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11 Tips for Studying the Bible at the Dinner Table


Because parents love their children the deepest, know them the best, and are with them the most, they are best suited to be a child's primary pastor who evangelizes them, teaches them, loves them, prays for and with them, and reads Scripture to them.

Deuteronomy 4:9 says, "Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children" (ESV). Likewise, Prov 1:8 says, "Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching" (ESV). Also, Eph 6:1-4 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.' Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (ESV).

Both mothers and fathers are exhorted to make it their responsibility to pastor their children. This does not mean that such things as church activities or Christian school education are forbidden, but rather that they are supplements to the loving biblical instruction of Christian parents.

Because parents are with their children at the most opportune times, they are wise to integrate their biblical instruction as God providentially provides teachable moments. It is wise for families to have regular and planned times for such things as Bible reading, prayer and worshipful singing. Nevertheless, there are moments throughout the course of a child's day when his or her heart is open for strategic instruction. A Spirit-led, prayerful parent will capture sacred moments to instruct and/or correct their child as needed.

Perhaps the clearest command for integrated parenting is Deut 6:4-9 ESV:

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." 

While it is likely that every Christian parent would agree with these principles of pastoral parenting, most would likely also admit they struggle to know how to make this happen practically. So, as a pastor and daddy, I took some experiences with my wife Grace and our five children, ages three to eleven, and began sharing them with our church.

Some months ago we started a new tradition at the Driscoll dining table that has been a blessing. Whoever is taking their turn setting the table ensures that our "dinner Bible," as the kids call it, is sitting in front of "Poppa Daddy," as the kids call me.

Throughout the course of our dinner together, we chat about how the day went, how everyone is doing, and whom we can pray for, as well as discuss a section of Scripture. Over the years we have always made it a point to read Scripture to the children when they were little (especially at bed time), and help them develop personal daily Bible reading habits once they learned to read for themselves. However, we struggled to find a way to do regular family devotions with five children of different ages (3-11) and attention spans.

Still, the dinner Bible discussions led by Grace and me have been a huge hit. Every time we sit down for dinner, the dinner Bible is in its place on the table, opened to the section of Scripture we will discuss that evening by one of the enthusiastic kids. We often have some really insightful conversations around the dinner Bible as the younger kids, especially the boys, seem to be able to handle longer and more reflective discussions when their hands are busy as they eat. Also, with the casual conversation over dinner I have noticed that everyone gets an opportunity to speak as we take turns chewing our food, and our dinners last longer than they had before because everyone is engaged.

To help parents learn the Bible and teach it to their own children, we have built upon the preaching of the Word at our Sunday services. For example, we are currently in the middle of a seven month study of 1-2 Peter called Trial: 8 Witnesses from 1-2 Peter (Trial). As part of this study, we have created a Dinner Bible Booklet for parents to do with their children over the dinner table, and a Community Group Study Booklet, for our adult discussion groups.

11 TIPS 

The following suggestions are offered based upon my experience with our children over dinner, while using the Dinner Bible Booklet, and what we teach the parents at our church to do. These steps are intended to help nurture Bible study with parents and their children: 

  1. Try and eat dinner with your entire family regularly. 
  2. It may be helpful for Mom and Dad to sit next to one another to lead the family discussion.
  3. Open the meal by asking if there is anyone or anything to pray for.
  4. A different family member opens in prayer each night, covering any requests. This way each family member learns to pray aloud.
  5. Discuss how everyone's day went throughout the meal.
  6. Have a Bible in front of the parents in a translation that is age appropriate for the kids' reading level. Have someone (parent or child) open the Bible to the assigned text in the Dinner Bible Booklet and read it aloud while everyone is eating and listening.
  7. A parent then reads the word for the day from the Dinner Bible Booklet, and gives the corresponding definition provided in the booklet and/or paraphrases the word's definition at an age-appropriate level.
  8. Ask the discussion questions in the Dinner Bible Booklet, and if your kids are older (in other words, junior high and up) then you may also consider using the Community Group discussion questions.
  9. Let the conversation happen naturally. Carefully listen to the kids and let them answer the questions. Fill in whatever they miss, or lovingly and gently correct whatever they get wrong so as to help them. 
  10. If the Scriptures convict you of sin, repent as you need to your family, and share appropriately honest parts of your life story so the kids can see Jesus' work in your life and your need for Him too. (This demonstrates gospel humility.)
  11. At the end of dinner, ask the kids if they have any questions for you.

First, everyone who attends the church receives a free copy of the Trial curriculum book which is also available online for free. This 200-page book includes my introductory articles on 1-2 Peter, the books Peter wrote, and the role of parents in instructing their children, along with recommended commentaries for deeper study. Included in the free book are dinner discussion questions I wrote to help parents teach 1-2 Peter to their own children based upon my experiences with my children, as well as the Community Group Bible study discussion questions for the entire series.

Second, we have provided a free digital copy of a 12,000 word introduction and overview of 1-2 Peter. This content is available only on our password-protected member's site called The City. On The City, our Community Group Bible studies supplement their weekly face-to-face time together in homes with private chat groups where they can ask questions, dig deeper into Scripture, pray for one another, and serve one another as needed.

Third, we have also written our own children's curriculum so that the kids' ministry is following the sermon series along with the Community Group Bible studies and Family Dinner Bible studies.

Mars Hill Church, the church which I pastor, started as a small Bible study in our home in 1996. We had no money, no building, no staff and no band. But, we did have God's Word, about a dozen of God's people, and the gracious gift of God's Spirit. Since then, Jesus has been incredibly generous to us as we have grown to a church of as many as 8,000 people in Seattle, which is among America's least-churched cities. We are seeing many people, especially young people, saved through their encounter with the God of the Bible. The more we are able to connect all that we do from our groups to our kids' ministry, and conduct Bible studies over the dinner table, the more of God's lavish grace we experience, rejoice in, and share, because Jesus is alive and the Bible is true.

To obtain a free copy of the Trial booklet, go to MarsHillChurch.org 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at http://www.biblestudymagazine.com. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Mar-Apr 2009): pgs. 21-23.

Publication date: January 18, 2011