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Has anyone read the book "Shaped by the Story" by Michael Novelli? It seems to me that this would be a really good way of doing Sunday School. I'm finding that kids are growing up not knowing the stories in the Bible. In this method the story is told bare bones, no extra explanation or description not found in the scripture passage, and after the kids take turns telling it back, each person telling one or two lines. As they talk themselves and hear the others they begin to think about the story and the implications for them. I would like to try this in our church, but because it is not Faith Alive material I am a little chicken of the process to allow it. Okay, now I'm rambling, but this is a perfect follow-up program for Children's Worship if that is something you already have.

Jolanda Howe on April 5, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Gerry,
I've read Shaped by the Story by Michael Novelli and I think it's a great resource! I don't have any experience using it with youth, so I can't recommend it on that front, but I am impressed with Novelli's approach to exploring Scripture with youth. He takes seriously the Reformed idea that Scripture is one whole story that tells of God's redemption and restoration of the world through Jesus Christ. His approach puts the focus on God and helps teens look for the connections between each of the Scripture stories. It also guides them in thinking about how the stories shape them personally, and shape all of us as God's people. I especially appreciate the way that he helps teen imagine their way into the story by telling, retelling, and asking questions of the story. 
It's also refreshing that Novelli takes teens back into the Bible stories of the Old and New Testament. Sometimes we focus so heavily on life issues, doctrine, creeds, and confessions in the high school and middle school years that I think we send an unintended message that Bible stories are for kids. Not so!! During the teen years the abstract thinking is sharpening, so it's a great time to engage the stories again and come with new questions and wonderings born out of new life experiences. During those turbulent years teens can take great comfort in these stories that tell us how God worked in great and mysterious ways in the lives of ordinary people. They can relate to the ups and downs that we see in some of the complicated stories of people like Moses, Joseph, David, Esther, Paul, Mary. . . . They will discover more about God by seeing how he lovingly engages, challenges, empowers, forgives, all of these people (and us too!). I would love to see my church work Novelli's material into the scope and sequence of the high school years right along with Questions Worth Asking (H. Catechism). Our doctrine and theology is very important, and I think it becomes especially real and meaningful when it is paired with and grounded in the story of Scripture.      
If I do get the chance to use Shaped by the Story I think there are a few things I'd do differently than Novelli. For example, he seems pretty strict about not thinking ahead about the story--only looking back and talking about how the current story we are talking about connects to other stories we've already shared. I understand the reasons in theory, but in practice you have a mix of kids who know the whole Bible and those who don't. And you have kids who are coming about half the time, and others who are there consistently. When kids are there, they should be free to have the "Aha!" moments of making connections either to past or future stories. It would be a shame for them to miss that just because they get busy near the end of the series of studies! 
Some other details--after sharing the story initially and doing the retelling, I'd want everyone to pull out their Bibles so they could refer to particular aspects of the story as the conversation progresses. It bothers me a bit that they don't ever refer to the text in Novelli's model. Though it would take some tweaking to figure out how present the story orally in a way that still allow time for kids to meaningfully engage in the text.
I'd also be careful that I didn't make my intro too long before sharing the actual story. If you saw the video that came along with the book, I'm referring to the elaborate diamond analogy. It's a good one, but it burns up about half of the attention span of youth! I'd keep that part short and simple, and expect that it would take a few weeks and maybe even a couple months before the rhythm was strong with the youth knowing what's expected and how to participate and engage. The dialogue at the end is really the key to the formation process--it's the point where our story merges with God's story and it's the launching point for living the story. That portion lends itself to some wonderful, Spirit led reflection, conversation, and self discovery. I would guess that this whole method would work best with older youth than with middle schoolers or younger teens.
Have you visited Novelli's website, I think he has training events and other helpful materials. Post again if you begin using Shaped by the Story--I'd love to hear how it goes. I wonder if it would work best for Sunday school or youth group. I hope we also hear from others who have used it.



Hi Jolanda - Thank-you for your comments. Your insight will be valuable to us if we decide as a church to use the program - I hope we do! I think the program was designed for older teens but could be developed for younger children as well especially those with a background of Children's Worship. Thanks again - Gerry

Yes, I agree. If many of your kids have grown up with the young children and worship program they'll probably catch onto the Novelli method more quickly. Please post an update on how it's working out if your church decides to give it a try. Thanks!

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