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Storytelling Basics for the Sunday School Teacher

by Michael Williams

Everybody loves a good story. It makes us laugh. It makes us cry. Sometimes it teaches us about the world around us, about our neighbors, and about God. Maybe that’s why Jesus chose telling stories as the main way he taught his followers.

Like Jesus, Sunday school teachers are called on to tell stories on a regular basis. The good news is that you have everything you need to tell stories. If you have a body, a way to communicate, and a story, you are all set. Sunday school teachers have a built-in set of stories in the Bible.

When we tell a story, we ask listeners to use their imaginations to help the storyteller create a story world. Just like in the world around us, there are people we want to meet, places we want to go, and things we want to learn about this story world.

The people we meet in the story world are the characters of the story, and the storyteller gets to introduce the listeners to them. The characters lead us through that imaginative world. Often we view the story world over the shoulder of one of the characters. That is called the point of view of the storyteller.

Every story takes place in someplace and at some time, both of which come alive in the imagination of the listener as well as the teller. It might be a very generic place and time, like in the beginning when darkness covered the face of the deep. Or the story could have a specific place and time, like an early morning at the Sea of Galilee.

Finally, lots of things appear in stories. Some of those items or topics are incredibly important, like the cross in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion or the bread and wine at the Last Supper. Sometimes, though, things just help us imagine the story more completely. They flesh out the world we try to create.

If you know the people, the time and place, and the things of the story, all you have to do is put them in order, and you are ready to tell the story. Begin by reading over the story several times. With Bible stories, it is good to check different Bible translations. Pay particular attention to the characters, the place and times, and objects that appear in the story You may even want to make a list of these places/times, characters, and objects in the order in which they appear.

Then rehearse the story aloud by yourself several times. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes for a better story. If you forget a detail, check your list until you don’t have to refer to it anymore. Then tell it to one other person, or even your dog or cat. By this time, you should have both the skills and confidence to tell the story for your class.

May the stories you tell be a blessing to you and to those who hear them.