The Highlights are not Enough

I’ve been a big NCAA March Madness fan ever since the 1979 match up of Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans vs. Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores.  I have watched many a basketball game since then, and filled out a ton of brackets (even before it was cool).  Now, my wife would rightly point out that I’m a fan of just about any televised sport; it just depends on the season of the year.  Well, with that very extensive hobby, and a life full of much more important activities, I have become very thankful for sports highlights shows.  In just a few minutes, I can watch all the best parts of the game and see who or which team has won in the end.  A three hour baseball game can be consumed in just two minutes.  Wow, thank you ESPN!

Unfortunately, there are those who apply this “just give me the highlights” philosophy to the Christian education of children.  According to researcher George Barna, most children’s Sunday School curricula only cover 40-60 of the “major” stories of Scripture.  The “minor” stories (which one are those, exactly?) are totally missed, and even the major ones tend to be summarized at the lower grades.  In other words, the Bible is taught to children as a collection of stories rather than ONE story, hopping and skipping through the Bible to just give the highlights.

One of the main defenses of this approach is that children need repetition.  So, the best thing is to choose the “highlight” stories and just teach them over and over every year.  After all, it would take too long to teach children every story of Scripture.  A secondary rationale is that children are not able to understand the “minor” stories as well as they can grasp the “major” ones.  So again, it is a much better philosophy to have children learn the big stories and save the small ones for adulthood.

Now, I certainly understand these arguments.  Some portions of Scripture are extremely challenging to teach children.  And, I agree that children need repetition.  But I just can’t get over the fact that we are just teaching the highlights of the most amazing book ever written.  It would be like watching five minutes of the classic NC State vs. Houston championship game and believing it was enough to understand and enjoy the entire game.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

So here are four reservations with this “highlight” approach to Children’s Sunday School curriculum:

1.  We don’t read any other book this way.  Imagine skipping whole chapters in your favorite book.  Would you miss a few elements of the plot or of the character development?  I know, the Bible is a collection of 66 books, not just one book by one human author.  That certainly makes it unique.  Yet, it is easy for our children to see the Bible as a series of disconnected stories when we just skip past chapters and even entire books!  Every story of Scripture is significant to the One Story of redemption.

2.  As alluded to earlier, how do we decide which are the “major” stories and which are the “minor” ones?  Are certain parts of the Bible more inspired than others?  Of course not!  So, we agree that God didn’t do what many human authors do–put some good stories in his Book, surrounded by some”fluff” just to fill a page requirement.  Every story of Scripture is important because ALL of God’s Word is God’s Word!

3.  This approach often includes cutting out portions of the “major” stories.  The last bit of the story of Jonah tends to be avoided.  Half of the book of Judges is skipped.  The Book of Esther is reduced to Esther’s bravery before the king.  And the list goes on.  My point is that when we teach children the “highlights,” they can come to the conclusion that they know the whole story.  Often times, they have never heard the entire story!  So a false confidence in their Bible knowledge sets in, often leading to a boredom (I already know that story!) attitude towards God’s Word.

4.  Finally, the “highlights” approach denies the fact that children can learn lots of facts, data, and stories.  Children are often treated like they can learn just one big thing in their study of the Bible.  Of course, school age children do not become abstract thinkers until later on in their education.  Yet, they have amazing abilities to memorize, remember, and store information.  So why not give them as much of the Bible as possible?  Why only give them highlights  when we can expose them to God in all the pages of Scripture!

The truth is that sports highlights are really better enjoyed AFTER you have actually watched the entire game.  They REMIND you of the best parts, since they are the HIGH-lights!  In the same vein, returning to Scripture in the teenage and adult years to focus on particular books/stories is most profitable and enjoyable when you have read and studied the ENTIRE Bible in your earlier years.  So let’s teach our children ALL of God’s Word, and then pray that they will return again and again as adults to deepen their knowledge and apply its glorious truths!


