There is an art and a science of sorts in telling a Bible story to kids or teens. The art includes the techniques a master storyteller might use to engage young people in a story. The science part of telling a Bible story is understanding the cultural aspects of a story that will get students stuck. When a young person hears a story for the first time, he or she tries to follow the action and the dialogue in the story. When something unfamiliar is introduced in the story, the young person can no longer picture what is happening in his or her imagination. The brain scrambles to fill in the blank in the mental picture. Left struggling too long and the mind either substitutes a familiar, but inaccurate item or gives up and starts thinking about something else.
Neither of those options is ideal if we want young people to learn important lessons from these Bible stories. Unfortunately, we often tell these stories from our adult perspectives. We have forgotten at their age, we didn’t know much of what we know now. A story that seems simple and easy to understand to us can lose a child or teen in about thirty seconds.
Thankfully, there is a way to remind yourself of the things in the story that may need more explanation, photos, experiences or other elements to help your students better understand them. Asking yourself these seven questions can help you find those things that will distract your Bible students from learning important lessons.
- What things in this Bible story have my students probably never seen? If you are teaching five year olds in Greece, they have probably seen an olive growing on an olive tree. A five year old in Chicago may never have seen an olive tree or even an olive.
- How would things in the Bible story be done today? Dorcas would use a sewing machine today. In real life, she had to sew all of those clothes by hand! The difference may not stump your students, but Dorcas had to put a lot more time and effort into sewing clothes by hand than if she had a machine to help. It makes her servant heart even more interesting and compelling.
- What wasn’t in the story that would be in it today? When people travel in the Bible from place to place, it’s easy for your Bible students to assume they hopped in a car or airplane. Knowing they often walked those long distances over many days adds another element to stories like Mary and Joseph having to double back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus after walking for several days before they realized he was missing!
- What haven’t my students experienced? A wedding or a feast in Bible times was different from those things today. Young children may not have even gone to a modern wedding yet. A lack of experiences can really make stories confusing. Wedding parables without an experience of going to a wedding, much less an ancient wedding, render the parables featuring them almost meaningless and definitely confusing.
- Do my students know who everyone in the story is? Sure, Abraham is a familiar person to adult Christians, but to a teen attending church for the first time, he is a stranger with no context. Even secular historical figures like Pharaoh and Caesar may be familiar to teens, but not to kids in elementary school.
- Are there unfamiliar historical or geographical references in the story? Exposure to history and geography can vary by school system as well as age. Don’t assume your Bible students know about the Roman Empire or where Egypt is.
- Are there new vocabulary words in the story? This one is tricky. Many kids raised in a Christian home can give you an accurate definition of a religious word and still have absolutely no idea what it means. Having them define it in their own words or give other examples can help. Don’t forget there are also a few words sprinkled in some versions of the Bible from Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic as well as words for items not in regular use today like shofar or menorah that will need explaining.
Taking the time to ask yourself these seven questions as you prepare to tell a Bible story can mean your students don’t get lost in the details, but are able to understand not only the story, but also what God wants them to learn from it. It’s worth taking the extra time and effort to do it every time.