Bible Storytelling: Preparing to Tell the Story
Let’s talk about it up front and get it over with.
If we want to tell Bible stories well—if we want to communicate the beauty and power of the gospel in engaging ways—it takes work. So, yes, your prep time will increase as you learn the art of storytelling. But remember that your kids are worth the extra effort! And the time it takes you to prep will shorten as you learn more about storytelling and practice it, so don’t stress too much if learning the art of storytelling adds more time than you’d like first.
With that said, the fact that you are reading this blog tells me you aren’t afraid of doing extra in your role of pointing kids to Jesus. So let’s plow ahead.
Telling compelling stories begins long before you sit or stand in front of your kids. It begins when you first rub shoulders with the Bible story and prepare to tell it.
Here are 6 steps to guide solid, meaningful preparation.
1. Read the Story
Begin by reading the story several times. Here’s what Maxine Bersch suggests in her book, Storytelling in a Nutshell:
Read the story aloud several times. This does not necessarily mean you do these readings in succession, but just simply take time to sit down and read the story aloud, then read it as many times as necessary for you to be able to write the sequences of events in 1-2-3 order. — Maxine Bersch, Storytelling in a Nutshell: A Primer for Storytellers in Christian Education (Genevox Music, 1998), 81.
You may want to consider reading the Bible story in different translations to give it a different feel. You might also want to listen to an audio version of the story using a Bible app. Once you are able to outline the story from the top of your head, you are ready to move on to the next step.
2. Know the Story
Now that you are familiar with what we often call the focal passage, it is time to broaden your reading to the context of the story. We aren’t able to cover nearly as much of the stories as we would like to cover in the focal passages because of time limitations, but don’t let that stop you from filling in the gaps that sometimes exist between stories or even within a story. So read the chapters around the story to get a better feel for the big picture of what is going on.
As you do this, you will need to roll up your sleeves and really study at times. Carefully consider what you read. Look up any terms you aren’t familiar with. Use cross references to find connections. Read the footnotes in your Bible or get a good commentary to help you understand what you read more deeply. Make sure there aren’t any glaring unanswered questions in your mind.
3. Know the Point of the Story
By this point, you have a solid grasp of the details—the “what”—of the story. Now it is time to go the next step and know the “why” of the story.
Spend some time praying and asking God to help you understand the point of what you are reading. What are you learning about God? About Jesus? About the gospel? This is where it is helpful to spend some time camping out in the Christ connection. The Christ connection provides much of the “why” of the story. You can think of it as the destination of your story. Maxine Bersch again provides some helpful suggestions for us at this stage:
Fill your mind with Bible reading and prayer. Be in love with it all; get saturated with it. Remember how you felt when you first heard the story. Try to recapture a sense of wonder about it. — Maxine Bersch, Storytelling in a Nutshell, 136.
4. Finalize the Story
At this point, you are ready to zero in on the Bible story script provided in the leader guide. First, read over it once more and adjust it based on your time of study. You know your kids and your ministry context better than we do, so you are the best one to know if you need to add more details to the story, remove some, use a word or phrase from your preferred Bible translation, or make changes to fit your time and storytelling style better.
Two words of caution are needed at this point. First, consider this warning from Maxine Bersch:
It is never acceptable to start Bible stories with word, “Once upon a time…” for at this age they do associate these beginning words with the imaginary story. — Maxine Bersch, Storytelling in a Nutshell, 32.
Second, be careful to stay as close to the Bible text as possible. It might be tempting to add details for added color and storytelling interest, but the more we add, the more obscure we make God’s Word.
5. Read, Record, and Listen to the Story
Once your script is complete, record yourself reading the story out loud. Then listen to it. Now, don’t worry as much about your storytelling technique at this point. What you want to listen for is flow. Does the story make sense? Did you leave anything out? Is there anything that is not needed? Is it too long? Make any necessary edits and repeat this process until you have your final script.
6. Memorize the Story
OK. Now things are getting serious. I know that this idea strikes fear into the hearts of many of you who just read this—me included. But if you want to be the best storyteller you can be, you really need to memorize the story.
In his book, The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School (Zondervan, 2007), Aaron Reynolds strongly advocates memorizing Bible stories. Reynolds shares that memorizing stories:
- Creates intentionality of what you are teaching.
- Allows you to be in tune with the Holy Spirit; as you prepare and teach, you are not worried about what comes next.
- Makes excellence possible; it frees you to focus on creative moments instead of the script.
- Empowers your teaching; you are able to proclaim truths from the heart rather than words from the page.
He also provides these four practical memorization tips:
- Compartmentalize the material. Break the story down into bite-sized chunks that you can get your arms around. Memorize one at a time.
- Write on the script. This is especially helpful for visual learners. Use color codes such as highlighting all of the dialogue one color.
- Rewrite it. Writing out the script several times aids in memory.
- Record it and listen to it. Play it in the car on your commute or as you exercise.
Once you have that Bible story memorized, you are ready to go to the next step and begin thinking about how you will tell it in an engaging fashion. But before we wrap up this post, let me share one more tip.
If you’ve tracked with this, you’re probably scratching your head thinking how you can accomplish all of this in a week. That’s a great question to ask. The answer is you probably can’t. You really need to overlap your work and work ahead. So at any given time, you may be reading and studying one story, writing the script for a second story, memorizing a third, and perhaps even preparing to tell a fourth. But hear this: you can do it! The same God who created the universe with the spoken word indwells you and empowers you with His strength. Lean in on Him. He will not leave you stranded. Never forget 1 Corinthians 15:58 —
Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
With that said, I also want to encourage those of you who still may feel overwhelmed. Just take a step or two! It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Do what you can do. That step or two can make a huge difference. You never know. So do what you can and trust God to work through you for His glory.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.