Podcast discussion with Eric Barreto, Cameron Howard, and Terri Martinson Elton. Article written by Terri Martinson Elton.
As a kid my grandparents repeatedly told (and retold) the story of our heritage, of our Scandinavian ancestors and their roots. Over the years grandma and grandpa made the stories come alive with various traditions and practices. Now years after my grandparents have died, I can truly appreciate their commitment to connect me and my story to our family’s larger story.
As I think about accompanying kids in their journey of faith, my motivation is similar to my grandparents'. I want children to know who and whose they are. And I long for children to see that their story is connected to a larger story. For this to happen it is critical to draw kids into the Bible.
How do we (as adults, parents, pastors, or ministry leaders) draw children into this Christian story? This question is especially pressing in our religiously pluralistic and digitally mediated culture. Here are three points to start with:
- Curiosity is a powerful motivator, and something natural for kids. Yet, ministry with children most often focuses on teaching the biblical story, rather than evoking curiosity about the biblical story. In an age overloaded with information, were the paradigm for learning has shifted and the teacher’s role changed, we have an opportunity to rethink how to connect kids with the Bible. Might we draw young people into the Christian story by evoking curiosity?
Tip #1: One simple, but transformational practice ministry leaders can adopt as they share biblical stories is to ask more questions -- questions which are open and invite children to engage their imagination. Such questions are not focused on facts or information, but on connecting them with the story. Such questions might include:
Questions open up conversations and provide insights into what aspects of the Christian story are of interest to the child. Listening to their responses gives clues to places of further exploration.
- What was your favorite part of the story?
- What would you have done if you were in this story?
- Where do you think this story took place?
- How do you think this person felt? Why? Have you ever felt that way?
- What did this story remind you of? Why? Have you had a similar experience?
- Who else might want to hear this story? Why?
- Images, more than words, are the primary medium of communication in today’s culture. Images capture attention, hold complex ideas, help us remember and invite new ways of thinking, Scripture is filled with images -- images which come alive through story, songs and visions. How might we tap into this communication medium as we draw kids into Scripture and open up their curiosity? Might we help young people explore biblical images in ways meaningful for them? Having kids connect the words of the Bible with images not only evokes their curiosity and imagination, but also calls forth their creativity and gifts.
Tip #2: One idea for incorporating images into the life of a congregation is to create an art gallery. Kids, families, teenagers, and senior adults can create “images” which bring the biblical story to life. Using various media -- photographs, watercolors, sculptors, songs and poems -- the gallery could connect with the worship message or season of the church year. And this public display of images could be an opportunity for sparking conversations around biblical stories and how they are meaningful to various people.
- Grounding our story in a larger story is more important today than it has been for past generations. In a society where mobility and innovation are valued, and so much of life is disposable, it is easy for our stories to become detached and our meaning called into question. Our worth as human beings is not disposable, not based on the latest fad or on any achievement. This message is counter to the prevailing culture and children need to hear about this counter narrative. All of us have a story we find ourselves in. How do we help kids, and their families, share their stories as they also connect them with God’s larger story?
Tip #3: Digital tools are now readily available, and digital storytelling has become one way people are telling important stories. Digital storytelling requires bringing images, sounds and words together to tell a story in a meaningful way. Inviting kids of all ages to tell biblical stories through digital storytelling pushes them to interpret the story for themselves, look for meaning within the story, and then share it with others. For more on digital storytelling see:
Conclusion: Recently I traveled to my grandparent’s homeland and I was amazed at how deeply I understood the story of my ancestors. The minute I got off the plane, I knew it. These were my people. Throughout the week I noticed practices our family shared with these families and I heard stories that were similar to my own. As I returned home my appreciation for my grandparents' storytelling grew and I was awakened to how our family’s larger story had both given me roots and opened me up to new ideas about faith and life.
Children need roots and wings. They always have and always will. And while that commitment doesn’t change, the ways we foster it does. As you commit yourself to connecting kids to the Bible, be open to experiment, imagine, listen, and learn. And as you do, enjoy the ride.
Terri Martinson Elton is associate professor of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary.
Image credit: "Attention Grabbed" by Jeff Smallwood licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.