The Fine Art of Storytelling

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Author Elie Wiesel writes, “God made man because he loves stories.” Perhaps there’s truth in that wonderful statement. I suppose God could have proclaimed the gospel message in twenty-five words or less: “I made you to live in relationship with me. You sinned and broke that relationship. I sent my son Jesus to redeem you.” Instead, God gave us the Bible, a book that proclaims God’s love and faithfulness—story after story. 

When you agreed to teach kids, you accepted God’s command to keep telling these stories. And telling them well is important! Jim Rayburn, founder of Young Life, says, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.” God’s stories are not boring—they’re alive, exciting, and possess the power of a two-edged sword. “Boring Bible storyteller” should be an oxymoron. 

Dwell is all about God’s story, as you can see by a quick glance at the names of the session steps: Gathering for God’s Story, Entering the Story, Living into the Story, and Living Out of the Story. Your role as teacher is to become chief storyteller—and to invite your kids to retell the story and reflect on it each week so that it becomes their story. 

Look for opportunities in addition to the Bible story presentation to tell kids other good stories: stories about people who have done great and small things in God’s kingdom, stories from your own life that illustrate a session truth, stories about other people who’ve experienced God’s grace. Good preparation and thoughtfulness can transform a ho-hum story into one that sticks in children’s minds and hearts for a long time. 

Here are some suggestions for telling stories well: 

Prepare Well 

Get your facts straight. Go straight to the source—read the story from the Bible. Read through the passage several times, perhaps in different versions. Then read the background reflection (“Getting into the Story”) in your leader’s guide. 

As part of your preparation, identify the four parts of the story you’ll be telling. For example, the four parts of Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan are 

  1. Beginning: a short, direct introduction (“There was a man who traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho . . . ”)
  2. Action: a recounting of what’s happening, the problem to be solved, the resolution (“He was attacked . . . along came a priest . . . ”) 
  3. Climax: the high point of the resolution: (“The Samaritan bandaged the traveler’s wounds . . .”) 
  4. Ending: the wrap-up, short and to the point. (“The Good Samaritan departed, leaving money, asking for nothing in return.”) 

Conclude your preparation by practicing telling the story in front of a mirror or a sympathetic audience—or record your telling. Practice is especially important for beginning storytellers. Practice will give you confidence and fix the story in your mind. If you’re using visual aids or props, incorporate them into your practice session. If you depend on a script, look for a way to incorporate it into your props (for example, a king going into battle might be carrying a shield to which you can attach the script). 

Tell It Well 

Here are some ways to enhance your effectiveness: 

  • Dress simply. Avoid flashy jewelry, clothing, or scents that might distract your listeners. 
  • Use your voice as an instrument. Vary the pitch (high to low), the volume (soft to loud), the speed (slow to fast), the intensity (flat, excited, sad, worried) of your voice. 
  • Keep props and visual aids simple. Kids have wonderful imaginations—a pair of sandals and a walking stick will give them raw material to imagine a story’s character and setting. Elaborate props may distract from the story itself. 
  • Communicate with your body in addition to your words. Use your hands, eyes, shoulders, and your whole body to enhance the story’s message; but again, keep it simple. 
  • Use cue cards to help if you’re worried about losing track of the story. Write key words, phrases, or sentences on cards and arrange them in sequence. (Use them only when necessary.) 
  • Let the story stand on its own feet. Don’t add moralisms, meanings, or conclusions. Children will wonder about and ponder God’s story, and the Holy Spirit will help them come to their own conclusions. 

In one African culture, a ritual chant signals the beginning of a story. “A story! A story!” says the storyteller, announcing his intention. “Let it come! Let it come!” respond the eager listeners. 

God’s story . . . let it come! The Holy Spirit will do the rest. 

Check out The Creative Storytelling Guide for Children’s Ministry by Steven James (Standard Publishing, 2002) for many more ideas and examples of different ways to tell a story well. 

This post contains an excerpt from Dwelling. Reprinted with permission. © Faith Alive Christian Resources.

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