Discipling tweens is tough.
In the younger years, it’s easy to enthrall kids with the vast assortment of storybook Bibles that line Sunday school bookshelves. Featuring brightly-colored illustrations and maybe a rhyme or two, these books coax kids to lean forward mid-bite during lunch or to fall silent during Sunday school in their eagerness to hear more.
When the double-digit years arrive, however, eyerolls become a fixture at the dinner table and storybook Bibles can lose some of their luster. The vibrant, cartoonish illustrations no longer tantalize. The sing-songy rhymes elicit cringes from kids who suddenly care deeply about which outfit they pick for youth group.
And yet, cultivating devotional practices in the tween years is vital. Kids tiptoeing into the tumultuousness and awkwardness of adolescence need the solid anchor of God’s Word, especially in a cultural climate that has commandeered “identity” as a political buzzword. When the world teaches kids to define themselves by their inclinations and desires, the Bible guides them toward the life-giving freedom and grace of their identity in Christ. The catch is, how do we mentor them in the disciplines of prayer and devotional study when they’ve outgrown the storybooks?
I’m grateful to have found one option: Catherine Parks’ What to Wear: A Kids Bible Study on Looking Like Jesus (Colossians 3:1-14).
In this eight-week study of Colossians 3, Parks offers tween kids a counterpoint to the cultural narrative and leads them toward a richer understanding of their identity not in the world, not in the image they adopt or the clothes they wear, but in Christ. She dedicates each week to a key verse in Colossians 3, and offers devotions with exercises every day of the week. The devotions strike the perfect balance of accessibility to her target age, and serious instruction in Bible study that doesn’t belittle readers or dumb down the content. Most impressive is the tone she adopts, which is personal without being trite. She speaks directly to her readers, teaches them to read Scripture with attention to context, and invites them to reflect in depth upon thought-provoking and sometimes challenging questions.
While What to Wear would be an asset to any Sunday school or homeschool Bible study, I’m especially excited about its potential as a tween’s introduction to personal devotions. Park’s questions and prompts are penetrating, and throughout the study she teaches young readers how to reflect upon the meaning of a passage, how to glean it teaches about God, and how to these truths to daily life. A middle schooler could easily work through these devotions independently, then regroup with a teacher or parent to discuss the takeaways in greater depth. I can foresee students who work through this study cultivating a familiarity and comfort with personal devotions that they will carry them into their teen years and on to adulthood.
The tween years can feel like a pinball machine, with conflicting messages buffeting kids back and forth as they seek to understand who they are. In such a confusing season, What to Wear offers clarity, reassurance, and a necessary reminder whatever befalls us, our true identity is in the One who is making all things new.