When you ask one of God’s children to tell you a story about God’s people, what do you hear and see?
As a choir director for preschoolers and kindergartners, I always included time during rehearsal to share a story from a children’s story Bible in my library. I loved it when kids would proudly say, “Mrs. Deb, I have that Bible at my house!” When it was a more familiar story, I would stop at a word or picture. Often an eager boy or girl—or the whole group!—would fill in the blank. Sometimes the more precocious ones would continue to tell the whole story on their own. When we read about how someone in the Bible felt, they were happy to show me the same emotion on their faces. They always captured my heart when I looked at their excited, amazed, or sometimes somber faces. Parents of shyer children would tell me about hearing the entire story on the way home from church.
At this age and stage in their faith journey, God’s children are our most natural storytellers with their own words in their own ways. We were sharing the biblical tradition of storytelling through images, words, song, and movement. It became a ritual for us. (Parents who observed our rehearsals told me that they learned something too!)
In addition to my position as a choir director, I also volunteered as a small group leader of seventh grade boys. In one lesson plan, an activity started by asking each of them to tell a Bible story—not read it verbatim from a printed Bible, but to tell it to the group in their own words. I was sure they each knew at least one Bible story they could share, but many were very hesitant. Their repertoire of Sunday school and Vacation Bible School lessons varied greatly. Most had been exposed to dozens of Old Testament and New Testament characters and themes. They had read from Scripture silently and publicly. They had heard others read. They had been asked many comprehensive and reflective questions by faith-filled and well-intentioned leaders, sharing some answers along the way. But no one wanted to go first. So I asked them why. I learned that in addition to the self-consciousness so common during the early teen years, these youth were afraid of getting something “wrong.” While they were used to standing in front of their peers for various middle school presentations, for them Bible storytelling was different.
At this age and stage in their faith journey, God’s children were not as natural storytellers. The biblical tradition of storytelling was no longer a ritual, and it certainly didn’t create the excitement and energy I saw each week in the little ones in my choir.
What happened to kids’ confidence in Bible storytelling between kindergarten and seventh grade? I wondered. This experience led me to ask some questions about storytelling that may be helpful for you to consider too:
- How often are kids invited to tell their own stories so they know their voices will be heard?
- What is the state of the biblical tradition of storytelling in your ministry setting?
- How are you actively inviting and sharing this biblical tradition today with all of God’s children?
Consider these questions, and then try these three ideas to support lifelong, faith-filled storytellers:
- Setting: Where did people in biblical times share stories about God and spread the good news of Jesus? How might you create the most comfortable setting for storytelling? Does it feel more like an outdoor campfire setting or stiff chairs around a folding table?
- Prompts: Think about the many parts of the body of Christ. What variety of techniques might you use to open a storytelling activity to engage each part? The first biblical storytellers did not have a Bible to open or read. Today we have youth who are fluent in the use of mobile devices and social media. What if you started telling a Bible story using Twitter, with each person adding the next 140 characters to the story?
- Ritual: What rituals do families share in their homes? If we want biblical storytelling to be one of them, how might we provide opportunities to practice that ritual with their church families? What if coffee or fellowship time included an open mic or stage for storytellers?
Without the tradition of storytelling, our Bibles would be blank pages. Each of us has been blessed with the spirit-led ability to share Bible stories in familiar and new ways. Think of how you can engage kids in this tradition with this invitation: “Tell me a story…”