By Bev and Phil Haas
I remember my dad telling us stories about God and how to live a good life. I want to do the same with my kids, but I’m not a good storyteller.
It’s encouraging to hear about an involved dad who understands that stories are a powerful way to connect with kids and pass on his faith! Anyone can learn to tell a story. You don’t have to possess an extensive background in biblical studies or have a master’s degree in speech. But there are some basics that will help you tell stories that will stay with your children just like the stories your dad told you.
David Lucas, a great storyteller, taught a speech class that we both attended when we were students at Kentucky Christian University. Dave often reminded his students that, “A story well told is never forgotten.”
Rather than giving you a storytelling formula that’s complicated or mechanical, we want to share three simple pointers you can focus on to develop confidence in your ability to tell stories to your kids about God and life.
1. Know the story well.
This is the stage where you absorb the order of the story’s events and get the pieces in place. If the story is from the Bible, use a free resource like BibleGateway.com to look up the story in different translations, especially the more contemporary versions, and read it over until you know the content by heart.
If you are retelling a story you heard from your dad or someone else, ask that person, if possible, to tell you the story again. Listen to the way they tell it and pay attention to the order of events. If the story is from your life, don’t wing it. Instead, thoughtfully go through your story until you know what parts you want to include and what parts you want to omit. Don’t leave out parts of the story just because they describe negative behaviors or undesirable traits. God didn’t flinch at including any of the details in his story.
2. Feel the story.
Feelings are the energy of a story. Most stories contain a range of emotions. If you think about it, the only time we don’t feel emotion is when we are dead. If you don’t include emotion in your story, your story is dead—as in deadly boring!
Adding emotion into a story, without it feeling forced, is not as difficult as it may sound. Get into the shoes of the people in your story and visualize each scene in your imagination as you tell it. If you connect with your story and take its lesson to heart, then expressing the appropriate feelings should be a natural follow-through. Keep in mind that if you don’t feel the emotion yourself, your listeners won’t either.
3. Tell the story.
Once you know the story well and feel the emotions of the story, you are ready to tell it. I (Phil) want to share with you the single best advice I’ve received on communicating well:
In high school I was terrified of getting up in front of people to talk. After giving an oral book report in my freshmen English class, I vowed to never do that again! And I didn’t do an oral presentation during the rest of high school. In college I soon discovered that to graduate I had to take a basic speech class. Whenever I had to give a speech, I would practice on Bev to ease my anxiety. What I remember her telling me over and over again was, “Just talk to me, Phil.” Even after completing a master’s degree in speech communications, I have not come across any better advice. Yes, you need to know the story and feel the story, but then relax and tell the story by just talking to your kids!
The Bible teaches us that stories of faith are important for children to hear, and we believe every parent can be a storyteller. Psalm 78:2-4 says, “I will tell you a story. I will tell you about things from the past that are hard to understand. We have heard the story, and we know it well. Our fathers told it to us. And we will not forget it. Our people will be telling this story to the last generation. We will all praise the Lord and tell about the amazing things he did” (Easy to Read Version). You may not become a master storyteller, but you can tell stories that your kids will never forget about God and about living a good life!
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and four grandsons. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.