Big Truths for Little Kids
About the Guest
Are you teaching your children to live for God? Author and speaker Susan Hunt encourages parents to use the catechism to teach their children the truths of Scripture.
Susan HuntSusan Hunt is a mother and grandmother, a pastor’s wife, and the former Director of Women’s Ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America. Holding a degree in Christian education from Columbia Theological Seminary, she is coauthor of Women’s Ministry in the Local Church.
Are you teaching your children to live for God?
Big Truths for Little Kids
Bob: We often underestimate just how much young children can really absorb and can learn. Author Susan Hunt says their minds are like sponges.
Susan: Memorization is in many ways a lost art, but it is such an important thing for our children. Actually, below the age of five is when they're at prime time for memorization. Our grandchildren and the children in our church begin doing Scripture memorization and memorizing answers to catechism questions at three and four years old.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about what we can do, as parents, to teach big truths to little children. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. We are going to talk today to a grandmother who is on a mission, Dennis.
Dennis: I've got a picture here—and if it was a time to teach big truths to little people—I'm trying to count them all—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten—there's a tenth one over in the corner. Is that one yours, Susan?
Susan: That's the granddaddy of them all. [Laughter]
Dennis: I wasn’t referring to your husband. [Laughter] That's the voice of Susan Hunt, who joins us here on the broadcast. Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Susan, it's a treat to have you back on the broadcast. For many of our listeners—they've read your works. One is called Spiritual Mothering: the Titus II Model for Women, Mentoring Women, True Women, The ABC Bible Verses, Hiding God's Word in Little Hearts, and Big Truths for Little Kids.
Now, I know this is close to Bob's heart.
Bob: Mary Ann has taken our kids through this book, Big Truths for Little Kids, because, all along, we have wanted to—to try to—and the formal word here is catechizing your children. We had begun to teach them one of the old catechisms—that's where you memorize a question and an answer. You know what I'm talking about?
Dennis: Right. I do.
Bob: And I was driving along with my son, Jimmy. He was about five years old. Out of the blue, he turned to me and he said: "Hey, Dad. I know who the chief Indian man is." I thought—I wondered what he'd been watching on TV. I didn't have any idea of what he was talking about: "The chief Indian man?" I said, 'What are you talking about?"
He said: "The chief Indian man. You know—the chief Indian man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Now, what Jimmy was doing was taking the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which asks, "What is the chief end of man?"
Dennis: The chief Indian man.
Bob: And the answer is, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." But in Jimmy's little mind, it had become "the chief Indian man." [Laughter] I realized, “Our attempts at catechizing are simply not connecting with my young child.”
Dennis: Now—now, please—catechizing is the idea of instructing your children—not to be confused with cauterizing. [Laughter]
Bob: It does sound like a surgical procedure—to catechize—doesn't it? [Laughter]
Dennis: Susan, I know this is really important to you and close to your heart; but why is it so important to teach these big truths to little people?
Susan: As we catechize our children—as we give them this question-and-answer method, which is such a good way of instruction—what we're really doing here is giving them a framework of biblical thought. It helps them to begin, at a very young age, to cultivate a biblical world view. They will not, perhaps, comprehend the full depth of what they're learning, at the beginning; but they are memorizing these answers, that they go back to, as their understanding expands in years to come.
Dennis: Well, I'm going to brag on Bob, as a dad, at this point, and all the cauterizing that he's done with his kids. It's worked—at least, with Amy—because I got a piece that was sent to me by a proud pop, the other day, in my email. It was just—"A Reflection on the Culture" by Amy Lepine. I'm going to tell you—there aren't many that could draw the kinds of biblical conclusions that she drew—looking at the culture and all the messages—the mixed messages of the world—and contrasting that with the Scripture. I thought, "Now, where'd she get that?" This is the power of family that is anchored in the Scripture.
So, when you talk about teaching big truths for little kids—this is how we help them escape the snares of the enemy, and not just muddle through mediocrity to get to adulthood; but live above it.
It can happen; can't it, Susan?
Susan: Yes, it can. A catechism is simply a systematic way to teach the big ideas of the Bible—to teach those big truths that are there.
Bob: And you know, I think there's a lot of confusion around catechism today in the culture. Some people look at it and say, "I thought that was just something the Catholics do."
