Three Ways to Tell a Bible Story to Kids

What do the kids in your class remember after you’ve taught a Bible lesson? Who do they identify with in the story? Think about the story of David and Goliath. There are at least three ways to tell it.

1. An Example Lesson. You may have heard this story taught so the main point is to be brave and face big obstacles with courage. When we tell the story this way,  kids will remember all of the little details about David. He was too little for Saul’s armor. He took five smooth stones and a sling. David even cut off Goliath’s head! The kids will also remember to be brave like David! They will identify with him, because David is the example to follow.

That’s one way to tell the story. But if we just teach example lessons, the kids may only remember the key Bible characters. What will they remember about God?

2. A God-centered Lesson. As I've written before, God is the Bible’s main character. We shouldn’t overlook or forget about David. But focusing on David shouldn’t keep us from seeing that God is the true hero. David reminds us that God rescues his chosen servant from wild animals and enemies (1 Samuel 17:37). When Goliath came against him with a sword and spear and javelin, David didn’t start naming his weapons: “Well, here I come with my sling!” No way! David said, “I come against you in the name of the Lord” (1 Samuel 17:45). David’s weapons may be weak, but God is strong. The battle belongs to Him. If we’re listening to David, we’ll hear that this story has little to do with David’s example at all. It’s a story about God. That’s who we want our kids to remember.

It’s true. One of the first things we should ask ourselves when crafting a lesson is, “What is God doing in this story?” The Bible was written to show us God. He’s the main character. But when we’re crafting lessons, does that go far enough? 

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from   The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible     by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

Illustration and layout by Trish Mahoney from The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy, (New Growth Press, 2017).

3. A Gospel-centered Lesson. I recently heard Marty Machowski talk about one of the best ways to craft a gospel-centered lesson. He said, “We want to help our kids identify with the people in the story who need the Good News.” In this story, that’s the Israelites. They have a strong enemy and a weak king. When Goliath marches out into the valley of Elah, he challenges king Saul, all of Israel, and Israel’s God. Israel needed a courageous hero to save them from their oppressors.

Enter David. Even though the people there didn’t know it yet, we know that David stepped onto that battlefield as Israel’s newly anointed king. He was the people’s representative. God won the battle, but he won the battle through David. In this way, David gives us a sneak peak into a specific way God saves his people. God saves his people by sending them a representative king. David points beyond himself to Jesus! After we’ve discovered what God is doing for his people in a story, we should look for how that action points to what Jesus has done. We should ask, as Jack Klumpenhower has phrased it, “How does God do the same for us--only better--in Jesus?” In this way, we can move from a lesson that is merely God-centered to one that is Gospel-centered.

Which of these kinds of lessons do you find yourself teaching on a regular basis? Did you find this helpful? Leave a comment below to let us know.

The illustrations in this post are from my book, The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible. Check out the New Growth Press website to purchase a copy or learn more.

Prepare Him Room: An Interview with Marty Machowski

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of Advent resources that our family has used during the season. One we've used and enjoyed a couple of times now is the  Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus devotional by my friend, Marty Machowski. Back in 2014, I corresponded with Marty and asked him questions about the devotional, storytelling, and the message of Christmas. Here is how he answered my questions.

Jared: Why did you decide to write an Advent devotional? 

Marty: Prepare Him Room started as an Advent devotional for Covenant Fellowship, to help our congregation focus on Christ in the Christmas season. After receiving good feedback I decided to rewrite the devotional for families beyond our church and added the Christmas short story and a few more activities for families. 

Jared: Can you tell me a bit about the format of the devotional?

Marty: Prepare Him Room provides three devotions for each of the four weeks of Advent. The first devotion explores an Old Testament prophecy. The second devotion highlights an announcement of that same prophetic message, like Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce God’s plan to bring her a son. The third devotion explores the Scriptural fulfillment of the prophecy and announcement. 

In addition to these Bible devotions, there are family activities, outreach ideas, and a four-part short story, designed to be read on the weekend.

Jared: We've only read the first chapter as a family at this point, but my kids are already asking--is the Bartimaeus story true? Where did you come up with the idea?

Marty: I love telling stories to my children. I just make them up as I go along. That is how Bartimaeus started out. I even put the song the children in the story sing, "A Grueling Life," to music. When our home school ministry was looking for a story line for a Christmas musical, I gave them my rough story and the song.  The director changed the story a bit to make it work and gathered a host of songwriters to turn it into a musical. 

After that, I decided to polish my original storyline and added details and set the story in history. The California Gold rush left a lot of orphaned children back east in the big cities. There were 30,000 orphans in New York City alone. That is the setting I chose for the story. 

It is my hope families will read the Bartimaeus story each Christmas building a family tradition that will go on for years.

Jared: What helps you grow as a storyteller? What is your system for recording stories? 

Marty: Recording stories is easy with today’s smart phones and voice memos.  All you have to do is open an app, and start talking. Most of my stories, while enjoyed by my own children, are not that great.  But every now and then, I come up with a winner – a story that my children want to hear again and again.  If you tell enough stories, you bound to create a good one now and then. Even if you never publish a story, your kids will absolutely love listening to the recordings later on.

Jared: Christmas is a season for giving, but often we have a tendency just to think about ourselves. How can your devotional help a family that is more inwardly focused to be more outward? 

Marty: One of the most frequent weaknesses of a solid Christian family is reaching out to friends and neighbors. Even though most Christians agree that evangelism and outreach are important, the busyness of life often robs us of the opportunity.  When you consider that Christmas is the one season in the year that most people are open to coming to church, it provides a perfect chance to invite folks to church. 

Too often Christmas is about getting – gifts, food, parties, vacation time, and more.  But the message God ordained is one of giving.  God gave up his Son for us, the most amazing gift of all.  When we consider what a great salvation God provided, completely all of grace, it should move us beyond study to action. 

I wanted to help families do more than study Scripture; I wanted families to live the Scripture they study.  When it comes to Christmas, the message is clear – it is all about proclamation.  Whether it is the prophet Isaiah, “For unto us a son is given,” or the angels, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” the message is meant to be spread.  The celebration of Christ’ birth was never intended to remain within the four walls of our homes.

I'm really thankful for Marty's kindness in sharing his time with us. If you found this interview encouraging, please leave Marty a note of thanks below.