My husband Paul and I are both teachers, and we tried to teach all six of our kids the Bible. Kim is the fourth of our six kids. She has multiple disabilities, which kept her from going to Christian school along with the others.
It was difficult for Kim to learn, even at church. She was able to keep up in Sunday School up to first grade, and then got frustrated with all the scissors, play groups, and interaction with the other kids and teachers. For about twenty years, I stayed with Kim during the Sunday School hour. It was just not Sunday school that was tough. Even while Kim and I walked the church halls down to Sunday school, people were afraid of Kim. I got frustrated because “this little light” was being hidden under a bushel.
I believe all of us can learn. We are made in the image of God, and God is limitless. I don’t believe in ceilings where people stop learning. I try to adapt Bible study materials so that people affected by disability can go beyond where they ever have before in studying the Bible. I didn’t set out to be a writer. I set out to make sure all of “the gang” (as I lovingly call the kids and adults I teach who are affected by disabilities) could learn the Bible.
Tips for Teaching the Bible to “the Gang”
You may see “the gang” in a similar situation in your home, your church, or your school. Wherever you are, don’t get overwhelmed. In more than 25 years of teaching “the gang” about Jesus, I’ve discovered a few simple strategies that work in almost any setting.
1. Act It Out
It’s amazing how wrapping a scarf around a child’s shoulders can instantly transport him or her right into the scene of the Bible story you are teaching. Simple props will enlarge your gang’s imagination—and maybe yours! You can even take it one step further and do a little role play. Keep it quick and easy (this isn’t Broadway!). This is a great way to get your gang familiar with the characters and the plot.
2. Question Your Questions
Questions can be difficult, especially for young kids or people with disability. Consider turning your question into a statement—it makes the concept simpler to understand. So “Who did Jesus touch in this story?” becomes “Tell me who Jesus touched in this story.” Or turn your questions into multiple-choice. Others may have trouble expressing themselves even when they know the answer. (The answer is “stuck”; how frustrating is that?) So your question becomes: “Tell me who Jesus touched in the coffin. Was it his mother? Was it a person from the community? Or was it a woman’s son?” Sometimes a simple rephrasing can make a big difference in understanding.
3. Tell Your Own Stories
If you read the little devotional, Finding Jesus on Upside Down Days, you will discover that it is chock-full of ordinary stories about life in a barnyard. Because they are simple, they are easy to connect with. You might think that the stories from your everyday life aren’t interesting or worth sharing. But all of creation points up to an amazing Creator God! So tell your stories. As you look for God’s hand in your daily life, you will find it. And when you find it, you can’t help but talk about it!
4. Review, Review, Review
You and your gang benefit from review. I love to keep a prop box on hand, to store those scarf-dresses and oven mitt-shields. At times, pull out props not just from the previous lesson, but many lessons back. Review times are great to see how everyone in the group is applying the lessons in their daily life. Review also gives focus to what we have learned and inspires us to change through the power of Jesus in our lives.
This is so important for all of teaching. I could write a separate blog on this topic! “With-it-ness” is being aware of your students and staying in tune with them as a group and as individuals. When you look at your gang as you teach them, they will tell you if they are understanding. As soon as you see someone who is drifting off and not “with it” … just begin praying quietly, asking God to show you how to tune them in.
I love Psalm 119:130: “As your words are taught, they give light; even the simple can understand them.” No matter how young or old we are, all of us can continue to learn! Make space to learn from your students, even if it means giving up a little control. Everyone will benefit. This is an opportunity for you as a teacher to discover new things about God alongside your students.
Finding Jesus on Upside Down Days: Family Devotions from the Barnyard
In Finding Jesus on Upside Down Days, Jill Miller gives heartwarming, intimate glimpses of her life on the farm. But more than this, as Jill takes care of her animals, enjoying what the Creator has made, God takes her upside-down soul and sets it right-side up.