Bob: But it's been a part, not only of the Catholic tradition, but a part of the Protestant tradition, throughout the centuries. It's just something most Protestants let go of a while back; right?
Susan: Yes. Many did.
Bob: And then, there's the whole issue of memorizing questions and answers. I think a lot of people go: "Well, what's the value of this rote memorization of things that some of these kids can't even understand, at this point? Aren't we really more interested in reaching their heart than just having them memorize facts?"
Susan: As they memorize these facts—that becomes a source of knowledge of who God is, who they are—the framework of Scripture. Then, understanding can grow as they move on in their maturity. So it is important. It's important for them to memorize Scripture, and it is important for them to memorize these answers to questions that will help them to frame that knowledge.
Memorization is, in many ways, a lost art; but it is such an important thing for our children. Actually, below the age of five is when they're at prime time for memorization. Our grandchildren and the children in our church begin doing Scripture memorization and memorizing answers to catechism questions at three and four years old.
Dennis: And I've got to tell you—one of the finest ministries, in America, to young people—Awana is a ministry that teaches young people, at a very early age, to begin this memorization—
Dennis: —of Scripture around the ABCs. Then, it moves to higher levels. It's a lot like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts—they have patches and competitions—and it's around the right kind of thing, Bob.
Bob: Well, here's the thing. We underestimate, severely, a child's ability/capacity to memorize. I mean, when kids are young, they seem to have—it's almost like something gets flipped in our brain, later on; and we can't do it, as well. But when they're in those early years, they can quickly and easily—almost effortlessly—memorize some of these things that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Susan: Absolutely. And most people will say that the Scriptures that they know best are those that they memorized as a very young child. The Scriptures that I've memorized since then, in adulthood, I do not remember nearly as well as the ones I memorized as a little child. So, when we help a child memorize, we're giving them a legacy. So often, they will remember, not just what they memorized, but they will remember that person who helped them to memorize.
Bob: You know, years ago, it occurred to me that the church we're a part of today does not recite the Apostles' Creed, on a regular basis, the way that I did when I was growing up. Every Sunday we recited the Apostles' Creed. In fact, I had to memorize the Apostles' Creed, as a young person, in order to take communion for the first time. That was a part of the tradition I grew up in.
And our kids—Amy, I think, was in junior high, at the time. I thought: "She doesn't even know what the Apostles' Creed is. She's never even heard it." And the Apostles' Creed—there's nothing magical about it. It's simply a short statement of what is at the heart of biblical Christianity—that we believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth; that we believe in Jesus, who's His only Son, Our Lord—you know? We go through kind of a systematic explanation of all of that.
So, I came to the kids one morning at the breakfast table—and I handed each of them—I'd printed it out on the computer—the Apostles' Creed. I said, "I want you to look at this.
“The first one to get it memorized gets $5." Now, this was back in the days when $5 meant something to them. Today, they'd go, "Five bucks?" and they'd set it aside.
Bob: But $5 meant something. I mean—they went to town—to work to go after that $5. I thought to myself, "Some people might say, 'Well, you were just bribing your kids at that point.'" You know what? I'll bribe them any time. It's the best $5 you can invest—to get your kids to lock in on core biblical truth.
Dennis: What you're doing is—you're fulfilling Deuteronomy 6. Now, it doesn't say in there to give your kids five bucks as a reward; but I don't think God, in heaven, is upset with us rewarding our children for doing what's right and for following through on a command.
Susan, I want you to take our listeners—in fact, we have some little listeners. What I want you to do is open the book—it's a great-looking book—and actually take us into your book, God's Truths for Little Kids. Help us experience kind of what one of the chapters is all about. Each one's very short; aren't they?
Susan: Yes. Each chapter opens with a few of the questions and answers from the Child's Catechism, which is a simplified version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that you referred to. For example, Bob, the first chapter begins with: "Who made you?" The child answers: "God." "What else did God make?" "God made all things." "Why did God make you and all things?" "For His own glory." "How can you glorify God?" "By loving Him and doing what He commands." "Why are you to glorify God?" "Because He made me and takes care of me."
Bob: Now, you would have a child memorize both the questions and the answers?
