Last night, fellow blogger Amy Dolan and I got to catch with with keynote speaker Chris Brown for a few minutes after his super story telling session. After being so impressed with his Jonah series (from several years back) and now again tonight, I wanted to know about his preparation process. Large Group sessions are a big part of what I personally do for Children’s Ministry and I would love to make God’s Word come alive to the kids the way Chris made it come alive to the audience last night.
Here’s what he said:
I come from a family of story tellers. My dad loved to tell stories and my mom loved to read stories. When my mom read me stories, she would have a different voice for every character, and she would make all the sound effects too. That’s when I began to see stories, not just hear them. So, story telling is sort of in my blood, but somewhere along the way, I lost that. I lost the story telling thing.
When I started teaching Youth Group, I got back into it a bit, but with a fatal flaw. I would tell these kids MY story, complete with sound effects and gripping details, and then I would try to throw a verse at the end to make it a “biblical lesson”. Like I would tell about the time that I was riding my dirt bike and fell off and got all cut up and it was a disaster, whatever… then I would throw out 2 Timothy 1:7 where it says that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear.
I got a lot of practice in. I did some work at Christian camps, speaking and MC-ing for the bands. One time, when I had taken a group of my youth kids up to Magic Mountain, some kids came up to me while we were standing in line for a ride. They were all excited and they were recounting the stories I had told them three years ago while at camp… something about a shark and a monkey wrench.
As they walked away, I remember being so impressed with myself. ”Wow, these kids remember what I said three years later! What an impact I’m making”. Then, I heard the small voice of the Spirit saying, “Really, are you proud of yourself?”
I realized these kids remembered MY STORIES. My grand adventures. My scrapes and tumbles and funny one-liners.
When really, they should be remembering GOD’S STORY.
That’s when it really hit me. Standing there in that line at Magic Mountain. I was doing something wrong. It wasn’t just about great story telling. It was about pointing kids to the greatest story of all time — God’s story. I had missed one letter! Instead of “Chris’ story”, it should be “Christ’s story!”
Well, it sent me into quite a tailspin. What had I spent all my time doing for the past few years? Should I continue in Youth Ministry? Should I quit?
If you think about it, the stories we tell best are our own. That’s why the kids connected so much with my original stories, because I helped them experience it while I told it. I needed to get inside God’s Word and really make it my story. What it be like if I was there? What would I see? What would I hear? Feel? The Bible is a LIVING WORD with living people filling the pages. This isn’t a boring history book or some poetic mumbo-jumbo, this is a book about real stuff.
The gospels especially are amazing. You saw tonight — one chapter in Mark — and all that stuff going on! Of course, the Old Testament is filled with amazing stories. Even the Epistles. Some people think that because they are letters, you can’t teach them like narratives, but that’s not true. I started viewing Paul’s epistles through the lens of a man sitting in prison… carefully writing to a church he loves but can’t visit… knowing that a death sentence hangs about his head, but still finding joy in life. I stood over Paul’s shoulder as he hurriedly wrote about the guards who were coming to know about Christ and his redeeming work and how God’s Story was spreading. That’s a cool story!
So, the first thing you need to do is really get into the text — into the Bible. Try to get everything you can from the pages…setting, characters, feelings. God provides some amazing details sometimes. Then grab some commentaries (AFTER you read the text) and get a hold of some of the historical background, cultural practices, maybe some geographical information and fill in the details. Stand in that place. Look around. What would the story look like? Remember, these are real people! What would they think? Feel? Say?
And after all that, make sure you give an application. Again, God’s Word isn’t just literature. It’s not just about getting more knowledge. It’s instructions for our daily living! If you can’t pull an application out, you’re not really in the story. Especially with Children’s Ministry, make sure it’s concrete and age appropriate. What’s that verse? Train up a child in the way he should GO, not in the way he should KNOW. Or another translation says in the way he should WALK. We’ve got to be putting these words into practice.
And remember, it’s God’s Story. We can be part of that, and that’s pretty exciting. Don’t make it about you. Keep the focus on the main character and lives will be changed.
* This post is part of series of live blogging posts from David C. Cook’s “The Gathering” conference in Costa Mesa, CA *
Be sure to check out the other live bloggers:
Amy Dolan @ Lemon Lime Kids (She asked Chris a question about Healing and Faith)