When it comes to teaching kids the Bible, we have a choice to make: do we focus on facts, concepts, or both? How we answer that question impacts much of what we do, including our goal in Bible teaching and how we evaluate success. In this blog post, we explore that the gospel we teach includes both facts and concepts and we also consider how to teach both and evaluate our effectiveness accordingly.
Although it is often considered to be a kids’ food, I’ll eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from time to time. As a kid, I liked my sandwiches with more jelly than peanut butter, cut in half horizontally. Now, I prefer more peanut butter and I cut my sandwiches in half diagonally (yes, I have upped my kitchen knife game). That’s the thing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: they can be crafted in so many ways based on the preferences of the person eating it. Smooth or crunchy peanut butter. Grape, strawberry, or some other kind of jelly. White, wheat, or some other bread. But, with all of the variations possible, when it comes down to it, you cannot make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without peanut butter and jelly. It takes both. Peanut butter and jelly, not peanut butter or jelly. And that’s what a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can teach us about teaching.
Part of teaching is sharing facts. Think of the facts as the peanut butter. This is usually what people think of when they think of teaching; we impart facts to someone else. Our goal of teaching kids the Bible, then, is to teach them the facts of the Bible. They need to know the people, places, and events of Scripture. Let’s use Genesis 22, the sacrifice of Isaac, as an example.
Think of what a kid needs to know—the facts—of Genesis 22. Your list might include who Abraham was, who Isaac was, who God is (of course), what a burnt offering was, and perhaps where Moriah was. Our objective would be to explain these facts to our kids in a way they would understand them and remember them. We could assess how well we did by asking review questions to see if they get the facts right.
Now, those facts are critically important, but facts alone does not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich make. We still need the jelly—or in this case, concepts. If the facts are the “what” of the Bible passage, the concepts are the “why” and “how.” Why does this story matter and how does it connect to the bigger story of the Bible?
Returning to Genesis 22, if all we taught were the facts—we just gave our kids peanut butter—they would miss out on the meaning of the passage. They would know it, but they would not understand it. Think of the concepts that we would want them to understand: how God had promised to bring a Rescuer through this family, how Isaac was the son of promise which drove Abraham’s faith and obedience, how God provided a substitute in Isaac’s place, and how this passage foreshadows a greater Father who would not only be willing to sacrifice His Son, but who did. These concepts show the sweetness of God’s Word—the beauty of the gospel—which is why I think of them as the jelly. But without the facts—the peanut butter—we can never get to these concepts. That is why we need both. We need facts and concepts. Peanut butter and jelly.
How do we assess our kids’ grasp of these concepts though? Well, a review focused on “why” questions rather than “what” questions might help to a degree, but the deeper, fuller evaluation of our kids’ absorption of these concepts comes over time. Are they understanding the gospel more? Have they trusted in Jesus? Are they experiencing transformation by the power of the gospel? This is why our best ministry takes place when we are consistently with our kids over the long haul. These factors are hard, if not impossible, to evaluate if we are with our kids every few weeks.
One final lesson from the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich is in order. Remember how customizable it is? The same is true with our teaching of facts and concepts. For the more concrete thinking preschoolers and younger kids, we want to focus more on facts—lathering on the peanut butter, but still adding some jelly. Younger kids are more concrete in their thinking, not entirely concrete. As the kids get older and can more easily think in abstract terms, you can then gradually shift the balance of the recipe and increase the sweetness by layering on more concepts.
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.