How to Develop Devotionals for Children
Thought Leader: Jeff Francis, M.A.
Kids are perceptive. When we think they’re glued to the TV or lost in a video game, they notice things. They’re always observing…always learning. And since they are always learning, it’s important to be intentional about what we teach them. But how do we do that? The goal in this article is to help answer that question.
I whole heartedly believe that discipleship was intended to start in the home. I remember distinctly going on a morning walk in my neighborhood and praying about who the Lord would want me to disciple. I heard the Spirit drop this response into my mind: “Well, you have 5 kids. Start there.” I was challenged to be more intentional with how I disciple my kids. But that sounds a lot easier in theory than it does in real life. How do I actually make that happen? A lot of parents feel guilty that they don’t have regular devotions with their kids. Let go of that guilt. Guilt is a lousy motivator anyway. There’s grace for you as you struggle through this journey we called parenthood. (I’m writing this to myself because I struggle in this area.)
Below are 6 tips to help you be able to write your own devotions for children. These tips are intended to help parents, small group leaders, coaches, or other children’s ministry staff. Also, check out the sample devotions for kids that I’ve provided you at the end of this article.
How do I write devos for kids? Let’s look at 6 suggestions.
1. Stick with one big idea.
We aren’t trying to teach a chronological timeline of the Old Testament here. Pick one big idea. One thought. What’s one lesson, one truth, one principle, one theme that I want these kids to understand? Once you have that, make sure that every question, scripture, and discussion tie into that big idea. Come up with one simple principle like “God loves me,” and then repeat that phrase over and over throughout the discussion. When the devo is over, your only initial short term goal is for them to remember the big idea. Of course, long term you want them to live it out, but they have to remember it before they can live it.
But, this leaves us with another question. How do you know what big idea to pick? I’m glad you asked.
2.Pick big ideas and themes that fit the overall storyline of the Bible.
It’s really important that we teach our kids the Bible, but the reason for that is not so that they can pass a scripture knowledge test or so we can show them off at Christmas parties by having them quote memory verses. We want kids to understand the meaning behind the scriptures. What big ideas is the Bible trying to communicate? What themes are found throughout the storyline of scripture?
Here’s some I would suggest…
- God loves me. (He showed me his love by sending Jesus.)
- God is powerful. (He showed me his power by raising Jesus from the dead.)
- Jesus is the most important thing in my life.
- I exist to know, love, and serve God.
- I can’t do anything to earn God’s love or acceptance. (God loves and accepts me just as I am.)
- God wants to help me to grow. (The way to know if I’m growing is if I’m becoming more like Jesus.)
- I show my love for God by loving others.
In addition, you can focus around various character traits. We know that the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives, but we aren’t just taught to have love, joy and peace in Galatians 5 when Paul gives a list of the fruit of the Spirit. These character traits are emphasized throughout scripture. God gives us the big ideas in his word.
Some big ideas built around character traits could be…
- God wants me to love others.
- I please God when I’m honest.
- Giving to others makes a difference.
- I can love others by being kind.
- I can learn how to be patient.
- Anything worth doing is worth doing my best.
- I forgive others because God forgives me.
- I can bring peace to difficult situations.
Finally, you might consider having discussions that are devoted to important spiritual practices. Many adult Christians don’t know how to pray, study their Bible, share their faith with others, etc. One reason some adults don’t know these things is because they didn’t learn as kids. You and I can change that.
Some big ideas related to spiritual practices could be…
- God listens to me when I pray.
- I can hear God talk to me when I listen.
- Learning the Bible helps me to know God.
- Christian friendships are important.
- God wants me to talk to my family and friends about Jesus
- I can love others through serving and kindness.
One benefit of picking themes and big ideas that fit the overall storyline of the Bible is that you protect yourself from taking scripture out of context. For example, if we know all of the Bible points to loving God and loving others, then you can be confident that just about any area of Scripture you turn to will end up helping you do one of those things.
3.Ask lots of questions, and be okay with lots of answers.
