Story-Formed Classrooms

“All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” (Colossians 1:6 NIV)

According to Paul, the gospel bears fruit and grows. It sounds a bit strange, doesn't it? My concrete brain sort of imagines a Bible storybook with apples and pears growing out the sides. What does that even mean? Here is what Paul is saying. The outcomes of our work in children's ministry are shaped by our proclamation and participation in Jesus' good news story. Gospel ministry of any kind —whether it is preaching, music ministry, student ministry, counseling, mercy, children’s ministry, or our parenting — doesn't find growth or success because of the ministry methods we adopt. We find our only hope in Jesus and in being formed by his good news message. As Timothy Paul Jones has written, "The story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation should frame every aspect of our lives.” But what does that actually look like in a children's ministry classroom? 

Here are a few thoughts about the Bible's basic storyline and your children's ministry classrooms:


First, God made kids for himself.  Just like adults, children are created for worship. As Ted Tripp says, “Children are created to be dazzled.” Our desire as Christians is to bring up a generation of children who are dazzled by God—captured by His creative and redemptive works—always talking about them to one another. At the very least, this means our classroom environments should be engaging. Those who are called and committed to teaching kids should always be growing in the way they use expression to tell Bible stories. We should be committed not only to fill little heads but move little hearts. Commit plenty of time for preparation so your presence and attention during class time can be given to engaging kids rather than figuring out what you're going to say. We want kids to leave our classrooms captivated by God's beauty and love. After all, he is the only true source of salvation and joy. They were created to know him (Psalm 145:3-7).


Second, kids our broken and sinful--just like us. Even kids exchange fall short of God’s glory and chase after the pleasures of the moment (Romans 3:23). Kids are always worshiping something. The better question to ask is, “What are our children worshiping?” Dolls (and other toys) are often idols competing for our kids' affections. If you don’t believe it, think about what happens when playtime is over and kids are called to sit in story circle. That can be one of the most difficult transitions in a classroom. We can't ignore the battle in our kids' hearts. So show kids that God is better than what they're longing for. Give them a picture of the silliness of toys compared to Jesus. He's better than Transformers, Minecraft, Princess Elsa, and Marvel. Sometimes I'll tell kids about the great toys I played with when I was their age. Then, I'll ask, "Where are they?" Some may be in my parents' attic. But most are rusting in a landfill. "But where is Jesus?" He's still with me. He'll never rust. He'll never leave me or forsake me. Even when I wear out, Jesus is there.


Show kids that Jesus is the hero of God’s story. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matthew 19:14 NLT). When we talk about Jesus’ work of salvation in our classrooms, there are two errors we can often fall into. In children’s ministry, we often emphasize the ABCs: (A) Admit you are a sinner; (B) Believe in Jesus; and (C) Confess faith in Him. There is really nothing wrong with that (Romans 10:9-10). But salvation is more about what Christ has done than it is about what we do. One of our classroom teachers recently had every child in her class make a pennant with one of Jesus' names on it. I think she got the idea from Jack Klumpenhower's Show Them Jesus Each member of the class took time to look up a passage with that name and share something about what Jesus has done. It was a great way to teach kids that Jesus is the great Hero of the gospel story.  


Finally, in light of the coming restoration, we should see kids are potential brothers and sisters in Christ. To be embraced by God’s redemption means we are adopted as God's child (Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 3:28-29; 4:3-7; Ephesians 1:5; 2:13-22; Colossians 1:12). If one of my daughters stands beside me in heaven (Revelation 7:9-12), it will not be as my daughter but as my redeemed sister (Luke 20:34-38). Seeing kids that way--in light of the end of the story--really changes the way we think about our classrooms. 

Because God has placed us in the role of an authority over children, children are called to submit and follow us (Ephesians 6:1; 1 Peter 5:5). But, because children are also potential brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to lay down our lives for them (1 John 3:16). That means faithfulness in little things—diligent preparation, excellent policies and procedures, and finding/praying for gifted leaders rather than just pulling in who is available.

Because we are older, adults often think about helping kids see how they need to grow. We discipline, instruct, and encourage kids to pursue what is pure and good (Romans 15:14; 1 Timothy 5:1-2). We help them recognize the right path and seek to restore them when they veer onto the wrong path (Matthew 18:21-22; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16). But, because our kids are potential brothers and sisters in Christ, we must seek to develop the leadership habits of an older Christian sibling even before the kids in our classroom come to faith. As older brothers and sisters, we must be willing to confess our own sin and repent before them in the same way we would with any other fellow believer. (James 5:16). 

God’s story of redemption is pretty simple, but living in light of it requires sacrificial intentionality. It means applying ourselves to becoming better storytellers. It means having hard conversations about heart issues. It means celebrating Jesus as the hero. And it even looks like confessing our sins to the kids we teach. It's hard work, but the sacrifice is rewarding. You see, a story-formed classroom begins to look like the One whom the story is about. A gospel-formed classroom is a way of transformation—both for our kids and and for us.

