Through the years, my wife and I have used and enjoyed many Bible paraphrases with our young kids. We loved seeing our kids’ imaginations come alive as the authors of these children’s Bibles communicated the story and truths of Scripture in artful and skillful ways. As our children grew up, however, we became eager to help them read and learn from an actual English translation of the Bible rather than from paraphrases. While a good children’s Bible is wonderful, there is no substitute for the actual words of God.
Though there are passages of the Bible—even entire books—that are difficult for children to understand, there are many sections that a typical 8- to 12-year-old child can easily grasp. Indeed, it could be argued that there are texts that a child may have an easier time understanding than an adult, as Charles Spurgeon does: “The opinion that children cannot receive the whole truth of the gospel is a great mistake, for their childlikeness is a help rather than a hindrance; older people must become as little children before they can enter the kingdom.”1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Come Ye Children: Practical Help Telling Children About Jesus (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2009) Due to their intrinsic childlike faith, children can often believe and internalize the simple and beautiful truths of Scripture faster and easier than adults can.
When my church wanted to develop a resource to help grade-school kids read the actual words of Scripture, we decided to use the same method we use to teach adults, contextualized for kids. This method, called the REAP method, walks through the inductive Bible study method in four steps: read, examine, apply, and pray.
READ: The goal of the first step, read, is to answer the question, “What does the Bible say?” This is the observation step of the inductive method. When guiding kids through this step, first read the passage together, and then ask them to retell the story or passage back to you in their own words. You could also act out the passage together, or ask simple comprehension questions. Ensure that the child understands what happened in the text before moving on to the next step.
Due to their intrinsic childlike faith, children can often believe and internalize the simple and beautiful truths of Scripture faster and easier than adults can.
EXAMINE: In the examine step, we answer the question, “What does it mean?” This moves beyond comprehension to interpretation. The key word to keep in mind here is “curiosity.” Ask a lot of questions of the text such as, “Why is it this word instead of another word?”, “What do you think God thinks about what happened?”, or, “Why did this character take that action?” The good news is that you can tap into a child’s natural curiosity during this section. You may even want to let them ask you questions in this step rather than the other way around.
APPLY: In the third step, apply, you will guide the child to think about what will be different about them as a result of their reading and understanding. Is there a specific action they want to do more of, or stop doing? Is there an attitude shift that would bring more honor and glory to God? Should time be set aside today to worship God for his goodness? While it is OK to be prescriptive in this step to children, try to hold back at first and see what they come up with. You may be surprised at what applications children glean from the text on their own.
PRAY: For the final step, pray, guide kids to answer the question, “How can I respond to what God has shown me today?” Remind kids that prayers don’t have to sound a certain way, or be a certain length. Help them simply think about what they’ve learned and say something back to God. At first, it may be helpful to prompt them with phrases like, “Dear God, thank You for teaching me . . .”, “Please help me to . . .”, or “I praise you because . . .” But over time kids will learn to pray without this additional help.
Of course, if the child has trusted in Christ and is a believer, this process will be greatly helped by the guidance of the Holy Spirit inside of them. He will help them as they read, examine, apply, and pray. However, even if the boy or girl is still on their journey to understanding and placing their faith in the gospel, this method is still beneficial! It teaches them the practice of reading and understanding the text of the Bible before attempting to apply it to themselves. And who knows? Perhaps even this exercise of REAPing together will be what God uses to bring your child to saving faith in him.
The major advantage of studying the Bible in this way with your kids is that it places God and his Word in the instructor seat rather than you. You, the parent or Sunday school teacher, are the guide and the helper, but the Bible is the one doing the teaching. Some of my favorite times in practicing this method with my kids have been when God has taught them something that I hadn’t yet seen, and I was able to learn and grow alongside them.
This new year, join with your kids in trying this new method of Scripture study together. I pray you will be blessed through this practice as my family and I have.
If you’re looking for more guidance on what passages of Scripture to read with kids or on how this method works, The Austin Stone has created a resource to help. Learn more about and purchase the Kids REAP Journal: Exploring the Bible & 7 Basic Truths Everyone Should Know at austinstone.org/resources.