Storying Training for Sunday School Teachers (February-April 2023)
You probably hear and tell stories every day. Young or old, adults or children, we all tell and retell all sorts of things. Some of these stories may be very ordinary, while others may be about things that are important to us. Some stories should be told as accurately as possible because they tell of things that are of great importance. These are also the stories that need to be told clearly to avoid misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Are there benefits to telling stories orally, as opposed to writing them down? Certainly, the written word is more permanent, and can be edited and revised until the author is satisfied that it conveys the information clearly and accurately. However, reading a written story does not have the intimacy of hearing someone tell the story in person. Telling a story orally becomes a shared experience between the teller and the listener. And listening to stories told orally may be preferred by many people, including non-believers and children.
What about Bible stories? How should we pass them on? Romans 10:17 says, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." The messages of Bible stories are so great that they must be told and retold. Not only do these stories need to be told naturally, clearly and accurately, but they need to be told repeatedly and across generations, because they carry life and power, for they are the very Word of God. Reading stories directly from the Bible is of course one way, but the written word is more formal than the spoken word and may not sound as natural.
This past February and March, Wycliffe Singapore organised a four-part training to help Sunday School teachers, who regularly tell stories to their students, level up their story crafting and storytelling skills. Honestly, though, all of us would benefit from improving our storytelling skills – pastors, missionaries, cell leaders, and parents. After all, isn't it also the commission of every Christian to tell stories about God?
Here are some points I learned during the training:
Firstly, listen to the Bible story, preferably in different available translations, and then try to retell it. After retelling it, internalise the story by taking it into your heart and remembering the details you think are important. You can then interact with the story by creating a storyboard or acting out the story.
Secondly, keep in mind who your audience is. Will you be telling it to a group of 3-year-olds, or a group of adults? How much do they already know or understand? What ideas do they already have about the people or the circumstances of the story? Try to identify the parts or words that your audience may not be familiar with, such as places and names in the Bible. You can also think about what additional background information or explanation your audience may need, and how much they are able to understand. After thinking these things through, you can begin to build the story, deciding which parts you think need to be kept or removed, replaced, explained, etc. while staying true to the main messages in the story.
Thirdly, ask yourself some important questions: What do you like about the story? Which parts of the story do you have problems with? What can you learn from the story? What are some practical applications of the story? It is important that you, as the storyteller, first learn from the story and allow the Word of God to impact your own heart before telling the story to others.
If you want to improve your storytelling skills even more, you can join with others to form a Storying Fellowship Group and work on crafting, internalising and telling your stories together!