Sometimes there’s a fear in children’s ministry to not let kids talk too much. After all, we don’t want them to distract from what I have to say! Well, in actuality, it’s often more important for you to hear what the kids have to say. The best way to get children to talk is to ask them a question. When we do that, we have to be okay with getting lots of answers, and this includes answers that don’t have anything to do with the original question we asked! Is it possible for one child to sidetrack an entire discussion? Yes. Do we need to be sensitive to that? Of course. But a lot of kids really enjoy getting to talk with adults. Did you know that sometimes we grown-ups aren’t real good at listening? I can do better at listening to my kids, and maybe you can do better at listening to yours. The point here is simply that you want to let the kids do the talking and help lead the discussion. In the end, you’ll know how to emphasize the point you’re trying to make. It’s okay if it takes a while to get there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to let the kids answer. In fact, these devotional settings are a great time to let the kids ask questions. If they know you are open to hearing from them and that you’ve provided a safe place to ask questions, then you can be sure they’ll ask them.
4.Share personal stories.
Did I ever tell you about the time this kid threatened to beat me up in the boy’s school bathroom when I was in third grade? Tell that story and see if you have the kids’ attention. They’ll be engaged for sure.
Can I tell you about the night that I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins?
Did I ever tell you about the time I snuck out of the house and got caught?
Let me tell you what I learned from the most embarrassing thing I ever did.
You know what the nicest thing someone ever did for me was?
Personal stories connect to all of us, but this is especially true for kids. Anytime you ask the kids to share a story be prepared to share your own on the same topic. Help them to understand through your personal example that they can get through and overcome the challenges they are facing in life. You got through it. They will too. God helped you when you trusted him. God will help them too.
Every time you write a devo make sure to think about a personal story you can share to help make the eternal principle you are teaching come alive in their hearts.
5.Include at least one practical application.
This probably should go without saying, but so many times we teach the Bible without ever getting practical. If adults struggle to find ways to live out their faith, kids are going to have a hard time too. Don’t just tell your kids that they should be loving. Show them how to do that by giving them one practical example of how to do it. Don’t just tell them that Jesus is most important. Give them one way they can live that out. Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about…
God loves me.
Every night this week I will write down one reason I love God and one reason I think he loves me.
I can love others by being kind.
I will invite Andrew to sit with me at lunch because he always sits by himself in the cafeteria.
God listens to me when I pray.
I will lead my family in prayer in the car on the way to school each morning next week.
Christian friendships are important.
I will attend small group every week for the next month and try to meet 5 new people.
6.Use real life to illustrate your devotions.
Moses gives the law to the Israelites and tells them in Deuteronomy 6:6-9:
“6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
We often focus a lot of attention on the importance of setting aside 15 minutes to have a devotion with our kids. Those can be life changing moments, and this article is intended to help you develop those times. However, the point doesn’t seem to be about teaching our children only in that setting. Moses said to teach your kids about God, but then we include that teaching throughout every part of life. The normal everyday details of life can be used to teach about God. When you are sitting at home, walking through the grocery store, before bedtime and as you get ready in the morning. When your child is bullied, you can recall back to a lesson you discussed. When your child is disappointed, you can use that as a teaching moment.
I still vividly remember the day another parent from my child’s soccer team rushed the field in anger to confront a referee in the middle of a game. That dad yelled, pushed the ref, and threatened him. The ref was only a teenager doing his best to earn a little money at a soccer game for 10 year olds. You can bet that I had a conversation with my kids on the way home about how to control anger and also how to show grace to someone that lost their temper. (And for those wondering…no, that dad was not me!)
You can write devotions for your kids. You really can. You’ll want them to be biblical (grounded in one big idea from scripture), practical (always including one specific way to live out your one eternal principle), and relational (discussion based with lots of questions and interaction). If you do this, I think your kids will like it a lot and have fun too. And so will you.
One of the things I do in my spare time is serve as the chaplain for South City Athletic Club. In this role, I write weekly devotions for the club’s coaches to do with their teams at practices.
Here’s the general outline of what my devotions usually look like:
- ENGAGE: Ask opening questions that tie into the one big idea and get kids engaged.
- FOCUS: Introduce the one big idea/thought/theme for that devo. You want them to be able to focus in on and clearly understand what the big idea is.
- BIBLE: Read the scripture and briefly explain what that scripture means and how it supports the one big idea.
- APPLY: Ask questions about and discuss at least one practical and specific application of how to live out the big idea.
- PRAY: Take time to pray that God would help them to live out what you have discussed.
I wanted to also include some examples of the devotions I’ve written for South City Athletic Club. You can use this same template to write devotions for your kids. Click here to check out my sample devotions. I would love to hear your questions, comments, or ideas. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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