Regular reading of the Bible in childhood is a strong predictor of spiritual health in adulthood. If instilling a love for the Bible is a crucial factor in religious education, parents need to develop methods to reinforce a habit that keeps children on the desired spiritual trajectory.

In the digital age, the obstacles to getting children close to the Word seem more challenging to overcome than in any other period. There are many alternatives (some particularly attractive) to reading a book that deals with topics that are hard for a child to understand, contains passages that even adults often find boring, and presents events that happened a long time ago, with protagonists from a very different culture.

In the labyrinth of haste and overcrowding in modern life, many parents fail to open their Bibles very often, so they cannot provide the example their children need, and they cannot effectively guide them in developing an authentic relationship with God.

Love for the Bible is cultivated early

A Barna study conducted two decades ago showed that the majority of parents with children under 13 (85%) believed that the responsibility for the religious education of children was theirs. However, most parents did not take the time, over a week, to discuss religious topics or study texts with spiritual themes. The study also showed that parents did not see themselves as equipped to engage in the spiritual development of children, did not have a plan or spiritual objectives to achieve, and did not consider cultivating the faith of children a priority.

The two major weaknesses in child rearing reported by surveyed parents were that they didn’t know how to help their children read the Bible and memorise Bible verses. “The old adage, ‘you can’t give what you don’t have,’ is pertinent for millions of families,” says researcher George Barna, emphasising parents’ tendency to rely on the church for their children’s religious education, even though they admit that it is their responsibility.

In 2017, the Lifeway Research organisation conducted a study with over 2,000 parents of adult children (aged 18 to 30) aiming to identify long-term effective parenting practices for the spiritual health of children. Researchers examined no fewer than 40 factors that could shape a child’s moral development (such as parental divorce, family prayer practices, eating meals together, the school the child attended, frequency of religious service attendance, etc.).

Parents were also asked to describe the spiritual health of their adult children using 8 factors (each child received a point for each checked factor): 1. identifies as Christian; 2. shares their faith with others; 3. is involved in their church; 4. regularly reads the Bible; 5. serves in the church; 6. teaches others in the church; 7. serves in the community; 8. supports local or international mission programs.

Half of the children scored 0 or 1; 39% identified as Christians but were not dedicated to any spiritual practices, and 11% declared that they no longer considered themselves Christians. Only 3% achieved the maximum score of 8 points.

The most significant predictor of spiritual well-being turned out to be Bible reading: 29% of young adults read the Bible regularly in childhood, and the spiritual well-being of this group was 12.5% higher than those who did not cultivate this habit. Other factors contributing to a high level of spiritual health included the habit of praying in childhood, serving in the church, or predominantly listening to Christian music.

“The key takeaway from the study is (…) that God’s Word truly is what changes lives,” says Jana Magruder, director of Lifeway Kids.

The connection between the habit of reading the Bible and spiritual health in adulthood, highlighted by the Lifeway Research study, is a robust reason for parents to prioritise familiarity with Scripture. Contact with the teachings of the Bible proves beneficial not only in the long term but also brings new perspectives and equips children to face current challenges.

More reasons to cultivate a love for the Bible

Reading the Bible every day is like a two-way street, says Christian author David Paul, explaining that an immediate benefit of this habit is the satisfaction of seeing how God fulfils His Word. Paul makes it a daily practice to expose his young children to biblical text, finding ample opportunities along the way to apply lessons they’ve read shortly before.

Life with children is busy, and sometimes all the commotion culminates in chaos, but a parent who manages to do all the things that keep children alive must also make time for the things “that give them life,” says writer Amy Parker in an article advocating for bringing children closer to the teachings of the Bible.

First and foremost, the Bible presents matters of eternal importance—even more critical than knowing the alphabet or maintaining physical activity and a healthy diet is for children to be endowed with faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13), values that will endure. In a time when identity seems to have become increasingly fluid, the Bible provides children with a sense of identity, assuring them that they are heirs of the King who created and sustains the entire universe. Moreover, the time when the Bible is open to their eyes and understanding strengthens the child’s relationship with God and the parent-child bonds.

In a world dominated by uncertainty, the promises of the Word create a space of tranquillity and security, both for the young and the old. The child’s trust is built, brick by brick, when they know that whatever problem they face, they can bring it before the One who protected Moses in his reeds basket and watched over Daniel in the lion’s den.

The Bible functions like a magnifying glass, offering a clearer picture of God’s goodness and helping us cultivate gratitude and peace—incalculable benefits for today’s children, confronted with an unprecedented level of anxiety, says Joy Hale, the director of a Christian school. Time spent with the God of the Bible will ultimately shape the values a child loves, preparing them to seek what is true and good, Hale says.

How to familiarise children with the Bible

The most common obstacles that children (and sometimes even adults) face when they start reading the Bible are that it seems too difficult and not very relevant. Therefore, it is the parent’s responsibility to find ways to make Scripture not only more understandable but also engaging.

For young children (but not exclusively), establishing a dedicated time for reading/telling Bible stories is crucial. Adapted passages and narratives will be used to match their comprehension level, along with other available resources—drawings, toys, Lego, collages, crayons, paint, clay. As children grow, resources can include maps, atlases, and anything else that aids in a better understanding of Scripture. At a young age, the repetition of the same stories is welcomed: children enjoy hearing the same story again and again.

For older children, systematic reading of the Bible, rather than random reading, helps to form a comprehensive understanding, creates connections between different books of the Bible, and encourages exposure to more challenging passages, Pastor David Murray says. Also, questions about the passage read (from simple ones like who? where? when? to broader ones, encouraging the child to articulate what they have learned from the text about God, sin, salvation, etc.), as well as the willingness to answer the child’s questions, are simple tools that help the child engage with what is being read to them.

Realism plays a crucial role when outlining a plan for reading the Bible—10 or 15 minutes a day dedicated to this purpose can prove more beneficial than an hour once a week. The aim is to encourage consistency in the child, to instil a sense of anticipation and joy in approaching Scripture, rather than viewing it as a chore.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). If we want to familiarise children with Scripture, we shouldn’t consult it only in times of confusion or pain but treat it as an indispensable guide in the journey of each day.

A parent aiming to instil a love for the Bible in their children should ponder how the Word operates in their own life and what space it occupies amid the chaos of daily tasks, Professor William Osborne says. What we do day by day shapes the desires of children more than we realise, and at the heart of the discussion about approaching the Bible is a key question: whether we genuinely desire for our children something we don’t possess ourselves.

Even when a child can read independently, the parent’s presence is vital to making the encounter with the Bible special, Christian author Jill Nelson says. The parent needs to find a quiet time and space, avoiding distractions, including those caused by digital devices. Nelson emphasises the importance of using the actual Bible, even for young children with patience for only a few verses, and suggests that illustrated Bibles or other texts adapted for children, however helpful, should not replace the actual Scripture.

Prayer before and after reading the Bible conveys a crucial message to children: we hold not an ordinary book in our hands, and we depend on its Author for accurate understanding. Reading the Bible can seamlessly transform into prayer, and the child needs to learn how to turn any Bible verse into a prayer of praise, a request, or a confession, Pastor Murray says.

The time a parent has to shape a child’s understanding of the Word is always too short. But, no matter how diligent their efforts, the best hopes will always be tied to God’s promise that none of His words will return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

Carmen Lăiu is an editor of Signs of the Times Romania and ST Network.