Sunday, June 22, 2008

Telling VBS Bible Stories

You’ve been asked to teach a VBS class. Or, perhaps you have agreed to host the Bible story center at your local VBS. Ok, so far. Then your VBS director hands you the teaching guide. Uh oh! You didn’t KNOW so much was involved in just telling a Bible story! Is it really necessary to do all this decoration stuff? Aren’t you tampering with the word of God to tell the story in verse? Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not going to act like an idiot in front of all those kids!!”

As to the last concern, rest assured! I’ve been acting idiotic in telling dramatic bible stories for years and my reputation is still intact. If it isn’t, nobody has dared to tell me otherwise!

Consider this. You have one week to make an impression on these children for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Bible story and the life application is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of the VBS experience. You want to tell a story that they will not soon forget. And you can do this and still be true to the Scriptural content. Here’s some suggestions on how to make your stories come alive for your students.

1. Create an environment. Put down a blue tarp for the Sea of Galilee. Set cushions around a low table for the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. Bring in a fake tree for the story of Zaccheus. VBS curriculum today has all kinds of awesome ideas of how to turn a church classroom into a storybook paradise. Two warnings: first, if decorations aren’t your “thing,” don’t push it. You do what you are good at. I’m not the decorating type so I go for simple or involve other people who are good at it. Second, don’t spend so much time and energy on the environment that you have nothing left to invest in the story. The environment should enhance the story, not overwhelm it.

2. Use props. One of my most effective stories was the retelling of the widow’s mite. I stood, holding a penny over an offering plate, debating back and forth whether I should give that penny. I dramatically held the penny over the plate, paused, then let the penny drop. The only sound you could hear in the room was the drop of that penny and the kids got the point about the cost of commitment.

3. Get the kids involved. Have them hold up signs, hold props, help you pretend to row the boat caught in that bad storm on the sea of Galilee, repeat sentences after you., make sound effects. This is great for the kids who have difficulty sitting still. When you involve them, you are assured you have their attention.

4. Be dramatic. Vary your voice. Treat your storytelling like a musical symphony. Use loud and soft dynamics. Pause dramatically. Pretend you are the conductor of this symphony by using hand gestures to accentuate your story. Just the way you tell your story makes an average story become an exciting adventure.

5. Loose your inhibition. These are kids! They’ll love it when you act silly! For them, I lose my identity as “Miss Karen” and become “the Bible story lady.” Even the adults won’t think you are whacko – they’ll respect you and wish they could do it too.

6. Don’t forget the punch line! Like overdoing the decorations, it’s easy to get so caught up in the drama of the story, that you forget the life application. What’s the point of your story? What do you want the kids to learn ? What’s the central truth you want them to not forget? Does your story communicate that clearly? If it does, your story will be a winner, all the way around.

How do you become a good storyteller? I’m not a drama major and by nature, I’m a rather serious person. I’ve learned by watching other storytellers, following good curriculum, practicing in front of the mirror and my dog, and being willing to experiment. Stephen James has written an excellent resource I wish I had when I first started teaching. The book is “The Creative Storytelling Guide” and I highly recommend it.

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