Make it Count!
Sometimes a life is changed in a moment. Sitting in a stuffy, hot room in the basement of the historic neighborhood church filled with scruffy kids was one such moment. The whole room was quiet. “David” was about to pick up 5 stones to defeat Goliath. I remember the excitement on my aunt’s face as she told the story, or rather “lived” the story with us. In my mind’s eye I could see the shiny brook. I could hear the yells of Goliath, feel his steamy, hot, stinky breath as he breathed out his raucous challenge. I could sense the fear as David stepped forth in courage toward the giant. This was a holy moment, a moment before a miracle was going to take place. God was stepping down to work through the life of a scrawny boy (and a scrawny blond girl sitting in a Sunday school seat). The whole room could feel the beauty of the moment, the quiet awe of a story told in such a way that all were still, captivated by the power of our big God who could do anything, even defeat giants. I knew full well it was a true story, one that was transcending time and space into my heart, into my mind. In this moment, I also knew that I wanted to do what my aunt was doing, to tell God’s stories with joy. It was an encounter with God that would indelibly be written on my heart inspiring me for years to come. It was simply an age-old story told in faith that God used in that moment to speak life into the heart of a little girl.
We must always strive to handle Scripture in such a way that brings eye opening joy and understanding to the hearts of kids. There are definitely things we can do to improve our presentations to provide optimum enjoyment and attention from the kids with whom we work without the need for unnecessary flash. We don’t need to add to the Bible or change it so much that it’s hardly recognizable. We can find ways to polish and create compelling presentations that kids will want to hear and will be unforgettable experiences that stick with them for life. We just need to learn to tell it well in ways that kids can understand. For “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness …” (2 Timothy 3:16). We often get stuck in monotony with our storytelling. How can we break into something fresh and creative?
Never underestimate the power of prayer. When a story is prayed over and the kids are prayed for, God always shows up. When we rely on His power, not our own, He can do more than we even think or imagine.
There is nothing boring about the Bible. There are only ho-hum performances. When we work with kids we should strive to never make the stories we share mundane. If we feel it is uninteresting, we will usually deliver a boring performance. If we see it as the most amazing story ever, our teaching will reflect that. How you view the Bible makes a difference.
If the storyteller is unprepared or unrehearsed, the audience will embarrassingly know. If the story is poorly written or not age appropriate, God’s Word will not be heard. It should never be simply a show or entertainment, but rather an avenue for proclaiming God’s Word.
To be truly effective, it helps to talk through the story, use different techniques and choose the ones that work best. A story becomes really smooth after it has been practiced 3-5 times. Grab your family or friends and practice! Taking time to prepare will help you gain confidence and work out the kinks. At a minimum, read it through three times and know it well. Know where you’re going so you don’t have to peek at your notes. All the barriers are lifted when there isn’t a paper between you and the kids. Especially polish the beginning and end; these are always the most important parts.
It’s hard to compete with the fast paced, ever loved digital world in which kids are growing up. It is tempting to go all digital. The interaction, entertainment, and information that technology provides should definitely be utilized by the storyteller but should only be an enhancement, not a replacement for the spoken story. Video curriculum is not an active form of communication. It is flat, passive, and only one-way communication. John Walsh in The Art of Storytelling describes storytelling as a conversation that includes the storyteller, the audience, and God’s Word. It’s not a one-way dialogue; it has give and take, listening and responding. The ability to sense the Holy Spirit moving enables us to adjust or respond to the audience, to question and clear up confusion, and can only happen in a live setting. Those quiet, captivating, moving moments rarely happen during a video.
Pay attention to others!
A great way to improve one’s storytelling is to observe others’ teaching. Watch someone closely who is exceptional with kids with the intent to learn from them. Also, find a friend who can provide honest feedback on your teaching, noting your strengths and perhaps even some weaknesses.
When you tell a story, you should use enough description that kids can envision it in their minds. You should know your own lesson so well that you can taste it, see it, smell it, and hear it. Incorporate sound, movement, and action. You must see the story in your mind. Hear the thunder, feel the wind, and taste the salty spray. Paint a picture with words. If it is real to you, it will be real to the kids. Jesus created powerful unforgettable moments. If we can help kids experience the story, they will often remember it forever.
A story should move at the speed of your wiggliest kid! We live in a fast paced world and must keep our stories moving. The younger the age the more fast-moving and interactive the story should be. You can’t turn your back on kindergarten kids. When you do, you’re in for trouble. Taking a video of yourself teaching will help you experience your pacing. See what parts of the story they are most interested in. What makes them lose focus? Younger listeners should take an active role in the story—picking up manna, creating a huge thunderstorm, walking to Bethlehem, or putting Moses in the river. Too many words tend to bore kids and they will begin to tune you out, ask to go to the bathroom, or misbehave. Keep it brief and brisk.
Don’t be afraid of using a well-placed pause. This lets the audience breathe. Taking a few moments after describing a scene to let the audience picture it, is important. Pausing right after or right before the climax of the story can build drama and allow for thinking to occur. This gives kids time to visualize the story. “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” – Mark Twain
A story doesn’t simply have to be words. Get the kids involved; let them echo a phrase, sing with you, chant a line, or pull some kids up to act it all out. Take a journey with your kids to different parts of the room. Step out of the narrator role and speak as if you are the characters in the story. Use a ladder or a step stool to change your position on stage. Sit on the floor or speak from within a canoe. Wear a costume and tell the story in first person. Find one really cool prop and bring it onstage to help you tell the story. Mix it up, do the unpredictable, and have fun!
God has wired us to pay attention to stories: big stories, little stories, pretty much any story. There are good stories and bad stories, true stories and deceitful stories. Kids need the truth. The Bible has the most wonderful collection of true stories. Tell them well in ways that lives will be changed. Jesus told stories and often let the story speak for itself. They came to Him in crowds just to hear Him speak. God has given us the greatest collection of stories, the Bible. It tells one continuing story of who God is and what He has done for us. With these stories and the creativity God has gifted us with, we can faithfully proclaim the Good News about who He is and what He has done in ways that kids will understand and hearts will be changed. It is a holy calling. Let’s do it well!