The Promises of God Storybook Bible Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | Sep 19th
How is The Promises of God Storybook Bible structured and how is it different from other storybook Bibles in the market?

I believe the biggest distinction in this storybook Bible from others on the market is that it is written by a Sunday school teacher and is intended to actually establish a theological framework through which children will  understand God, themselves, and ultimately, I hope, be prepared to read the actual Bible. That sounds lofty and I’m extremely intimidated at the concept of adults reading this and my discovering that I’m actually a horrible teacher! 

But, teaching kids of various ages every week for around 15 years necessitates that you avoid the trap of relying on what you know about who you are teaching to determine how you communicate what you hope for them to learn. All of those years taught me the reality that every single year’s class, even if it’s the same age and same content being taught, will be a different class because every child is different. That is the unique perspective I bring—a thread that has stuck for 3-year-olds and 17year-olds; a thread that has stuck for children who are intellectual and for children who are imaginative; a thread that has held for children who are grieving the loss of a brother or parents divorcing; a thread that has held for children whom God has given nothing but a sense of security and peace thus far. 

It’s a storybook Bible that wasn’t written by a writer. It wasn’t written by someone who just loves kids, the Bible and books (although that’s true!). It was written by someone whose favorite name is “Miss Jennifer” and greatest 100 minutes of any week are those spent in a room with about a dozen preschoolers. It was written by someone who has gotten to know hundreds of children and has seen the image of God distinctly reflected in each of them, yet His Word land soundly upon all of them with the same words and in the same moment. This gives me hope that no matter the child, circumstances or exposure to church, this book will touch those little image bearers and teach them that the truth is better than their imagination.

When did you first start teaching kids’ Sunday school, and what made you fall in love with it?

I first started teaching Sunday school about four months after I became a Christian at the age of 21. The church I was in had some middle school girls who needed a teacher.  So once I had read the whole Bible, I was asked to teach what was essentially the youth group, albeit a small one in a small church. I shudder when I think about my teaching at that time because I am certain I must have unknowingly taught heresy at some point! I was so absolutely new to the faith and while never without zeal, ignorance was definitely an issue. 

I did realize quickly, though, that I loved preparing to teach and finding ways to connect with the girls individually through the biblical content. So it really was within months of being saved that I sensed a call to teach. God was especially kind to encourage me by showing me fruit far beyond what my contribution would have naturally produced! 

In addition to weekly Bible studies or overseas teaching opportunities (generally for adult women), I then continued teaching Sunday school for children or youth each week, with a different age group every year. I have never burnt out on teaching, but I never feel I’m as effective as I could or should be, so definitely do not consider myself an expert or model to follow  as I’m aware that within my own church there are so many more gifted, faithful, effective teachers than me. I did learn, though, that while I love playing with babies and toddlers and also am compelled to one on one discipleship with younger women, 3-year-olds are my favorite age to teach. Three is also the lowest age that is a fit for me because I really do want to teach, and most kiddos two and under just aren’t ready for 15- to 25-minute Bible teaching sessions. 

I took a three-year break from teaching when I moved to Nashville and joined LifeWay, as I felt led to enter a season without teaching so that my heart could be more deeply instructed. When that season ended, I began teaching the class that I still teach—and that I’ll keep teaching as long as God and our children’s pastor allow me! 

Finally, what I love most about teaching is getting to see the image of God reflected in so many different people who, in the course of a year, grow to understand more of the God who made them, experience church as a place where they are seen and loved and give me the tremendous gift of getting to watch God work in them through the power of his word.

What have you learned about the Bible from teaching it to kids over the past few years? What surprised you the most?

When the Bible (whether in Psalms, Proverbs or the words of Jesus in the gospels) calls us to approach God or faith as a child, we are not being called to simplistic faith. We are being corrected from complicating faith. And because there can be no biblical faith without truth, God is not framing a child’s capacity to understand truth as anemic or simplistic. If it is the standard of faith to which adults strive, then that tells us that children are capable of understanding all the truth that is essential to hear, love and obey God. 

