Let me share a short discussion I had with a student in one of my SRE classes.
We were talking about the parable of the sower. I asked the class if they could tell me what they thought Jesus was talking about when one of my students gave me this gem of an answer:
I think he’s not talking about how to grow plants. I think he’s talking about how we are kind of like plants because we grow - and to grow right we need to be planted in the right place, like the good soil? Which is like being in God’s Kingdom? I think?
This answer wowed me because I thought the lesson wasn’t going particularly well because the students were not engaging. But all of a sudden, with that answer, the students started discussing the passage and the class was engaging with the Bible!
There is a big trap I sometimes fall into when preparing an SRE lesson, particularly when the passage seems difficult or tricky. I can tell I’ve fallen into this trap when I catch myself thinking, “How on earth do I make this part of the bible interesting?”
I get caught up thinking that it’s all on me to deliver a good lesson. Then the moment comes where I enter the classroom, all nervous and worried that the lesson might not be interesting and wouldn’t you know it, the students are listening! They are engaged and asking questions and talking. Clearly it is God at work! After all, Isaiah 55:11 teaches us that God’s word does not return to him empty.
So how did my SRE class suddenly become so interested in the Bible? Here are three tips that I have found effective for engaging children with the Bible in SRE.
Love your Bible
My best teachers in school were the ones who loved their subject. So love your Bible.
Spend time preparing the lesson, devoted to the Bible passage you are teaching from. Read the passage. Re-read the passage. Ponder it before you even think about looking at lesson plans.
What stood out?
Who are the characters and what did they do?
What words were tricky?
What does this passage tell you about God?
Remember that even though you may have read the passage a hundred times before, some of the children you are teaching have never read it before, and the passage will be new to them. Get excited about that! What a wonderful opportunity you have.
Be a tour guide
Have you ever been on a tour of a museum? Have you noticed how the tour guide always stands to the side, allowing the object they’re talking about to take centre stage? This is what we should be doing as we teach SRE. Let the Bible take centre stage. Here are some ideas on how to do that in the classroom:
Bring Bibles bookmarked at the passage
Have sheets printed with the passage on it to hand out with questions or areas for students to write their thoughts
Print the passage on a giant piece of paper to show to the whole class
Use the interactive whiteboard. Just be ready to move out of the way and let God’s word take centre stage. In my class, I like to do this by moving to the side of the room or even moving to where the students are sitting and ‘joining the audience’ so that we are all reading and learning from the passage together as it appears on the screen.
Ask one of your students to read the passage. Don’t read it for them. Even if they get a word wrong or mispronounce a name, it doesn’t matter. Letting them read aloud will help them engage with the passage.
Discussion is more important than correct answers
“Jesus! God! The Bible!” These are the typical Sunday School answers we hear regularly. It is more important and better for your students if they talk about what they read, rather than giving you the correct answer. All it takes to get this happening is a few thoughtful questions.
Ask questions that start with, “What do you think…?” or “How might…?” or “Why does…?”. Try to avoid closed questions requiring ‘Yes/No’ answers as these discourage discussion rather than encouraging it.
Feel free to tell your class about how you found something surprising, confusing or amazing. Rather than becoming the fount of all knowledge, you and the students can engage with the passage together. Be willing to let children ask questions themselves. Don’t worry if you can’t answer every question. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” and come back to them another day.
Of course, children will have all kinds of ideas about what a passage means or what it says about God. Don’t be scared if they get it wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher. Children will get the answer wrong or will misunderstand from time to time and that’s okay. The important thing is that the room is abuzz with talk about the Bible. All you have to do is ask questions about the passage, discuss it and trust what God says in Isaiah 55:11 ‘It [God’s Word] will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’.
Adam Johnson is the Children’s Minister at St Luke’s Liverpool, and a Youthworks College student.