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Shaped by Story

Amy Dolan


Find out how Michael Novelli's biblical storying method has changed the way kids experience the events of the Bible...

Imagine your elementary kids completely enthralled as you retell the disciples' experiences at the Last Supper. Kids' imaginations fully engaged, they picture what happened, then eagerly discuss their questions and thoughts about this incredible moment and how it makes them feel.

This scenario is quickly becoming a reality in children's ministries that adopt a new technique of storytelling developed by Michael Novelli, author of Shaped by the Story: Helping Students Encounter God in a New Way (Zondervan). Consider Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin, Oregon, which has implemented Novelli's Bible storying method.

Gary Strudler, children's ministries pastor at Rolling Hills, felt compelled to help the children in his ministry become more biblically literate. Strudler was astonished to find that many of the kids in his ministry didn't recognize significant events in the Bible-even after he'd spent years planning and delivering relevant Sunday morning lessons.

"I began to wonder if there were universal methods for helping children learn and retain stories," says Strudler. He picked up the book Shaped by the Story by Michael Novelli and quickly realized he'd found a new way for children to interact with and grasp the events of the Bible.

Novelli defines Bible storying as "being rooted in the ancient Hebrew approach to Scriptures, with a belief that we must allow the voice of the biblical narrative to speak."

Says Novelli, "We must create space and anticipation that the Scriptures have something to say to us each time we encounter them. The process of storying is based on imaginative storytelling, careful observation, lively dialogue, and creative retellings-all with the intent to help us enter the story and find ourselves in it."

Novelli developed his storying method during his years as a youth pastor when he too, like Strudler, saw that kids weren't engaged with the Bible. He struggled to find a new way to inspire them and after trying several different approaches, Novelli finally found a remarkably effective way to fully engage kids using these key elements.

• Relationships-Relationships are the centerpiece of the storytelling experience-between kids and adults and between children.

• Preparation-Moments of quiet preparation are key to getting kids ready to hear the story and to helping them hear what God is saying to them through it.

• Telling-The actual retelling of the biblical narrative is when the story comes to life.

• Rewind-Kids have opportunities to retell the story in their own words and actions.

• Dialogue-Kids get to talk about the story by tackling open-ended questions, such as, "What did you see in your mind when you heard the story?"

Using this method, Novelli saw a new level of engagement in his kids-and more important, he saw that the narratives of the Bible were having a transformative effect on the kids. He noticed kids' relief when they realized the Bible wasn't intimidating or irrelevant. He saw their ears perk up when they heard God speaking uniquely to them through the Bible. He found that the kids couldn't wait to hear the "same old" stories--in this new way.

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