How NOT to teach Genesis to Kids
5 mistakes to avoid in your teaching
By Dana Wilkerson — Former Curriculum Development Director
Genesis is full of exciting stories: Creation, Noah’s ark, Abraham (almost) sacrificing Isaac, Jacob tricking Isaac, Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, and much more. It seems so much easier to teach these stories to little people than to teach them the prophets, the epistles, and other books that are full of abstract concepts and imagery. Yet in our eagerness to bring the intriguing stories of Genesis to life, we often get it wrong.
Oh, we might get the literal facts right, but we can easily miss the mark on interpretation and application. Here are five mistakes to avoid in teaching Genesis to children.
1. Make the Patriarchs out to be Heroes
How many times have we seen children’s curriculum create a “heroes” theme around Genesis or the Old Testament in general? Many studies and churches embrace this idea without thinking much about it. But we do need to think about it, because these men were truly not the superheroes we often make them out to be.
Abraham passed his wife off as his sister – twice. Granted, she was his half-sister, but that’s not the point. He failed to identify her as his wife and, as a result, he put her in a very precarious position. Abraham also slept with his wife’s maid in an attempt to produce the child God had promised.
Isaac, like his father, claimed his wife was his sister. He also played favorites with his twin boys. He tried to give the blessing to Esau even though God had said Esau would serve Jacob.
Jacob manipulated his brother to get his birthright. He lied and tricked his father to get the blessing. And, like his father, he played favorites with his sons.
There is much more, but you get the point. Did these men do some great, faithful things? Of course. Can they be role models in some ways? Yes. But they were sinners just like we are. They were not on some higher level of spirituality than we are. So let’s not make them out to be something they are not.
2. Focus on the Animals in Noah’s Story
Ask a child what the story of Noah’s ark is about, and almost every time the answer will have something to do with animals. But that’s not the point of the story. It’s about God’s judgment of sin and wickedness. And it’s about His grace toward those who seek and follow Him.
This is not a cute, happy story. All but a handful of humans were killed. And all but two of each species of land animal and bird drowned. It is a story full of death and darkness, but it is also a story full of grace and God’s light. That should be the focus of this story when we teach it to anyone – including children.
3. Avoid the Hard Topics
We all know Genesis isn’t full of rainbows and roses. It has its high points, sure, but it also contains stories of mass murder, rape, incest, slavery, unjust incarceration and more. It is in a child’s nature to be curious and they will comment on these things when they read them in the Bible or hear about them.
You may not know how to answer their questions or respond to their comments about these topics in the moment. That’s okay. The important thing is to let the child know you hear them and that their comments, questions or concerns are valid. Then you can explore the topic together in a way that is developmentally appropriate for the child.
It may be tempting to gloss over or even avoid some of these topics. And, frankly, some of them should be adjusted appropriately for most 5-year-olds or even 11-year-olds. But the reality of our world is that some 5-year-olds have experienced these things in their own lives, families or cultures. They may need understanding, love and care when it comes to the hard topics. We can approach these topics with care and discernment.
4. Give the People Thoughts or Motives We Can’t Know
It’s common for us to give the people in the Bible the motives or thoughts we would have in their situation. Or we might even think we know their motives because of the other things we do know about them. But there is often no way to know.
When teaching Genesis, we might say that Jacob had been plotting for years to manipulate Esau into giving him the birthright. But we know no such thing, even though that would not be surprising given what else we know about Jacob (who, as we have already noted , was no superhero).
Or we might want to say that Joseph tested his brothers in Egypt in an effort to find out if God had changed their hearts. Maybe He did. Maybe He didn’t. We don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us why Joseph made that choice.
Can we ever speculate about the thoughts or motives of someone in the Bible? Yes, it can sometimes be helpful to do so. But we should also make it clear that we are just guessing.
5. Fail to Connect it to Jesus
In the midst of all the action and excitement of Genesis it can be easy to forget it is all part of a much larger story – God’s big story of redemption. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, all of history was moving toward the day when God’s Son, Jesus, would come to earth and die for the sins of humanity so that we can be restored to a relationship with God. This theme runs throughout the book of Genesis as we see God reiterate His covenant with Abraham again and again.
Genesis is not just about Creation, the flood and the patriarchs. It is also about Jesus. Let’s make sure to communicate that to our children!