The Master Storyteller

I spent last week helping with Vacation Bible School. Like many churches across the country, ours uses Group’s “easy” VBS. Through it, I ventured on a “High Seas Expedition” with some 90 kids from our community, leading them during the Bible Voyage time.

This year, during Bible Voyage, we told a somewhat random collection of stories from the book of Acts: The story of Peter being imprisoned and then released from jail; The story of Paul being shipwrecked; The story of Paul on Malta; The healing of a beggar by Peter and John; And the story of the early church.

While there are actually many things that I appreciate about Group’s VBS including the ideas that its curriculum has for creatively, yet simply bringing the stories to life, one thing that I do not appreciate about Group is the way it reduces each of these complex and powerful stories into one simple, catch phrase like “God’s Word is comforting” or “God’s Word is life changing”. Such a reduction is actually a disservice to our kids because it takes away from the innate power of stories which naturally have the ability to captivate young and old alike. What’s more, such reductions carry with them an inherent danger: That in trying to draw out life applications we reach too far, drawing conclusions and principles not actually present in the text.

For example: I find it difficult to imagine that when Luke recorded the story of Paul’s shipwreck, he did so hoping to teach people that God’s Word is comforting. And I can say with some confidence that when Luke told the story of Peter and John healing a beggar outside the temple, that he was, in no way, trying to teach us that we are all crippled by sin (a conclusion that Group’s curriculum did, in fact, reach) or even that God’s Word is life changing. What does “God’s Word is life changing” even mean to a five or six year old who has barely developed the ability to think concretely, yet alone to think abstractly?

Despite this, in the age of the “Life Application Bible,” I think that too many of those of us who work in the church fall prey to the myth that without formulas, catchy sayings, or three easy steps, our teaching is useless. Yet all this myth really reflects is that we’ve forgotten the power of a good story.

Like nothing else, stories have the power to captivate us, challenge us, convict us, and move us. This is something that even my five year olds intuitively grasped during VBS, as they sat in our makeshift boat, riveted to the story of Paul’s shipwreck and survival. It’s something that I think Luke also grasped as he recorded story after story in both his Gospel and in Acts.

Though I cannot say for certain, I also suspect that Luke told these stories for the same reason we should: To pass on the history of our people to the next generation. As one of my favorite authors, Kenda Creasy Dean asserts, we tell stories of faith because “it’s our family’s story. It’s who we are. The church tells this story to young people for the same reason we tell stories of grandparents around the dinner table: So our children will know whose blood courses through their veins, so they’ll know who they are, why we live as we do, and why it matters.”

Because while stories reflect our identity, they also do something more: They shape our identity. The more we hear stories, the more those stories come to life in our lives. We start to, in some mysterious way, live them out. As we do, we experience them. But more importantly, as we do, we also experience God, who is, himself, a master storyteller and the creator of our story.

Comments

Bob Sitze

Jen:

As we agreed in our recent conversation, GROUP seems to have forsaken some of its solid pedagogical moorings in this curriculum. From the sound of things, it feels like a tired curriculum writer trying to crank out yet another meaningful encounter with Scripture without even the foggiest notion of children’s developmental characteristics. “If you build it, they will come” morphs into “If you say it, they will understand what you mean” and the Kingdom slips by children’s instinctual spirituality like muddy pigs slip through the hands of their handlers.

Keep insisting on intellectual honesty in your ministry, and keep reminding us all that faith-witnessing is not conceptually foggy magical incantations. You are good at prophet-work!

Bob

Posted by Bob Sitze, about 9 years ago

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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