical guy in a way that points us to the goodness of the gospel. I love that he pairs those things so well together. You can pick up a copy of his book at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you were with us earlier this week our guest was Dean Inserra. Dean wrote a book called Pure: Why the Bible’s Plan for Sexuality Isn’t Outdated, Irrelevant or Oppressive. It’s an incredible book and it’s our gift to you when you partner financially with us today. In order to make more conversations like the one we had today with Jared actually possible.
You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call today with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again the number is 800, ‘F’ as in family ‘L’ as in life and then the word TODAY. Feel free to drop us something in the mail too. Our address is: FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.
We hope you’ll join us next week when Dave and Ann Wilson are joined by Rachel Faulkner Brown and Karen McAdams. They’re going to talk about how a lot of people go towards what they can do for God instead of taking our eyes off of ourselves and truly seeing who God is. We hope you’ll join us next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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