What I believe these passages reflect about adults is that the impact of more years of sin and the belief that being older means knowing more make us less willing to accept truth, even if we believe we’re able to understand it more easily. I challenge all adults to expect and pursue the reality that the children in your life can understand far more about God than you think they can. I also encourage them to pray that God will keep us from believing we know so much that we do not understand what he is teaching us.

What has surprised me most is how much the kids can learn. I’ve taught many children who have special learning needs, and I’ll sometimes hit a point where I think that there’s just not a way to teach this child at this point. But then God will expand my understanding of what it means to be taught, or another teacher will have an insight on some new method to try and it works. You just cannot ever give up on a child.

As the leader who oversees book publishing for B&H and LifeWay, you’ve worked on lots of books. What was it like being on the other side of things and writing this book?

I always loved books as a child and I’ve loved getting to make books as an adult, but I was vehemently opposed to the idea of ever writing a book. It is the classic story of the person who says “I’ll never,” yet even now I feel the need to reiterate that I really, really meant it. 

Practically speaking, I was immediately concerned with the ethical dynamics of how I could author a storybook Bible when my job includes deciding what books—including children’s books such as storybook Bibles—we publish, not to mention the fact that I am also responsible for things like contracts, financials, marketing investment, approval of whether something gets glitter on the cover or not . . . and on and on. This meant that the first person I told about the potential book was my boss, who was a Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer for LifeWay. He knew of my passion for teaching, was not surprised, had children in the target age range for the book and immediately supported the concept. I told him that if he was comfortable with my moving forward, I would develop a traditional publishing proposal that included audience information, positioning, comparative titles, market distinctions, table of contents and sample content . . . as well as author information. 

So that’s what I did, only I had two adjustments to a traditional submission. I submitted a bit more sample content than is normal because I really wasn’t sure if it was good enough to publish. As the publisher, I wanted to ensure my team had what they needed to make an informed, wise decision since I couldn’t objectively review it as I may normally. 

The other change was that while the author information addressed my teaching experience and seminary education, it did not include my name or anything that would identify the author as me. I was able to have it submitted to the Kids publishing team for review without any connection to me. They only knew the author was within our theological bounds and wished for the decision to be made on the basis of the content and not the author. 

I was surprised, excited and scared when I found out that they liked the proposal and wanted to publish it. I was not at all stunned when they noted that one area of needed editorial work was keeping the word count down . . . and was even further amused when this became a more emphatic concern for them when they learned who the author was! 

Being an author is something I never wanted to be and is still something I feel awkward about, after publishing thousands of other people’s books and being very comfortable with that side of things. However, it has been a tremendous learning experience for me as a publisher. I have learned far more than I knew about how scary it is to publish and understand better how emotional the process can be for authors. Without a doubt, it has further deepened the love, respect and sense of honor I have to get to work with this team. They are not only excellent at what they do, but they are also so committed to meeting the needs of those who pick up what we publish, that they have not struggled to tell me when I’m wrong, even though I am their boss.

However readers grade the finished product, I am certain it all would have been at least two grades lower if not for this team.

How do you hope families use this resource together? What do you hope both parents and kids learn from reading it?

I wrote every story with two particular children (who are very different personalities and learners) and three different families in mind.  My greatest hope is that this book would be used for family devotional times. While I know bedtime is crazy, I have been fortunate to be present for family bedtime devotions with friends and their kids in the past and know how significant that time is. The families I had in mind as I wrote have varying numbers of kids, ages and personalities, as well as schedules. 

My goal was for this to be a resource that could be consumed in as quickly as 10 minutes, with at least one question asked. For families with younger children, this is a great start. But it would be amazing if parents read this and decided that they want it to be part of their children’s discipleship— one of a few storybook Bibles that the family rotates through, generally reading a story each night. They would watch year after year as the children internalize these messages deeper and God works through them. 

My ultimate hope is that those who do not know God, the sin that binds them or their need to repent and trust in Christ will ultimately walk steadfastly with him. I pray that when they are first exposed to “The Promises of God Storybook Bible”—whether young child or adult—they will ultimately come to see all of that and embrace  the unstoppable love of God who opened their eyes and softened their hearts.