Tell Me a Story…from Author Steven James

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The Bible is the greatest love story ever written and the most thrilling adventure ever told. Yet all too often in children’s ministry, when it’s time for retelling events from Scripture, kids groan with boredom. Somehow we’ve managed to drain the wonder out of the most wondrous, true story of all.

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But it doesn’t need to be that way.

Here are simple keys to improve your storytelling skills as you strive to reach children with the greatest story of all.

KEY #1: Look for What Goes Wrong

Think about Jesus visiting Mary and Martha’s home. Mary sat reverently at Jesus’ feet while Martha got stressed out trying to get the lamb chops ready in time for dinner. I know I’m supposed to be more like Mary. I know that; but when it comes right down to it, I see more of myself in Martha.

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To be honest, Mary kind of annoys me. She’s too good. Too perfect. And it’s not just me; most people I talk to can relate to Martha as well.

Here’s why: In almost any story, we tend to identify with the person who has the struggle, not the one who does everything right.

So when approaching your story, rather than asking, “What happens?” or “What lesson is this trying to teach?” ask “Who struggles? What does he or she discover? How does he or she change?”

When you determine who has the struggle, it’ll lead you deeper into the heart of the event’s meaning, make it easier to remember, and help you avoid the need to explain everything when you’re through telling it.

KEY #2: Let Your Stories S.O.A.R!

One of the best ways to engage children in a story is to find ways to involve them in its telling.

  • Sounds — When looking for ways to encourage participation, first look for sounds. Can kids supply sound effects? Maybe animals had a role in the event, and kids can make the animal sounds. Or maybe they can recreate the noise of the storm Jesus calmed, or the snoring disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Objects — Look for objects that had a role in the event, or brainstorm ways to use simple props to help you tell the story. For example, you might use a silly costume, a puppet, or a surprise bag when you tell stories. As you retell the event, pull objects out of the surprise bag for the kids to see, smell, touch, or taste. They’ll pay close attention because they’ll wonder what you’re going to pull out next. This is a great way to motivate your children to pay attention.
  • Actions — Identify key actions that took place or ways to act out what happened. Use creative dramatics to help introduce the event, to dramatize it as you tell it, or to review it after you’ve finished telling it.
  • Whenever you invite kids to join you in movement or creative dramatics, create an atmosphere where participation is safe, encouraged, and fun. Invite kids to participate, but don’t force them. Clearly explain when you want kids to join you, what you want them to do, and when they should stop. You might say, “Whenever I put on my hat, you’ll start acting like those lions in the cave with Daniel. But when I take it off, you’ll stop. Let’s practice.”
  • Repetition — Capitalize on repetition that naturally occurs within an event. It might be the repetition of a specific phrase, such as, “And God looked at what he’d made and it was good!” or the repetition of a series of events. For example, in the parable of the good Samaritan, three people approach the hurt man in the ditch. You could invite all the children to join you as you say, along with the hurt man, “Anybody, anybody, please help me. I was beaten and robbed and I have an owie!”

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