Like many of us, I grew up hearing family stories—stories of my mother’s childhood in Nazi Germany, or the story of my great-grandfather’s prize-winning pig. (It was a big pig!) And there is also a story of my grandfather trying to pass a car on a hill as another car came toward him. Let’s just say that my grandfather’s car was fine afterwards.
Every family has stories, and these stories have an impact on our lives. They shape our understanding of the world. They tell us who we are and where we come from. In the article What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories, Elaine Reese points out that family stories “can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others.” But family faith stories do even more than that. We share our faith stories to convey truths about God’ love and faithfulness, as well as to convey truths about ourselves.
While I heard many stories of faith from my mother, my dad never shared any faith stories. Imagine my surprise when I found an old diary tucked away in the back of his closet. Written in German script, this diary shares the story of my two great-uncles and a cousin immigrating to the United States in 1910. Written on those pages is the pain of leaving family, knowing they will never see one another again. There is adventure and excitement, and even a dark and stormy night.
But more important, this diary shares a story of faith. When leaving his dear family, my great-uncle penned a prayer, asking for God’s will on this journey and for their lives. Standing in a bustling park in the midst of Paris, he questioned chasing after worldly success, asking “What is life in this world without God?” When arriving safely in the United States, he gave praise to God, thanking him “for what He showed to us insignificant people.”
I never met my great-uncle. But his diary has been a gift to me on my faith journey. It has done what Reese said family stories would—it inspires me. It binds me to my people. But this story also reminds me of God’s faithfulness when I am quick to forget. These uncles, who have long since passed, challenge me to have courage and trust in a big God when life’s circumstances are difficult or the world’s temptations are great. As Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros states in her article Why Storytelling Matters, “Stories take history and make it possible to believe. Stories give us hope and allow faith to work in the details. When we tell stories, we acknowledge the people who hear them, and we connect with them.”
The children (and teens and adults) in our congregations need to hear our faith stories. They need to see God active in our lives. Children need to hear the stories of a faithful God and be inspired to have courage and trust in that God. As Psalm 78:4 states, “We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.”
If you are interested in helping your congregation develop a storytelling culture in which sharing faith stories becomes a deep, rich, natural pathway to growing together in Christ, take a look at the Faith Storytelling Toolkit from Faith Formation Ministries. Or contact one of FFM’s regional catalyzers who can come alongside you and help you strengthen the faith formation efforts in your congregation.
Mimi Larson is Faith Formation Ministries’ Children's Ministry Catalyzer. If you have questions or challenges about sharing faith stories with children or other children’s ministry issues, contact Mimi at [email protected].