Would you agree that the most powerful communication tool we have is story?
Would you agree that Jesus communicated spiritual truth to us in story more than any other format?
Would you agree that any curriculum for Christ-likeness for children must begin with a strong foundation in the Biblical Narrative? In other words, is the God Story, presented in chronological order, fundamental to spiritual formation in children?
If so, you may be interested in what I have to say.
Lectio Divina is a classical Benedictine practice attributed to Brother Lawrence, a Benedictine monk from the 17th Century. It is a method for studying the Bible used to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. Far from mystical, it is a practical and time proven method of study and learning that consists of four simple steps:
Over the last ten years, I have worked with teachers and mentors who use this model of Bible study and I have ‘come along side’ to practice it as a spiritual discipline in my own life.
Recently, I realized that even before I knew this method existed, I was using it in my design for children’s ministry curriculum at the church where I served as children’s pastor.
My curriculum was designed as a story-centric model that taught Bible stories in chronological order with the intention of reinforcing the God Narrative from beginning to end each calendar year. At each successive grade level, the story thread went deeper into the story, but they were always taught in chronological order from year to year. So each grade level was on the same story each week; just at a deeper level or different part of the same story.
Both models are inductive in their approach to Bible engagement. They are Spirit led rather than a subjective design element that manufactures what the Bible story or scripture text is saying. In other words, it asks the question: “What is the Holy Spirit saying to you in this story?” Remember that when we open the Word of God, we open the mouth of God and it is “living and active”. (Hebrews 4:12)
The paradigm shift for you and your volunteers is a tricky one. It requires you to stop teaching and start guiding. My story-centric model for children’s ministry curriculum asks volunteers to be storytellers instead of teachers. While there is much to be made of this, suffice it to say for now that Jesus communicated through stories as his PRIMARY model for teaching. Still, it is a transition for your volunteers to make.
None-the-less, I would like to pursue the model with you as a way to introduce a concept and not a product. Unfortunately, there is no publisher that I know that has a curriculum like this. (That however, does not make it wrong.) Still, once you have the idea, you can easily duplicate it in a curriculum model, even if you don’t add the chronological Bible story element with it.
a.When working with children, it is important to read (outloud) from the Bible the first time. It helps to read well and to read from a version that best relates to children.
b.The story is then retold as a paraphrase. Always resist the urge to teach. Your goal here is to “Tell the Story in a Way that it can be Retold.” So how do you do that? My favorite idea here is a “Cue and Respond” model. The notion is a prompt, which helps remind the listener of that part of the story. As you retell the story, you introduce the prompt, cue, or token. Then you gather the cues together and present them again in order. But this time, the audience tells YOU the story. Take the following fabric prints for example:
i.Loaves of bread
iii.Sheaves of wheat
iv.Flannel pattern (soft)
Do you recognize the story? It’s Ruth and Naomi. For the sake of brevity, I won’t explain it. But these are all fabric panels I found in the store and used to tell the story from Ruth. Once I told the story using the ‘cues’, I gathered them together and reset them out one at a time while the kids recounted the story to me. Powerful! Cue and Response is just one simple way to paraphrase a story.
a.This is an active reflection. Here, I want children to experience the story. The simplest way to do this is……Act it out!.
b.I believe that Bible is play anthology, which means it was meant to be shown, not just told. After hearing a story read and then paraphrased through Cue and Response, it isn’t hard to act it out. Assign parts and let it go. If you want to script it in advance, you can but that isn’t necessary. If there aren’t enough speaking parts, assign kids to play props and set pieces. Let them play the part of a tree or a pig. Lead the story as a “narrator” if necessary. You may have to give them a line or two. Have some fun costume pieces to add. Does this sound like more than your pay grade? You’re not giving yourself enough credit!
a.Here comes the leap of faith. (Trust me. It’s good for you.) Ask the question, “What did you learn from our story today?” “What does this story mean to you?” This is the part where you and Carrie Underwood sing, “Jesus, take the wheel!” It is this question that makes the model inductive rather than the deductive model you buy from a publisher. As in the Lectio model, the question is “What does this text mean to you?” “What is the Holy Spirit saying to YOU?”
b.You have plenty of other places in your programming to talk about the fruit of the spirit or the armor of God, etc. But a graded curriculum is the perfect place to fit in a model that teaches children the biblical narrative in chronological order and how to engage the Word of God through an age-old Bible study method.
c.Lead the conversation with questions and observations. Don’t teach. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead. As Dr. Seuss would say, ‘Oh, the places you’ll go!”
a.In the classical model, this step is more an application to your everyday life. What are you going to do with the Word of God in your life this week? How are you going to respond to the story? Faith without obedience isn’t faith at all. So, here’s what I suggest:
i.Make some suggestions on how to apply the Word for that week.
ii.Connect the story to Jesus. He is the WORD made flesh and we know that Scripture always points to Jesus. Teaching kids this valuable truth on a weekly basis will help them to properly engage God’s Word forever.
iii.End with a prayer of THANKSGIVING to God for speaking through His WORD.
iv.If you need more time, it never hurts to have a couple of activity sheets available.
Did you survive? As I mentioned in my opening, I’m not here to sell a product, just a concept. So, my suggestion is that you try the model without the chronological storytelling element. (At least until I finish my curriculum for publication!) See how it works. Like Lectio, it’s not rocket science and I believe that you’ll find it helpful and stimulating. Got questions? Need some more help? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.