Confession time: my family hasn’t been going to church regularly. We were heavily involved in our congregation for twelve years, we felt overconected. We decided to take a break to discern if we wanted to stay there, or go somewhere else. What we thought was going to be a few months hiatus has turned into several months. My teenage girls are not clamoring to go back, or anywhere else.
Upon reflection, my parents did not read the Bible with us at home. As I mentioned in a previous post, the fact that my dad is an Episcopal priest meant we were in church every Sunday. I went to Sunday school, then youth group and confirmation class. We did “church stuff” at church. My mom taught Bible study at church, and modeled it at home. I can safely say I never picked up a Bible and flopped down on the couch for a good read.
Now that it’s been a while since we went to our church, I’m concerned about the girls not engaging with the Bible. Since I work for an Episcopal organization, I’m engaged with the Bible most days of the week. We have worship opportunities. So I’m feeling spiritually connected. My daughters, raised on Godly Play, are now drifting away from the Bible, just as I’m finding it super interesting. So I thought I would ask my 16-year-old why she doesn’t want to read it. My girls and I can talk about anything, usually…
- Me: So Kaia, what do you think about reading the Bible?
- Kaia: Ummm… well… I don’t know… Seems boring.
- Me: Boring? Really?
- Kaia: Yes, well, every time someone tries to get me to read the Bible it’s somewhere I don’t want to be, like church camp.
- Me: Okay, I can understand that. But there’s a Bible over there on that shelf, and one upstairs. Would you ever pick one of those up and read it?
- Kaia: Probably not.
- Me: Why not?
- Kaia: I mean, look at it. It just looks boring.
- Me: Well, I can tell you, there’s plenty in there that’s not boring, and we don’t teach it in Sunday School.
- Kaia: Mhmmm…
- Me: Ok, what about when you were younger? You seemed to love the stories then. Parable boxes, the desert box – you liked the lessons.
- Kaia: Yeah, I did.
- Me: So what about now?
- Kaia: I DON’T KNOW! I JUST…
Break in transmission – frustration set in and we had to suspend the interview.
The takeaway is that my teenager finds the Bible is simultaneously intimidating and boring. It’s also clear that despite good intentions we haven’t done Bible reading or study outside of church. Is it too late to change that? I don’t think so.
The teacher in me believes it’s never too late for any of us. So here is what my family came up with, and agreed to try:
McKenney Family Bible Study
- When? Every Sunday evening. Since we rarely have plans, everyone can be there.
- How long? We agreed on :15 minutes max, unless everyone agrees to extend. Brevity got a grudging guarantee of participation without too much grumbling.
- What will we read? We will rotate choosing the scripture. We could choose a daily lectionary reading, a favorite story, or open the bible and point, wild card style. Perhaps we’ll try a different translation, and compare it to NRSV. It’s up to the person whose turn it is. Letting the girls have a say in the readings should increase the buy-in. (I pray.)
- What will we talk about? We will keep it simple, but here’s a model I enjoy that we use at Forward Movement:
- Read the passage aloud.
- Summarize the passage. What happened? Put the scripture into your own words. Make it yours.
- Read the passage again. (optional)
- Discuss: What surprised you? What confused you? What amazed you?
- Discuss: What can we learn from this passage? How does it apply to you as an individual? As a part of your family? At work? At school?
My generation constantly fights against forcing kids to do things they don’t want to do because we had parents who forced us to do things, no questions allowed. Or maybe that’s just me. Well, this is one of those times I’m going to require participation, and hope it has the effect that the Word can have on us.
Sometimes, parenting is about making kids do things because we know better. Teens shouldn’t get to opt out because they’re challenging to parent at times. During the teen years, stand your ground for what you think is important. I’ve decided that this is important. Instead of berating myself for not doing family Bible study sooner, we’re doing it now. It’s not too late.
Our first Family Bible Study takes place this Sunday. After a few weeks, I’ll let you know how it’s going. If you have a Family Bible Study going at your house, comment below and tell us about it. Meanwhile, please pray for my family as we begin our journey into the Bible. Our Bible study could go well, or it could be a disaster. But it will be.
How do you engage your children or teens with the Bible?
Anna Shaw says
So, Miriam, how’s it going with the home Bible study? I applaud your attempt, since it’s always gratifying to hear of someone taking a stand against culture. Do you suppose that we are told Jesus’ age, when he decided to stay in the temple when his parents left for home, to encourage parents of pre-teens. None of Jesus’ siblings were clamoring to stay “in church.”
Gretchen Pritchard says
We started Bible reading at the dinner table with our kids very early, so I can’t offer any advice on how to begin with older kids. I would say this, though: the expectation of conversation or discussion can become a snare, especially with teens who are naturally shy and self-conscious, and particular when this is something new that they sense their parents are invested in, and in which they have no childhood backlog of memories and habits to draw on to counteract the self-consciousness. So if conversation doesn’t happen, don’t let it be a deal-breaker. Just keep on reading together, regularly. If the reading ends up being followed by silence, embrace that; don’t make it an awkward silence; , don’t roll your eyes or express disappointment or coax or tease. Sit with the silence, welcoming it, and end with “Amen” or the Lord’s Prayer or whatever you come up with that feels like a comfortable closure.
