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Help! My Kids Don't Want to Read the Bible

Help! My Kids Don't Want to Read the Bible

You nag, beg, cajole, and bribe but your son’s Bible remains on the shelf, unread, collecting dust. Or maybe, afraid you’ll push him in the other direction; you’re reluctant to say anything. Either way, you yearn to see him not only read his Bible but fall in love with God’s holy Word, because you know that’s how he’ll grow. But how can you help your reluctant reader develop this important spiritual discipline?

If you have a tween, chances are, you’ve battled with this question a time or two. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that will turn your child into a Bible-lover, but there are numerous things you can do to help. 

Determine the Cause/s of their Reluctance

Effective parenting focuses on the heart, because that’s where life-change occurs, but reaching the heart can take a bit of detective work. This requires laying your assumptions aside and taking the time to understand your child and the cause of their reluctance.

The reasons can be numerous, from reading difficulties to insecurities.

According to Lori MacMath, owner of ICDevos and Children’s Director and Camp Adventure Coordinator at Vintage 242 Church in Dallas, Georgia, children might not know where to begin. “Many kids simply don’t have an example and aren’t sure how to read their Bibles,” she says.

We, as parents, need to show them.

It’s important for children to see us reading Scripture. When my daughter was young, I’d set my alarm, making sure to wake up thirty minutes before she did so I could have time with God uninterrupted. This was great for me, but not for her! If she never saw me reading it or only saw me doing so on occasion, her view of this important spiritual discipline could become confused or distorted. Rather, what she needed to see was that the Bible was a regular and consistent part of my life.

Luckily, God helped in that regard by waking her up earlier and earlier until I had no choice but to read while she was awake. She wasn’t too pleased with this, and would ask me again and again to play with her. This forced me to set boundaries, and though this was hard at first, I soon realized what a valuable lesson this taught her.  

This showed her the Bible was important to me; important enough that I not only set aside time to for it, but I also guarded that time.

However, modeling alone wasn’t enough, for although it showed her the what, it failed to show her the how. The Bible is a large book, and reading it can easily become overwhelming! Where does one start? How much should one read? And what in the world does it mean?

This is where a bit of gentle, age-appropriate training comes in. Hopefully, by the time they’re tweens, they’ve already learned how to locate books of the Bible, but that doesn’t mean they’ve learned to glean truth from it. By asking them open-ended questions regarding their reading, we can help them begin to seek truth from the text. At this point, we’ll want to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19), allowing them to share their thoughts. Although we might have numerous insights, our goal is to draw them to Scripture, not to us, for answers. That doesn’t mean we can’t correct theological errors or share our opinions. Rather, it means we’ll do so gently with the goal in mind—that our children seek wisdom from God and his Word.

Break the Bible into its Engaging Stories

A tween probably won’t get too excited by Numbers or Leviticus, but they might enjoy reading about the man who set fire to a couple of foxes tails (Samuel) or the woman who became the queen of Persia (Esther). By helping them see the Bible as a collection of historical stories, you invite them to engage.

According to Travis Carson, Storm Director at Reality Church in Papillion, it’s not the reading itself that’s the problem, but rather, our children’s perception of it. “The Bible is huge, old, and a list of rules,” Carson says. “At least that’s the stereotype it receives. But when students are faced with three books of Lord of the Rings or seven Harry Potter books, it’s not a problem! They’re fun, engaging characters who do amazing things.”

And yet, what’s more engaging than a battle against a giant, angels appearing to people, and donkeys talking? The Bible is full of dramatic stories of men and women facing insurmountable challenges brought to victory by the miraculous hand of God. As parents, our role is to help our children discover them. To help them understand those stories represent real people with real fears and challenges who encountered an amazing God. The same God who wants to meet with them.

Utilize Christian Resources

There are many Bibles and devotions written for kids, from the Adventure Study Bible that has fun inserts and pictures to girly booklets with quizzes and challenges. If your child is struggling with their Bible reading, consider taking them to your local Christian bookstore and allowing them to choose a devotional or Bible. Not only will they select something that fits their interests and personality, but they’ll likely be more apt to read it, having had an input in the selection. More than that, this communicates, “We’re a team. I’m on your side, and I’m listening to you, your feelings, and your desires,” which always helps open the doors of communication.