Susan: No, just the answers.
Bob: Just the answers to those five questions.
Susan: And even a very young child—our grandchildren, from the age of about three, can recite the answers to those questions. Well, right there, they have the basis for a Christian world view because it takes them back to creation—to the purpose of their creation—and to the Authority of their creation.
But then, what we've done—and the book was co-authored by our son, who is a Director of Children's Ministry—and Richie really helped in making it child-friendly. He knows the language. He could help with the story lines and things like that. So, we did this together. We're both committed to teaching catechism to children.
But then, we have a practical application life story—where some children really live this out. This first story is about children who go to the zoo. They take with them a little boy, from next door, who is not a Christian. He's not from a Christian family. When they come to the monkeys in the zoo, he says: "Look! We evolved from monkeys." The little Christian children begin to explain to him: "No. God made us. God made us for His glory." So, from the beginning—through a little story about children going to the zoo—the children begin to apply biblical truth into real life.
Bob: Now, this takes what they've memorized—the catechism answers—and gives them a chance to see that it's not just rote memorization,—
Bob: —but it is real truth that affects how you live on a daily basis.
Susan: Absolutely. And the beauty of it—that, I have to admit, Richie and I didn't fully realize this until we got to the end and we looked back—I said, "Richie, as I think about it—with all of these little stories—we've really covered the spectrum of the things that are important in family life." The reason is because we were functioning on the track of systematic theology. That's what a catechism is—it takes you through Scripture in a systematic way.
And so—as we went all the way through—we dealt with salvation—the family, next door, that the Christian family began witnessing to, and taking to church, and establishing a relationship with. We went through all of the various things that families need to deal with—forgiveness—all of those things.
And we even came to death—as the older grandmother approached death—and the way she talked to the children and the way she talked to them about heaven. We were able to deal with the full spectrum of family life.
Dennis: Something happened as you finished this book. You began to get some feedback from the adults that surprised you.
Susan: Yes, it really did. We wrote it for the children; but we began to get letters and emails from families—from young parents—who said: "We did not grow up in a Christian home, and we did not know how to do family. But by reading this to our children, we're beginning to see what a Christian family looks like. We're seeing how a Christian family relates to the church. We're seeing how a Christian family lives out their faith in their neighborhood."
And one of my favorite stories is of a little girl. Her parents were reading the book to her. She said to them, one night, "I must go out to all the children in the neighborhood who are not Christians, and I need to tell them about Jesus." She began inviting them to her home, and she would read the book to them.
Dennis: That's cool.
Susan: Really exciting, yes, great.
Dennis: And that's the way it was intended to be taught. You know—Deuteronomy 6 talks about: “…as you lie down, as you walk by the way.” It was intended to occur around—well, I call it Sandbox Theology. It's around things that are common to a child—where he lives his life and how he best understands it.
Bob: And I think it would be the wise mom or dad who would get a resource like this and plan now—that as a part of their weekly family time, or as a part of daily devotions, or maybe they’re home-schoolers and they want to incorporate this into their curriculum—a resource like this is a great way to begin that systematic instruction of your children. Who did you write this for—what age group? You said you have three-year-olds memorizing this catechism. How old will it go?
Susan: We really had in mind those families that have children from, say, age 3 to 12 or so—that kind of an age-span. It seems to be working. Families with children in that age group tell us that it works for family devotions. That was really what we were thinking about—that it's a book that they can use for family worship.
Bob: And when you get done with the story in each section, you don't just end there; right?
Susan: Right. There are some questions there—"Let's Talk." And then, there's also a section—"Let's Pray." What we're encouraging parents to do is—to begin to pray Scripture for their children. We give some ideas there and also how they can help the children to begin to learn to pray Scripture.
Bob: Now, you didn't have a book like this when you were a mom, with your kids, growing up?
Susan: No, I didn't. But I did have the Catechism. Our children were catechized, and I would make up stories. That's part of what led to the writing of it.
Bob: How did you do that with your kids? I mean, when you were growing up, did you do it at breakfast? Did you do it in the evenings? Did you sit in the living room? I mean, just take us there and tell us how you would teach your kids the catechism.
