Jesus was a master story-teller. Droves of people followed Him wherever He went. They listened to His every word. His parables utilized simple objects to convey more complex truths. They were relevant to the audience and they often ended with some type of surprise or twist.
In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to the smallest of all seeds. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus talks about leaving the 99 sheep in the open country to go search for the one. In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus commends the sinner -not the religious elite – because the tax collector humbles himself before God.
Jesus’ stories continue to fascinate me, because they don’t make any practical sense. Our faith is built on a mustard seed kingdom, a shepherd who would leave 99 for one, and a sinner’s prayer. But I think that’s what make our Savior’s stories beautiful. They are simple enough for a child to understand, but rich enough for a scholar to study over and over again.
Tips for Storytelling
As Jesus used story-telling in his ministry, so should we. Whether we are narrating the ancient parables, crafting a modern-day story, or communicating an old cherished favorite, here are some storytelling techniques to consider:
1. Know your audience: If the children are small, keep the verbiage small. Children’s attention spans generally last one minute longer than their age. Accommodate the story according to the needs of the child. Are they un-churched kids? Tell a salvation story. Do they reside in the country? Relate stories to the farm, tractors, and animals. If they’re city kids, what would their frame of reference be? Subways, apartment buildings, city parks. Are you speaking to an international audience? If so, use a translator, visuals, and pertinent cultural familiarities. To personalize the story, know the names of your students and use them.
2. Engage your audience: The best way to engage your audience is to know your story and to tell it confidently. Use different voices to portray different characters, adjust your own volume accordingly (speak loudly to portray emotion or whisper to encourage careful listening), and use voice inflection (don’t speak in a monotone voice). It’s also helpful to use eye contact, utilize crowd participation, and simple props or costumes to foster imagination. And last, but not least, have fun! Use humor, be whimsical, and throw in some silly every now and again!
3. Love your audience: Share the love of Christ with every story that you tell. Even if your story seemingly has nothing to do with Jesus, make it a point to end with Him. Charlie Wallace, Ministry to Children contributing writer, recently wrote an article on this subject, entitled, “The Gospel for Children: The Importance of Jesus in Every Kids Church Lesson.” The most effective way to love your audience is to end with God’s redemptive story, of sending His only Son to die on the cross for the sins of all mankind.
4. Pray for your audience: Before you tell your story and upon completion of it, pray for the students in your midst both personally and corporately. Pray that they would listen to your words, but that they would hear God’s heart. Pray for their salvation. Pray for God to develop wisdom in these young leaders of tomorrow. Pray that they would be sensitive doers of the Word, not hearers only (James 1:22-25).
Need more help? Then check out our series of articles titled “Overcoming Challenges in Your Children’s Ministry.”