Yesterday I watched a skilled pastor tell the story of Jesus calming the storm to children, and I learned something new after telling that very story to children more times than I can remember.
I should say here that I was trained to tell Bible stories to children in a very particular way, and I’ve been doing it this way with almost no variation for a decade: get in, tell the story, then get out. No introductory questions. No illustrations. No props. And for Heaven’s sake, no the-moral-of-the-story-is type summaries. Just tell the story.
All of this is because young children are concrete thinkers. Metaphors are confusing, and that prop you thought would really bring the point home to them won’t. They’ll remember the prop, but not what it signified. Biblical stories are more than sufficient material of themselves without the added garb of meaning-making toys.
Back to yesterday. The pastor told the story with a winsome paraphrase, and then simply added, “This story is showing me that Jesus takes care of us.” That simple sentence made me sit up in my pew, because it located the authority of the story’s meaning in the teller’s present tense experience as a learner, and not, as I’ve always done, in the privileged domain of adulthood or, worse, the pastor’s office.
Since we don’t have time for exploration and conversation about the story, I think Children’s Times in worship services really have to include some kind of the-moral-of-the-story-is conclusion, and I think this is the right way to do it. How many times have I told kids that a story meant something, though, and missed the opportunity that this pastor perfectly seized, the opportunity to position myself as a learner among them and thus normalize for them a dynamic kind of relationship to Bible stories rather than a static one, a relationship that grows and changes over the course of your whole life, rather than one in which you learn once and for all and then finish?
This is how to tell Bible stories to kids, then: get in, tell the story, share what it’s teaching YOU, then get out.