Want Your Children to Love the Bible? Make Them Play With It
The couple in her church were keen for the babysitter to read to the children before she put them to bed. “You can read them a fun story,” they told my friend, “but you need to read them a Bible story first.”
Yeah, you heard right. There are Bible stories. And there are fun stories.
Why should God’s story be the medicine that has to be accompanied by a spoonful of sugar? And why should telling it be a duty and a drudge? Why shouldn’t God’s story be the fun story?
Humor and Joy and Wit
Do you remember the Aesop fable about the wind and the sun? Their wager is simple. Who can be the first to make a man remove his coat?
The wind blows. And blows. And blows. The man wraps his coat around him even more tightly. Then the sun shines. And shines. And shines. What does the man do? He takes off his coat, of course.
For more on helping your children into God’s Word, see Bob’s How to Help Your Children Love the Bible, also from The Stream.
Sadly, we sometimes tell Bible stories like the wind. We are so concerned about getting what we perceive to be “the message” across to the kids, that we strangle the stories. And in our attempt to squeeze the truth out of them, we squeeze the joy out, too.
Yes, I know, some Bible stories are serious and sad and deserve that kind of telling. But so many of them are charged with humor and joy and wit, and feature compelling characters who simply leap off the page.
Sneaky Jacob and his even-more-sneaky mom.
Dreaming Joseph, proud as a peacock.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the boys who liked to say No!
Horrible Haman and his homemade hanging machine.
God’s story is alive with adventure and intrigue and wonder. And fun! Great stories. Funny, fun stories. And that’s why the best way to pass it on is to do it playfully. You may think this only applies to children. But, trust me, I have been a professional storyteller for over thirty years, and adults love to play, too.
Open to Truth
This is not to say that our retellings should ignore, disguise or diminish the truths to be found in God’s Word. My argument is that by playfully inviting our children into these stories, we give them the opportunity to explore and wonder and to discover the truth along with us.
By bringing them into God’s story that way, we prepare their minds and hearts to go deeper into the Story as they grow older. And we also prepare their minds and hearts to go deeper into the Story as they grow older.
As the story of the sun and the wind suggests, we are more open to truth when we are smiling than when we are frowning. You want to help your children love the Bible? Get them smiling.
For the last twenty years, I have been involved with an organization in England and Wales called Open the Book. Because the U.K. has a state church, schools are required to have some kind of Christian assembly every week.
The predominantly retired volunteers don tea towels and robes. They sew costumes and build props. They create opportunities for some of the children to join them on the stage. And in a half-storytelling, half-dramatic style, they tell God’s story.
These grandma and grandpa aged volunteers invite the children to play along with them. And in the midst of that playful environment, the children happily receive God’s story.
Open the Book is now run by the Bible Society. We have more than 17,000 volunteer storytellers. They work in over 3,000 schools. And they tell God’s story to something like 800,000 children each week.
Or, rather, they invite 800,000 children into a joyful environment, where the light of God’s Son shines, and where they can enter into God’s story. Playfully.
You don’t need a tea towel or a robe to tell God’s story to your children or grandchildren in a playful fashion. You simply need to find your “place of play” and encourage them to play along with you.
Read the story through several times. Think about it for a while. Ask yourself what kind of fun actions could bring each line or idea to light. Don’t be afraid to be just that bit absurd.
I have discovered that the most random actions are often the best. You want to surprise and delight and disarm your audience by throwing them just that little bit off-guard. Set aside your own inhibitions as you introduce each action.
If you seem embarrassed by what you are suggesting, then they will be embarrassed, too. But if you commit yourself totally, then they will believe you are playing and will be more likely to join along.
How to Do It
Here’s a story from my Playalong Bible to show you how I do it. Read the line, then invite your children to join you in the action.
Everything was dark, at first. (Put your hands over your eyes. Shut them tight!) You couldn’t see a thing.
Then God said, “Light!” (say “Light!”) And it wasn’t dark anymore, it was bright! (Open your eyes!) Then God separated the dark from the light. He called the light “Day.” (Shout “Day!”). And the darkness “Night.” (Whisper “Night.”) And that was the end of the first day. (Shout “Hooray!)
Then God said “Sea.” (Make a wavy motion with your hands.) He said “Sky.” (Look up and draw the shape of a cloud with your finger.) And then he said “Heavens.” (Why not pretend that you’re looking through a telescope?) And that was the end of the second day. (Shout “Hooray!”)
Next God said, “Earth!” And mountains pushed their way up through the seas. (Make a mountain shape with your hands.) God said “Plants.” And trees and grass and flowers wiggled up out of the ground. (Wiggle? Make wavy branches with your arms.) Then God said, “Fruit.” And flowers sprouted from stems and fruit from wavy branches. (Pretend to smell the flowers. Take a bite of pretend fruit.) And that was the end of the third day. (Shout “Hooray!”)
God called for the Sun next. (Make a great big sunny smile.) Then he called for the Moon. (Go “Moooooon!”) And he finished off the night sky with a chorus of shining Stars. (Wiggle your fingers. Sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.) And that was the end of the fourth day. (Hooray!)
God said “Fish.” (Make a fish face.) And there was loads of splashing and swimming and whatever it is that octopuses do (pretend you’re a fish — whichever one you like!) Then God said “Birds”. And they came to him, flapping (flap your arms?) and tweeting (make a tweeting sound?) and squawking (go on, make a sound like a parrot.) And that was the end of the fifth day. (Shout “Hooray!”)
God said “Animals.” And there were wild animals. (make a wild animal sound.) And there were farm animals. (Make a farm animal sound.) And there were creepy crawly animals, too. (Move your hand like a spider or a snake.)
Then, finally, and best of all, God said “People.” And there was a man. (Point to a man or a boy). And there was a woman. (Point to a girl or a woman.) Made in God”s image — to talk with him and take care of the world he had made. And that was the end of the sixth day. (Shout “Hooray!”)
Then God looked at everything he had made. “It’s all good,” he said. (Hold one thumb up.) “Really good!” (Hold a second thumb up.) And so, on the seventh day he did what anyone would do when six good days’ work was done. He rested. (Pretend to go to sleep. Make a little snoring sound.) And that was the end of the seventh day. (Shout “Hooray!”)
Bob Hartman, who has pastored churches in Pittsburgh and in England, is now an internationally-known story-teller and speaker. He has taught Bible storytelling throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He is is the author of many books, including The Playalong Bible and The Wolf Who Cried Boy.