Susan: All of the above. We did it as a part of family worship. We did it as we were driving in the car, going places—whether we were on vacation, or if we were waiting for someone to take piano lessons—I would be catechizing another child. We used it in all different ways—as well as in the programs within our church. And that helps so much if other church families are doing the same thing.
One of the other things that we tried very hard to do in this book is to not hold before our children a behavioral model that is saying to them, "You've got to do this, this, and this;" but rather—over and over—to say to them: "You can't do this. We must go to the cross. We must ask Jesus for grace to love that child who is bullying you. We must ask Jesus for grace to believe His promises."
Bob: When they're done with the catechism, they will have gone through the Ten Commandments; right?—the Lord's Prayer?
Susan: The Lord's Prayer.
Bob: They're getting exposed—not simply to concepts from systematic theology—but they're getting exposed to the essentials of what God has called His people to in the Scriptures—the idea of morality, the idea of prayer, the idea of a right relationship with Him. They have a foundation for their faith, at that point.
Susan: Yes. And the section on salvation is magnificent because those questions help the children to begin to understand the wonder of justification by faith—of sanctification by grace. It's just a wonderful way to teach children and to be sure that we've covered all the bases.
Dennis: And you can begin to see why the adults begin to like it, too, because many times, those of us who fill the pulpit—we're really good at speaking of these concepts; but maybe, not putting the cookies on the lower shelf where people can feed.
You know, Bob, I remember back when Susan was here a couple of years ago. She talked about this project. I thought: "Man! I wish our children were a little younger for this book,” because I like the idea of a systematic process to take your children through. We taught them Bible stories, and we taught them the Bible, and we had some good storytelling that we did—but there's something about having a process, that someone else who has done this—and this is a grandmother and her son who are showing us how to hammer this out in our families. I just commend you, Susan. I think this is a great book that ought to be used by every family.
And I think, too, one of the things that's needed today is what you're providing here. We've got a number of young people today who are beginning their families. They do not know what it looks like.
You're actually helping them to establish the skeleton—and kind of wrap the flesh around that skeleton to help them craft a family—make a family emerge from these little people coming into their lives. What a wonderful tool.
Bob: You may have heard this story, but John Piper tells about D.L. Moody making a visit to Scotland in the late 1800s. He was talking to a local grade school. He began his message with the rhetorical question: "What is prayer?" When he asked that, he was amazed because hundreds of children's hands went up, all over the auditorium, to answer his question.
So, he decided to call on one of the kids and see how they'd answer. He called on a lad in the front, who promptly stood up and said, "Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of His Spirit, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies."
Dennis: [Laughter] Not a seminary class.
Bob: No, this was grade school children. This is the answer to Question 78 in the Westminster Catechism—to which Moody responded by saying, "Be thankful, son, that you were born in Scotland." [Laughter]
Dennis: And I would say to you, Susan Hunt, I am thankful for you spending these moments with us, here on FamilyLife Today. You are a valued partner and friend in a family reformation, and in equipping couples and young families to build these biblical truths into their children, and to help their children get to know God at a young age. Thanks for being on the broadcast today.
Susan: Thank you very much.
Bob: And let's hope that there will be thousands of kids—
Dennis: —who will raise their hands.
Bob: Yes, and who will know the answer to the catechism questions because Mom and Dad got hold of a copy of the book, Big Truths for Little Kids; and they’ve spent time reading through the stories and memorizing some of these catechism questions.
We've got copies of Susan’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order a copy of the book from us online.
Again the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order over the phone: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800, “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Let me also mention we have some resources available for parents to help disciple children, especially as we head into the Easter season this year. Barbara Rainey has created a mystery book for parents and kids to read together called The Messiah Mystery. This is something you would read, during the Lenten season, that would help you search the Old Testament Scriptures to learn the identity of the Messiah. It comes complete with a magnifying glass. It’s a great devotional resource for families to use together—again, during the Lenten season.
Barbara has other resources she has come up with to help you prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Of course, we have our Resurrection Eggs®.
In fact, this year, the 20th anniversary set of Resurrection Eggs is being released. Find out more about all of these resources when you go to our web site: FamilyLifeToday.com; or if you have any questions, call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to have our friend, Francis Chan, joining us. We’re going to talk about the person he calls the forgotten God. Hope you can tune in as we talk about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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