One of the things that really bugs me about social media is the number of people who believe and pass on obviously false information. I’m not talking about opinions I disagree with. I’m referring to the factually incorrect, completely disconnected from reality memes and links that clutter my feeds. I constantly feel the urge to post replies like “What are your reasons for believing this is true?” (Or, in more frustrated moments, “How can you possibly be this gullible!?”) But of course, I rarely post those sorts of things, or I wouldn’t have any friends.
It bothers me even more when churches engage in this kind of sloppy non-thinking. We must be prepared to answer the question, “What’s your reason for believing that?” Or, as the Apostle Peter put it, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
This is especially important when dealing with children. We can be sure the world is giving them “answers.” If we don’t provide better ones, we shouldn’t be surprised when they accept the world’s “truth.” In our culture, it’s almost certain that today’s kids sooner or later will be confronted with at least superficially reasonable sounding objections to Christianity like:
- Science has proven that the Bible is false.
- The Bible is full of contradictions.
- The Bible has been updated, re-translated and re-copied so many times, we can’t possibly know what it originally said.
- Science has eliminated the need for God.
- Bible stories are obviously false. For example, 8.7 million different species couldn’t fit on the ark.
- Nobody believed Jesus was God before Constantine made it up at the Council of Nicea.
Kids who grew up in church should be prepared to deal with these sorts of challenges, but far too often, they are not.
Whenever I hear an atheist who grew up in church tell their story, they nearly always say their journey away from the church began as a child when they had questions that weren’t answered. Often, not only do we not actively provide answers, we discourage even the asking of questions in church. Is it any wonder that kids come to believe that church is where we go to hear stories, and school is where we go to learn how the world really works?
Honest questions generally don’t indicate a lack of faith, they demonstrate that someone is engaging their mind. And even if a child does lack faith, what value is there in shaming them into silence?
Below are a few thoughts on way to encourage kids love God with their minds, as Jesus commanded. (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)
Don’t just tell kids Bible stories.
We tend to teach “Bible stories” as if they were morality fables. Consider the following two statements:
- We should trust God and be brave, like David when he fought Goliath.
- We should be kind, like Androcles when he puled the thorn from the lion’s paw.
The first statement could easily be taught in a Sunday School class. Do we give kids any reason to believe that the story of David is different than the fable of Androcles? Kids eventually outgrow stories. They need to know that the Bible is more than a story book. Otherwise they’ll naturally walk away from the Bible just like they do (and should) walk away from story books as they grow up.
Encourage critical thinking.
Even at an early age, we can help kids to begin to think critically. Ask them questions like:
- What are some ways we know that God loves us?
- How do we know the Bible is true?
- How do we know that Jesus really did rise from the dead?
Provide an environment where kids can ask genuine questions.
Questioning things is how we learn. Kids should be encouraged to ask questions, at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. In fact, we probably have reason to be concerned if kids aren’t asking questions.
Kids sometimes ask tough questions. It’s OK to not have an immediate answer. You can say something like, “Wow, that’s a great question. I’ve never thought about that.” You could then search out the answer and talk more later. You could help them find someone better equipped to answer. You could provide suggestions for ways the child could seek out more information for themselves.
Also, look for what I call “the question behind the question,” especially on emotional issues. For example, if a child asks “Why did God let my grandmother die?”, they don’t want a detailed and reasoned explanation of the logical problem of evil. Their real questions are probably things like “Does God really love me?” and “Will I always feel this sad?”