17 Comments Add yours

  1. cterry says:

    Strangely enough, I think that we do the same thing with adults. Many have never seen the Bible as anything more than a collection of disjointed books.

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Kelty says:

    Good points, all. I would add that this kind of teaching “the major stories” can lead to teaching about the human “heroes” of the bible and neat little morals like “you should be like Daniel or David.” This can weaken the undertanding of the bible to just stories about how to be better rather than understanding that it is all the story of how we need Christ and how he has come to rescue us.

  3. joeyespinosa says:

    Something good to remember. But unless you read / teach the bible all the way through, you WILL skip some parts.

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Certainly true. But the issue isn’t just skipping some verses here and there. It’s the more prevalent problem of missing so many of the stories, making the Bible more of a collection of disconnected tales.

      1. joeyespinosa says:

        Totally agree. I remember when we (our church) wrote our own preschool curriculum. We wanted to do a series about Jacob. All we could find were stories about Jacob’s ladder/stairs. Does a preschooler really need to know that? What he/she needs to know is the sin of lying/deception, and that lying has consequences.

  4. griffinjb says:

    I appreciate what you are saying here over all. You said, “Every story of Scripture is important because ALL of God’s Word is God’s Word!” Well, I’m not sure if that is totally accurate. I’m all about learn and teaching the Bible, for I am a pastor. But Andy Stanley says many times, “All of God’s word is inspired but not all of it is equally applicable.” We are still going to pick and choose what stories to look at in children’s curriculum but we need to choose the most applicable stories of the kids. 5 years old’s won’t see the importance of moral boundaries in the story of David and Bathsheba, but that story is intensely applicable for 15 year olds. It’s also not possible to teach all of God’s word to children or anyone. The Bible has 1186 chapters, and if you taught people 1 chapter every week, it would take the teacher 23 years to teach all of the Bible. Perhaps we need to teach the major themes of Scripture. Thanks

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Totally agree that not all of God’s Word is equally applicable to children. Our children’s curriculum also makes choices of WHEN to teach the stories of Scripture, and which ones to take a “aerial” view of and which ones get a more intense “ground level” view. That’s how we get through the Bible in 7 years. But I guess my main point is (with a bit of hyperbole) that there are MANY MORE applicable stories in Scripture for children than we typically teach.

      1. griffinjb says:

        Yeah, there are many stories that we miss and there are one’s that are applicable that we ignore. Great!

  5. Peter Morris says:

    I don’t think there’s anything I disagree with in this post but I do think it misses (at least obscures) the fact that the Deuteronomy 6 responsibility to impress the Word of God on children is primarily a parental responsibility. The church has a huge role to play (including by preaching in a way that reflects the principles above) but the first solution to this must begin in the home. I’d be really interested in strategies to address this gap through partnerships between the church and the home.

    This understanding also may justify the church strategically using specific stories that provide a framework for redemption history that can be filled in at home as parents and children “sit down, rise, walk in the way” etc.

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      You are exactly right. One of our mottos is “Christian Education Begins at home.” To live up to that truth, One Story Ministries has produced what we think is the only complete Bible curriculum for children. It is called “Investigating God’s Word…At Home” and it is our 7 year children’s Sunday School Curriculum in 14 volumes for parents to teach their children at home. You can check it out here: o

  6. I agree one hundred percent, that’s actually why I ended up seeking permission from my church to deviate from the curriculum we were using. I wanted the kids to see the WHOLE story, not just the random moral stories it felt like were being taught.

  7. Ginger says:

    This is why I love Catherine Vos’ Story Bible. It has helped me almost as much as my children. I am also thankful to dedicated church teachers. I just learned the significance of Jesus’ names in the book of John in relation to the Tabernacle. This book, the Bible, just keeps unfolding truths and treasures. Thanks for the post!

    1. John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, we have used her story Bible for Years! Thanks for the comment!

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