Just read the Bible (why I dislike (most) devotional books for kids).
Every year, parents and ministry leaders ask which devotional books I recommend for families. So here’s my go-to approach (with a few exceptions): Skip the devotional books and just read the Bible.
With the help of a grown-up or older sibling, a Bible (or a few of them, since it’s great to have early readers follow along in their personal copy) is completely sufficient for family devotions. Using the Bible instead of a supplementary devotional book equips children with basic understanding of how Scripture is laid out. It builds confidence in navigating Scripture. It presents truth instead of retellings. It piques curiosity.
Here are some of the excuses I’ve heard for why the Bible isn’t sufficient and a few thoughts of response:
Devotional books are more interesting and engaging. More interesting than parting the Red Sea? More interesting than fire from heaven? More interesting than fighting giants? Really?If your devotional books share a story with a Scripture anecdote, you might be using tools that make fictitious stories more interesting than Scripture itself. This is not to say that they are more interesting, but that they are set-up to minimize the beauty and relevance of Scripture. Typically, devotional books are poorly written and less interesting than high-quality literature. This sets up a situation where the Bible is the least interesting part of devotions and devotion are less interesting than other literature. No wonder we fall of the Bible-reading bandwagon!
Devotional books help make the Bible relevant. The best outcome of a studying the Bible will be to understand God and the Kingdom of God more fully. Devotional books often water this down to “be kind”, “be inclusive”, or “help others”. The fruits of the Spirit are a result of inward transformation not behavioralism. Consider seeking the relevance of Scripture by using these 3 questions every time you read:
“What does this teach me about who God is?”
“What does this teach me about how God sees me?”
“What does this teach me about the Kingdom of God?”
Devotional books tell us what to read. Make a list of things that your family is interested in, and read those passages. Consider using a Bible reading chart that you find online. Read a daily reading from the lectionary. If you’re really stuck, start with the Gospels and collect questions that will lead into your next area of study together.
Devotional books give us activities. Dig out your crayons and a spiral notebook or binder. Grab your play-doh. Pull out your LEGO. If your child is kinesthetic and needs something to do to understand the story, use what you have and enjoy. If your child is visual and a reader, encourage them to read and mark their own text. If your child is auditory, let them relax and listen. In short, children already have activities that they enjoy and like the most. Use these to engage with Scripture rather than word-searches, puzzles, etc. Devotional book activities are generally not transformational.
Having said all of this, I’m not opposed to high quality literature, and if you have a devotional book that you adore and points your child toward knowing and loving God more, let me know in the comments below. I’m always interested in high-quality resources!
Next week, I’ll post a list of books that I do adore: novels that engage young imaginations, reference books that help children explore, Bible story books that engage young children with true stories, and allegories that help explain the Kingdom of God. I’m certainly not anti-b0ok, I just hate when books eclipse instead of augment engagement with Scripture!