It’s difficult for parents to find things for their kids to watch on TV. What sources do you trust? How do you vet programs? Do you prescreen all the material you give to your kids, or find reviewers you trust to give you a summary? There are a range of merely inoffensive shows available, but where can you go to find consistently great kids’ content about the Bible?
Faithlife recently created a children’s series for its streaming platform, Faithlife TV with accompanying activity sheets. Bible Agent 7 is about a young woman searching for her missing colleague, deciphering the clues from the Bible he left behind. She brings along a menagerie of silly animal and robot sidekicks. She meets a curious sock puppet and uses her trusty Bible lab to analyze passages and solve puzzles.
What makes Bible Agent 7 different from other Christian shows for kids?
Holder: One of the things that really drew me to the Bible Agent 7 concept was that the goal was less about trying to teach a lesson about a biblical principle. Instead they were looking to help children understand Bible mechanics. It’s like telling a child the most important thing they can do is ride a bicycle—but we only ever talk about how great it would be for them to ride, and we never teach them how to get on the bike or how to pedal.
Sprinkle: There are already a lot of great kids shows out there that present Christian values or morals, but we wanted a show that would help kids understand more about what the Bible is. And that fits well with the DNA of Faithlife and Logos Bible Software—using technology to equip the Church to study the Bible. We wanted to talk about structure and the different cultural contexts the Bible was written in.
Why is it important to teach the mechanics of the Bible to kids?
Holder: One thing I love is talking about the metanarratives of the Bible. A lot of Sunday school curriculum and animated stories, while really good and helpful presentations, are episodic: Daniel in the lions’ den; Paul and Silas locked in prison; the story of Esther. And it’s really easy, without understanding the context of the Bible—especially when you’re eight years old—to think of Daniel and Paul as contemporaries, because they’re both always depicted as old guys with beards and robes. We don’t understand how the Bible is laid out as a metanarrative telling one big story of redemption. The heart of God is being revealed through all these stories, but a lot of times we don’t see how the stories connect. What is this whole story?
The Old Testament is a story of how man was created and how we were separated from God because of our sin—and then God picked Abraham, and his family became a nation, and God was working through this nation. And from that nation came the Savior, Jesus, and here’s what he did. The key to teaching all that is helping the child understand how the Bible is organized, and how you read Paul’s letters differently from Psalm 23.
A lot of times we focus on the moral of the story. We talk about what we learned from David and Goliath, and we don’t see how it’s connected to the whole. So I really applaud that Faithlife is telling the metanarratives and trying to give kids the tools they need to dig into the Bible and use it.
Sprinkle: We wanted to develop some background knowledge to launch kids into having confidence to study the Bible for themselves. Logos Bible Software prioritizes discovery. It doesn’t tell you what to think—it provides you with information, and you as the reader have to decide what to do with it. You have to discern the best approach for working through it. We wanted to bring some of those tools to kids, so they could start to imagine what doing their own study might look like.
Can you tell us about the process of teaching the complex truths of the Bible to kids?
Holder: It’s a common misconception that if you’re going to teach deep biblical truth to kids, you need to dilute it or water it down. But I believe you have to think in terms of distilling it. When you distill something, you take away the extraneous stuff, and you get down to its basic elements.
You can explain the gospel or even God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will if you really work at bringing the concept down to its core. And going through that exercise forces me to focus on understanding it at a basic level myself. It’s a critical-thinking exercise to bring something back to its bare essentials, and it helps me when I’m studying the Bible for myself to think, “How can I explain that?”
How can parents use shows like Bible Agent 7 to help teach their kids about the Bible?
Sprinkle: When it comes to spiritual growth, lately I’ve been thinking about how kids are imitators and partakers. My kids are master imitators. That means I am the first Bible they will ever read. And I am also the first commentary they will ever read on the Bible. As author Todd Lollar says, “The Bible is the gospel in black and white, but I am the gospel in color.”
Rather than discipling, I think TV does a better job educating and entertaining kids. And maybe it’s healthier to let TV do what it’s good at and to let parents and the Church do what they’re good at. Film is most powerful at storytelling and secondarily at educating. This is where Bible Agent 7 fits in. A kids’ science show about the Bible doesn’t disciple our kids—that job belongs to parents and churches. But it is a fun educational tool for sparking curiosity about the Bible and for building a scaffolding for understanding it as they get older.
What were some of your strategies in developing the characters of Bible Agent 7 ?
Holder: There’s a whole humorous kind of research about how kids who are in first or second grade will still secretly watch the preschool shows they liked when they were younger, but they won’t tell anybody. They don’t want to admit that they still like to watch Baby Sesame Street or their old Barney DVDs. So when you are choosing a main character for your show, you want to make them just a little bit older than your target audience, because kids tend to watch aspirationally.
Bible Agent 7 features a wacky collection of people. Bible Agent 7 herself is a young adult. And she’s surrounded by people who are supposedly adults but are kid-like characters. These are characters kids can understand and relate to. It’s important to have characters who will get it wrong or take things too literally—like an Amelia Bedelia-type character—so the kids watching can leap to the answers first.
Sprinkle: Not only do those characters help fill in knowledge gaps but I think they help kids feel better if they’re confused or don’t know all the answers. There’s so much seriousness in trying to understand the Bible that doesn’t have to be there. But it’s OK to not know everything and to be honest about that.
Holder: Having a character who constantly needs to catch up serves another important function. When you’re writing for kids, you need to remind them what you’re doing. Say the characters are climbing a mountain. You have to keep reminding your young audience why you’re climbing. Because it’s too easy to lose the focus of the mission when there’s a new joke unfolding on screen. It’s good to regroup and say, “Oh no! We’ve got to climb the hill, because . . .” —so that’s a necessary reinforcement.
Bible Agent 7 has a host of silly characters doing slapstick gags. How do you use humor to communicate with kids?
Humor is a powerful way to express just about anything, because it disarms you and draws you in. The way story works is you get involved in the characters and the plot. Are they going to be successful in their journey? And when you’re drawn in, your mind and your heart open up. Then the curriculum part can take root in your heart and mind.
A good old-fashioned belly laugh—the silly stuff-—makes you want to watch more. The challenge with kids is that the competition for their attention is profound. There are so many other things they can be doing—even just what they could be watching in front of the screen. Humor provides a stickiness to a story that keeps kids coming back.
This article originally appeared in the November 2019 edition of Ministry Team magazine. The title is the addition of an editor.