Also: you might draw on the familiar structure of wondering questions, from Godly Play, with your girls. Or invite family members to write their thoughts, rather than speaking them, and then IF anybody wants to share what they have written, they are free to, but there is no pressure. Or you could choose to draw near to a familiar story through some other medium — looking together at an icon or a work of art, by Rembrandt or Giotto or a folk artist or whatever work of art you can find (so easy to do, now, with The Google!) Sister Wendy has some lovely books on encountering scripture through art.
One specific book recommendation: City of Gold by Peter Dickinson. It is a series of retellings of Old Testament stories that set them in place in the oral tradition out of which the scriptures arose: for instance the David and Goliath story is embedded in the setting of a Babylonian drill sergeant warning his troops of how deadly the slingers in the Israelite army can be; other stories are told to children and grandchildren by people who participated in them, or by professional storytellers at weddings or feasts.
In contrast to so many Scriptural adaptations, the ancientness of the stories— their strangeness and primitiveness—and their sense of awe at the mystery and holiness of God, comes clearly through. I recommend it highly!
You’re right about teens and a lack of conversation – I think we should be okay; I was a teacher and librarian for many years and have lots of tricks up my sleeve, and we’re a pretty close and open family who talks about tough topics all the time. I love your suggestions, thanks!
Lois Gory says
May I recommend The Message version by Eugene Peterson? It really rips along.
You’re right, I do like The Message very much.
Thanks, everyone, for your encouragement and suggestions. I neglected to mention another source for our Bible study, Daily Devo – a daily devotional for kids and families, offered by Forward Movement. I will certainly keep you informed on how everything goes.
For a free trial subscription to daily devo, visit our website: http://www.forwardmovement.org/dailydevo
Barbara S. says
Ignatian reading might also be interesting to kids. From this page: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/pray-with-your-imagination
“The …method of imagining is to place ourselves fully within a story from the Gospels. We become onlooker-participants and give full rein to our imagination. Jesus is speaking to a blind man at the side of the road. We feel the hot Mediterranean sun beating down. We smell the dust kicked up by the passersby. We feel the itchy clothing we’re wearing, the sweat rolling down our brow, a rumble of hunger. We see the desperation in the blind man’s face and hear the wail of hope in his words. We note the irritation of the disciples. Above all we watch Jesus—the way he walks, his gestures, the look in his eyes, the expression on his face. We hear him speak the words that are recorded in the Gospel. We go on to imagine other words he might have spoken and other deeds he might have done.”
Nurya Love Parish says
Wow! A lot of comments about how to read the Bible with teens. I appreciate how meaningful these traditions are for you!
On Grow Christians we appreciate stories about what has worked and is working for you to grow your faith. Since all of us have different contexts, what works for one person won’t always work for another. That’s why we try to build community here by telling our stories and listening to one another. We try not to say “this is what you should do!” although it is always a great temptation!
I am sure Miriam will do a great job with her girls and I am equally sure she will be honest sharing her story – one of the reasons I am so grateful for her regular presence here.
We will be putting up a “Write for Us” page in the next couple of weeks so you can share stories about what has worked for you, at what time in your life you found it most valuable, and what your current growing edge is.
John Henderson says
I would add connecting to the Spirit. We don’t want to be just passing information information that is boring. Ask God to speak through you. Ask him to tell you how to share some of your struggles what you need help with. Being vulnerable with your kids you don’t have all the answers. I would say the best way to read the Bible as a narrative. Every system I have found that tries to explain everything fails at somepoint.
Wendie Roberts says
Try Lectio Divina.
Nurya Love Parish says
Sign us up! I am having breakfast together with both my kids every weekday for the first time in four years. (They were on two different busses so I have had two morning routines for a LONG time… so excited that is done.) Over Monday breakfast I would love to talk with my tween and teen about whatever passage you and your daughters pick for your family Sunday night. Would you be willing to post your passage and a question for our family on Facebook? I am sure I will get resistance because… morning… but I am more than willing to try. Maybe dinner will work better. Maybe it will be a total disaster. But like you I think this is something our family should try. I was thinking we would read from Forward Day by Day but I like this better.
Nurya, I will definitely post on Facebook, and I’ll also leave a comment here as to what we read, and how it went. Let me know how your breakfasts go!
Inspiring message, sounds like a sensible & doable plan that I pray works got your family! One of my life regrets is not having “churched” my kids when they were young probably in rebellion to similar background to yours!
Nancy Hopkins-Greene says
I cannot wait to hear how the McKenney family Bible Study experiment goes! In the meantime, it would be interesting to hear what other families have tried (and what has worked!) Church attendance was a given for my kids, with two priests for parents. We said grace at family meals too. But family Bible Study never happened. And, alas, they both left their Bibles at home collecting dust when they left to go to college…