What’s in the Bible? Lessons to Make Scripture Sticky
Interview with Phil Vischer—
“God made you special and He loves you very much.”
If there is one phrase embedded in the minds of every child who ever delighted in the antics of a talking tomato and singing cucumber from week to week, it’s that one.
But after the Veggie Tales empire fell to new ownership, creator Phil Vischer found himself going deeper—asking the hard questions. Questions that lead him back to the basics. What really matters? It was those same questions lead him to a focus of total dependence on God for complete direction and support. That was the beginnings of Jellyfish Labs and its first DVD project, “What’s in the Bible,” which is designed to help children to connect on grass roots level with unapologetic Scripture-based truth.
Phil recently shared the secrets he’s learned from developing “What’s in the Bible” and companion Church Edition curriculum to make Scripture stick with students for a lifetime.
Q: Tell me about the inspiration behind the “What’s in the Bible” and why you see this as an important means to help kids connect with truth.
A: I was struck by statistics on biblical literacy that show how poorly we're passing on our faith to the next generation. From that came the conviction that there must be a better way to teach kids the fundamentals of the faith in fun, "sticky" way.
Q: What were some of the essential core elements you needed to consider when creating “What’s in the Bible” and the supporting curriculum for kids?
A:The biggies would be our very intentional, aggressive teaching. We aren't just trying to teach kids a few Bible stories, we're trying to teach them the entire Bible! Secondly, to earn the right to teach that aggressively, our materials need to be enjoyable. Catchy. Make it simple, make it catchy. “Sesame Street” and “Schoolhouse Rock” figured this out 40 years ago. Sometimes we Christians are a little slow in catching on.
Q: In your research of putting supporting curriculum for this project what were some things that you saw that maybe were missing in traditional church curriculum that you tried to incorporate in “What’s in the Bible?”
A: Besides our desire to give kids basic familiarity with every book in the Bible - not just the big, easy-to-teach stories—we're also doing some things with technology like providing all of the teaching content on a mobile website so leaders can work off a phone or other portable device.
Q: Sometimes Sunday School, especially for the preschool age children, is seen as a place that kids get dropped off to play. How can we strike a balance between play time and discipleship?
A: I think we've created a false dichotomy between playing and learning. Done right, they're one in the same. Preschoolers learn by playing. We just need to be intentional about how we're leading them through "playful" educational experiences.
Q: With so many things bidding for kids’ attentions, as teachers, where do you see them having a “making the message stick” advantage?
A: Like school teachers, one advantage is simply being able to command a child's full attention. Kids at home quite often have the TV going while they're on their phone while playing a video game. Parents in these kinds of households rarely—if ever—get their kids' full attention. But in a classroom setting, the teacher can eliminate distractions. If the kids watch something, it's what the teacher wants them to watch. No phones. No headphones. We're all here, and we're going to focus. That's huge! We also find that music makes the lesson sticky. So quite often with “What's in the Bible,” we teach something, then summarize what we've just taught with a song. The song makes the lesson stick.
Q: What is a guiding Scripture verse that you keep in front of you as you are shaping programs that will help children connect and become life-long followers of Jesus Christ?
A:When I'm teaching kids, my verses are Colossians 1:28,29. Verse 28 reminds me what I doing, and why I'm doing it. Verse 29 reminds me that ultimately, it is Christ's power that will accomplish this, not my own. When I believe I have to reach and "save" kids through my own effort and my own power, I set myself up for failure. I can do nothing apart from Christ. Obedience is my responsibility—the outcomes are His.
Q: What is one book that you would recommend to any person working with children?
A: Hmm... I won't pretend to be an expert in children, but I'll give it a whack. For ministry, I would recommend "Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey" and "Children Matter," because they're good books and because my mother (Scottie May) co-authored them! (And if she sells a lot of books, I'll get better Christmas presents...)
Exploring storytelling, Robert McKee's book "Story" has had a tremendous amount of influence on many storytellers and filmmakers, myself included.
Q: Do you have any closing thoughts or words of encouragement?
A: No one said this was going to be easy! But it is valuable, and rewarding. Focus on obedience. Let God worry about outcomes. And look for biblically rich, engaging resources for your kids. Preferably ones with puppets whose voices sound a lot like mine!
AMBER WEIGAND-BUCKLEY thinks a great way to make Scripture stick is to commission the official PIV (a.k.a. Post-It version). She is editor of ONCOURSE, the award-winning national youth ministries magazine for teens.
To find out more about “What’s in the Bible” teaching helps visit curriculum.whatsinthebible.com.