I live in a historic city with several old buildings. Often times, when a monument needs to be updated, a team will construct scaffolding to support the building while it is undergoing the transformation. The support is needed at the time of construction, but when the time is right and the work is done, the scaffolding comes down and the building stands in beauty and fortitude on its own. Parenting is like scaffolding. We provide the much-needed support for a time and then intentionally start to let our kids stand on their own.
When I was a new mom, I quickly realized how much I didn’t know about parenting. I had a good friend who had four adult children, and in desperation I asked her, “What would you say to yourself 20 years ago? What would you do differently if you could do it over again?” Her response surprised me and shed light on something I had not thought about before. She said, “Instead of quoting the Bible and telling my kids what the Bible says, I would read it with them. I would teach them to read it for themselves.” She continued, “When my kids were teenagers they searched for independence and even pushed against my authority. In the moments that they rejected me, they rejected God simultaneously.”
It’s relatively easy to tell our kids what the Bible says, but it’s much harder to teach them how to read the Bible for themselves. When they are young we read to them, but too often we make the mistake of doing it for them for too long.
This year, we attempted to start a simple reading plan with our eleven-year-old daughter. It is slow going, and if we continue at our current pace, we may not finish before she graduates high school! But the goal isn’t to finish. It has been powerful to read with her and ultimately watch as personal conviction has ignited in her heart. As our kids grow and mature, it is so important to not be the middleman between them and God. She is asking hard questions and hearing parts of the Bible that don’t come up on a Sunday morning. As we read, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit would have direct access to her heart. I want to help her understand and apply God’s word correctly.
Two years ago my daughter and I participated in our church’s faith foundations small group called Baseline. We learned to read the Bible using the SOAP technique. “S” stands for Scripture, which means find a scripture to study, read it, and write down the reference. “O” stands for Observation. We ask questions like what did you observe in the Scripture that you read? What is going on in the story? What is God saying? “A” stands for Application. What God is trying to teach you through the verses you are reading and how can you apply what God is saying to what you are doing today? And “P” stands for Prayer. Talk to God and pray about what you read.
Benjamin Franklin said, “The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.” It is easy to forget what you read just a week ago, so write down each step and capture what God is saying through His word.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when encouraging your child to engage in the Bible on their own:
Help them find the right translation. Some translations, like NASB, are word-for-word translations which attempt to translate each word as accurately as possible but can have a choppy flow of thought. Others, like NLT, are thought-for-thought translations which are easier to follow in terms of big ideas and intent, but less exact to the original wording. In terms of readability, a young reader would probably appreciate NIrV, written for a third-grade reading level.
Give them a Bible to call their own. This is such a special gift and you can decide when the timing is right! You can give it to them for their birthday, when they get baptized, or when they finish a special class, like Baseline. Consider getting their name engraved or writing a special letter inside the cover.
Set a consistent time. Habits are hard to form if you don’t have a rhythm. Set a time that works best and then be easy on yourself when it doesn’t work on a given day!
Try different approaches. My daughter and I take turns reading each paragraph on some days. Other days she reads to me as I pack all the school lunches. On Saturdays when we have more time, we stop and ask lots of questions through the text. On days when she isn’t excited and she’s dragging her feet, I read to her. Change it up!
Pastor Mark Batterson often reminds us that God doesn't have grandchildren. Each of us and our children have the opportunity for personal relationship directly with Him. Parents, let’s work hard to provide the scaffolding of nurturing support and then, at the right time, let’s get out of the way and let them start to stand on their own!
Robin Whitford serves on the Family Ministry Team at National Community Church where her husband Mike is a Campus Pastor. The California natives make their home on Capitol Hill with their children Michaela, Rhema and Caleb.