Telling Bible stories well
In session 2 of the Parenting for Faith course, Rachel Turner talks about the importance of exploring Bible stories with your child. As we read and think about them, we see how God works and so how he relates to us.
When we are retelling Bible stories, it’s helpful to remember the words people use when they are on the witness stand: ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. We want to ensure that the way we retell a story contains all the truth of the original story, and doesn’t add anything else to it. But sticking to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth can feel tricky. What about stories that are very violent or have sexual content? Some retellings aren’t particularly faithful to scripture: what do you do if you are reading one of those to your children?
All of the Bible is important
- 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us that all of the Bible is important for Christians. So over time, do explore different parts of the Bible with your children, not just stories but poetry, history and wisdom too. Children's Bibles and videos can be a good way to do this.
- Don't avoid the nasty bits! Of course, you need to be wise about what's right for your child, but at some point your child will need to explore hard topics such as violence, injustice and sexuality. Bible stories can help then engage with tough stuff they might face or need to know about, particularly asking questions about how God felt or what he was doing.
- Older children may enjoy using a Bible dictionary or concordance to explore new ideas or make links to other parts of the Bible.
- Phil Vischer's What's in the Bible has an amazing set of DVDs taking kids (and their parents) through the entire Bible. Highly recommended, although it is expensive - it would be worth sharing the cost with others, encouraging your church to invest in them or suggesting them to a grandparent or godparent as a great gift recommendation!
Remember God’s character is consistent
- There are some really difficult stories in the Bible, where it's difficult to understand why God did, said or allowed something to happen. When we are reading those it's useful to remember that God's character doesn't change. So in the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him, we know that because God is always compassionate he is not being unkind here. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to reconcile the story with what we know of God, but it is part of grappling with scripture, getting to know God better and hearing what he has to say to us.
- It's okay to say I don't know. Recognising that even adults can't understand everything in the Bible is important for children. You can suggest checking in with someone wise who may be able to shed some light on the story, or try answering questions yourselves using the questions tool from Parenting for Faith.
Using Bible storybooks or videos
- Any retelling of a Bible story inevitably means adding or changing bits. So if you are using a storybook or video you may want to take a quick look at it first so you are happy with it (not all retellings, particularly of popular stories such as Noah's ark, are written for a Christian audience).
- If you find something you’re not sure about or know isn’t true don’t be afraid to mention this to your child: ‘Oh, in this version of the story, they’ve missed out the bit in the Bible where it explains why God wanted Noah to build the ark. I wonder why they did that?’ This in itself can lead to great conversations about God and his character.
- Differentiate between what is a known part of the story and what is speculation. Using ‘I wonder’ is a helpful phrase, or you can say, ‘It’s not written down, but what do you think God was thinking?’ For example, in the story of Peter walking on water you might want to say: ‘I wonder why Jesus walked out to the boat on such a stormy night?’ or ‘It’s not written down so we don’t know for sure – but what do you think God thought when he saw Peter climbing out of the boat?
Should you share every bit of the Bible with your child?
- You are the expert on your child. There are stories in the Bible that you feel may not be appropriate for your child, depending on their age, their experiences and their make-up, and that's okay.
- It is okay to edit Bible stories, as long as we do it thoughtfully. For example, in the story of Jericho, Rahab is called a prostitute – it would be perfectly possible to say something like 'Rahab wasn’t popular. A lot of people thought she didn’t live a good life and didn’t like her.' If you decide to miss bits of a story out (such as Daniel's enemies being thrown into the lion's den after Daniel is rescued), do think about if missing this out changes the core of the story. If it does, it may be better not to use that story for now.
Check in with God
- The Holy Spirit has been given to us by God to ‘guide us into all truth’ (John 16:13), so do check in with him! Chat to God about the story and see if you catch what he says. There are some helpful tips here if you aren’t sure about what you or your child has caught. ‘Chatting and catching’ are covered in sessions 4 and 5 of the course; you can see a short video here that gives a flavour of chatting and catching.
However you share the Bible with your child, have fun! It's the most wonderful way to help them see God in the world and in their lives and is an investment that will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.