Creative Ways to Tell a Bible Story: Bringing the Bible to Life

Creative Ways to Tell a Bible Story: Bringing the Bible to Life

I wonder whether we shouldn’t be reading our Bibles in the great outdoors. Or, at the very least, telling its stories in a garden! After all, it is in the open air that most of its narrative is set. And if we did this, I wonder whether we might understand the Bible better.

As a Bible storyteller, I’ve often tried to imagine where the stories I tell were first heard and how much we may have lost once they were committed to paper. Surely it must have had tremendous additional impact when, for example, the story of creation was initially told around the campfire in the evening, with the sparks flying upward and in the glow of the flames; or the story of Abraham was told to people beside tents, under the stars in the wilderness. Our Bible stories were transmitted orally first, capturing an audience’s attention, not just by the skill of the storyteller but also by the context in which they were told. 

And this goes for the stories of Jesus too, who was almost always outdoors telling his parables, which drew on the sights and sounds available to the crowd, down by the shore, in the village streets or on the Galilean hillsides. Storytelling was always meant to be a multisensory experience and there is no doubt that much is lost when we limit it to words spoken from a lectern in church or, in earlier times, from a scroll in the synagogue.

Bringing Bible stories to life has been a mission of mine for many years, whether in the context of an assembly at school, such as the many that I led with BRF’s Barnabas in Schools team, or as part of a Messy Church celebration. I have always enjoyed retelling stories that have, for far too long, been trapped within the pages of our sacred book! And often the challenge for me is to take the listeners ‘outdoors’, as it were, to hear the stories in their original settings, be that in the rain as we hear of Noah and the ark; amid thunder and lightning as we approach Mount Sinai; or to the gentle whisper of the wind in the trees as we sit with Elijah on Mount Horeb.

God has given us the precious gift of imagination and a Bible story well-told is a partnership between the story, the storyteller and those listening to the story, as the words that are spoken transport us all to a place where we can become aware of God’s words for us today. And because I wanted to learn how to do this better, I determined many years ago, with the help of many good friends – particularly those from the BRF teams with whom I have worked – to become a better storyteller, making use of the many tools and techniques that have been handed down by storytellers since the beginning of time.

In my book, Creative Ways to Tell a Bible Story, which has been reprinted as one of the BRF classic publications for this centenary year, I have tried to share some of those ‘tricks of the trade’ so that others may also enjoy taking the Bible ‘outdoors’. To do this, the book unpacks storytelling as a three-part process: namely, getting into the story, telling the story and then, very importantly, giving everyone a chance to reflect on the story. This last section is sometimes forgotten, but of course can often be the moment when God ‘speaks the story’ very powerfully into our situations, making God’s timeless word timely for anyone ready to hear.

With all this in mind, the book is written in three sections, with 18 suggested ‘ways in’, 18 ‘ways through’ and 18 ‘ways out’ to be used with any particular Bible story, thus offering a variety of approaches to suit the personality of those telling the stories. We all need to find our own voice as storytellers and for this reason a variety of methods and ideas are on offer.

Our Bibles are made up largely of story, alongside lists and laws, poetry and proverbs. It’s these stories in particular that are waiting to be liberated from their black-and-white print existence into full-colour experiences that can inspire and speak to us today. And, of course, good biblical scholarship will help in that task, enabling us to understand the context more clearly, as we bring God’s big story alongside our personal stories and learn more about who we are and who we are meant to be.

It is my hope that this book will encourage its readers to become better storytellers whenever they stand in front of a congregation in church, among families in Messy Church, alongside children in a classroom or school hall or with the family at home. Let us dare to open up our Bibles creatively and let its stories out! These are stories that have spoken to people down the centuries in powerful, transformative ways, and they will do that again today, as we help people to develop the spiritual gift of inspired Bible storytelling.

Martyn Payne

Formerly part of BRFʼs Barnabas Childrenʼs Ministry and Messy Church teams, Martyn Payne has a background in teaching, Bible storytelling and leading all-age worship, and is passionate about the blessing that comes when generations explore faith together. Currently pastor of a church in Essex, heʼs still telling stories. His other books include A-cross the World (2004), Footsteps to the Feast (2007), Where in the World? (2012), The Big Story (2011) and The Barnabas Family Bible (2014).

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