It’s important to recognize this might take some trial and error. A devotional that looks exciting might lose their interest a quarter of the way in. That can be frustrating, especially if you’re on a budget, but remember your goal: to get them reading Scripture. That doesn’t mean you throw the budget out, but it does mean you don’t turn the situation into a lecture on waste. Rather, encourage them to keep trying, perhaps with another devotional. If money is an issue, many can be purchased used online.

Keep it Conversational

“Talk about it with them,” Carson says. “The LifeJournal Bible has [age-appropriate] reading plans from elementary to the teen-years that parallel the adult plan. This means your kids can read the same passages on the same days.”

We like to discuss our Bible reading at the dinner table. My husband and I normally start by sharing what we read that day and what it meant to us or what we felt God was saying to us. Then we ask our daughter about what she read. When she appears distracted or uninterested, we don’t push it. Rather, maintaining a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere, we either continue with our discussion or move on to something else. This lets her know Scripture is important to us without turning it or the dinner table into a battle ground.

Make it Relevant

Show them how God guides you through Scripture. When you’ve received an answer to prayer or guidance on a specific topic, share that with your children. When you’re wrestling with something, share that as well, expressing how you’re waiting for God to show the answer through his Word. Also share times when you’ve struggled and have received comfort through Scripture. In other words, show them what it means to rely on God’s Word during good times and bad, times of certainty and questioning.

Be Honest

“It’s important for kids to see the adults in their lives making it a priority and a discipline,” Macmath says. But they also need to know we sometimes mess up. “Being transparent with kids at this age goes further than we realize, letting a child know that sometimes I get busy, and if I’m not careful, reading my Bible falls off. It always boils down to communication in my mind. Healthy communication is critical in these years. Communication that opens doors, not slams then shut.”

Focus on Small Steps rather than Giant Leaps

Perhaps the first step for your child is reading a verse daily. That’s okay, because it’s a start. Right now, you’re goal might be to establish a habit, then, once that habit’s established, you can encourage them to increase the time spent or amount of Scripture read. Perhaps the next step would be for them to read a devotional.

“One big thing we as leaders have to remind ourselves is that kids rarely hear a lesson then have everything click and are changed forever,” Carson says. “Rather, it’s a collection of stepping stones. Or like Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians chapter three, seeds being planted and watered by different people.”

Help Them Form Discipleship Relationships 

Though we as parents have the greatest human influence in our children’s lives, it must not be the only influence. It’s much easier to raise children in community, and when our children receive the same message from others, especially those they admire, that message is strengthened.

“My children have all benefited from and are in discipleship relationships,” Macmath says. “It’s another voice in the mix besides the parent, and yet, it opens up conversations at home.”

This could be an older child, perhaps from the high school group, or it could be another parent your child admires and connects with. Extended family can also be a great resource.

Encourage Godly Friendships

When our daughter was in junior high, her youth pastor invited the students to read through Scripture in a year. She wasn’t thrilled with this idea, and there appeared to be little I could do to raise her enthusiasm. But then one day, while one of her Christian friends was in the car, I casually mentioned the challenge, suggesting the two of them do this together. Suddenly, Bible reading became more exciting! The two became one another’s accountability partners. It was a beautiful thing. There were times when I could hear them talking on the phone about the verses they’d read that day. 

Keep your Expectations Realistic

As a mother of an only child, I often have little to base my expectations on. I can err in two ways: either I expect too much maturity in my daughter or I underestimate her. In fifth grade, she attended a private Christian school. Her teacher made daily Bible reading part of their homework. At this point, I’d never even considered asking her to read Scripture on her own. I still read it to her, a bedtime habit we both cherished. And yet, she read numerous other books on her own. Why couldn’t she develop a personal quiet time? She did, and has maintained this ever since.

I can also err the other way in expecting her to go from early reader to theologian overnight. I need to remember spiritual growth is a process and a journey, and one with starts, stops, bumps and set-backs. My role isn’t to freak out or react but rather to encourage and nudge.

I’ve found things work best when my concerns are bathed in prayer and I remember it’s God’s job, not mine, to draw her closer to himself and his Word.

Pray Regularly for their Heart

Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases,” and in John 6:44, Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”

These verses remind me God is the one who stirs and draws hearts. Therefore, my prayer is that he would draw my daughter to him and his Word, that he would give her a hunger for his Word and truth, and that he would use his word to guide her.

Knowing he will be faithful to do just that, I can relax and do my part, which is training her in the Lord, encouraging her to read his Word, and modeling what that looks like each day. Over time, I’ve watched God turn her reluctance into a deep respect and dependence on the Bible.  

Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects.

Publication date: June 20, 2014