This article initially appeared in the May/June 2015 edition of Kidzmatter Magazine. Follow this link to subscribe to KidzMatter and check out all of their amazing children's ministry resources. 

The Art of Storytelling

Back in February of 2010, I had the opportunity to hear Andrew Peterson lecture on "The Place of Imagination in God's Kingdom" at Southern Seminary's Institute for Christian Worship. Peterson is a Contemporary Christian music artist and the author of the Wingfeather Saga, a fantasy fiction series for young adults.

Here are links to the audio versions of his two lectures:

My biggest take away from Peterson's lectures were six points he made about the art of great storytelling.  I've kept them, and I like to regularly review them and consider my teaching. As we think this month about telling Old Testament stories, I think it's time to review them again. Here we go:

1. All great stories have a “joyous turn.” That's the point at which you think the bad guys are going to win the day and good is going to be vanquished forever – but suddenly everything changes! The incarnation of Christ is the “joyous turn” in the human story, and the “joyous turn” of the incarnation story is the resurrection. It is the decisive moment everything turns around – death is defeated and God’s new creation is ushered in. From this point forward, the enemy’s end is certain. All good, engaging stories work like this! Even twisted horror stories – like the great ones by Stephen King  – are so excellent because they play on our expectation that a story should have a joyous turn. But, in the horror story, the turn takes you in the opposite direction. 

2. Life itself may be best understood as a story. We understand our place in God’s kingdom better when we understand we are characters or players in the Author’s larger epic. For this reason, good stories illustrate a deep and profound truth about all of life – there is hope to be had in this world, despite all appearances, because the last great enemy has been defeated and resurrection awaits both believers and the entire creation. The great joyous turns of life are written into life’s very fabric. As Luther has said, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone but into every leaf in springtime.”

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone but into every leaf in springtime.
— Martin Luther

3. You cannot have a good story without conflict.   Writing great stories, as Donald Miller has said, involves chasing your main characters up a tree and throwing stones at them. On a more personal level, you begin to understand your own story better when recognize this profound truth. We begin to understand and find comfort in the midst of our own suffering when we discover a way to reconcile where we find ourselves in this world with what the Author of our stories tells us about himself. He tells us that he’s good. He tells us he is at work in all things to bring about good for us, and he tells us we should trust him. Seeing how a story works gives us the ability to see above the fray and imagine what God could be up to. Stories remind us that our lives and our suffering too are going somewhere.

4. Stories open our eyes to the real world beyond our sightIf we adults are honest, most of us do not use our imaginations in the ways that we did when we were kids. We may daydream about a new job, a new iPhone, or a new home, but we certainly don’t spend our time thinking about dragons, fairies, swords, and giants. As we grow up, we start to forget what it’s like to use our imaginations for good both because we think we’ve got the world figured out and because we begin to lose the sense of wonder that captured us as children. The older we get the more our eyes are drawn only to what’s in front of us, and we fail to remember there is an entire world beyond what our eyes can see! We often fail to remember there is a real battle raging in the spiritual realm—even when the fruits of this battle are being played out in our fantasies.  Because we’ve forgotten to dream about fighting against the powers of darkness, we forget this is what Christians do. Fairy tale darkness experienced through great stories is meant to shed light on life as it really is in the present—life in a fallen world, which is presently ruled by evil principalities and powers, with whom we are at war.

Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.
— G. K. Chesterton

5. Stories inspire hope by giving us a “peek” at the end. Despair is not just a sin theologically—because it assumes that the grand story is about us.  It’s also a mistake because it assumes we know the end of the story. In her book Spiritual Parenting, Michelle Anthony wrote, “We often don’t tell our kids about the end of the story… Maybe we think it’s too bloody or too intense, or maybe we don’t understand it all, but in reality it makes Jesus the kind of hero worth living and dying for. Knowing that Christ is the ultimate victor gives each one of us the courage to walk with Him on the journey.” For kids, knowledge of darkness is sometimes intuitive, but they need to be told darkness can be defeated. Perhaps, G.K. Chesterton said it best: “Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.”  When we are reading Revelation and we see the king and the white horse and the dragon thrown into the pit, we can step lighter and smile wider. Peeking at the end makes us optimistic. As the old hymn says, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

6. The hope we glean  from knowing the larger story (and even smaller ones) inspires us to step into others’ stories with courage and love. Since we know how the story ends, we can “rejoice that our names are written” by persevering through trial and stepping out in love.  This doesn’t just mean talking about heaven but also bringing heaven here—pushing back the effects of the fall and casting rays of hope into the middle of the pain, the sickness, and the sorrow. Knowing how our own stories are intertwined with the story of God gives us courage to tell our own stories to those who need inspiration. Having hope inspires us to shape the stories of others.

What have you been learning lately as a storyteller? Leave a comment below to let us know.