God-Centered Storytelling

Meredith MillerBy Meredith Miller7 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Woven: Nurturing a Faith Your Kid Doesn’t Have to Heal From by Meredith Miller


God-Centered Storytelling

When we are introducing our kids to the Bible, we have to understand that all Bible stories for children are interpreted. This is good; this is how it should be. Interpretation is how we move from the level of what happens in a story to the level of what the story means. What makes things complicated is that there are many different approaches to interpretation, some far better than others, and Christians disagree wildly, and emphatically at times, about which are best.

Biblical interpretation can be literal, metaphorical, allegorical, moralistic, highly connected to the original context (or not), highly aware of literary genre (or not), or any combination of those, just to name a few. I’ve mentioned before how I differ from those who believe the goal of Christian parenting is cultivating obedience in kids. One of the reasons we land in such different places is that there’s a fundamental divergence between us in how we approach the Bible. Simply put, we interpret it in fundamentally different ways, which impacts both how we see individual verses and how we summarize the overarching narratives. This, then, impacts what we think is the best way to tell a Bible story to a child.

Most importantly, I think God, not humans, should be at the center of any story we tell to kids, the one around whom every other event or human action revolves. Every story includes a cast of characters made up of humans, God, and sometimes other aspects of creation, but when we tell a story, we should first look at how God feels, how God responds, and what attribute of God we see highlighted in this particular encounter.

God-centered storytelling looks at Abraham and says: God is faithful. God keeps God’s promises. God never gives up on us. God made a family to show God’s goodness to the world. It looks at Esther and says: God is at work even when we don’t see God. God saves God’s people. God is just, even when the wrong people seem to have all the power. God-centered storytelling looks at Joseph and says: God is with us, all the time. God can bring good out of bad. (And the bad gets to be truly bad. When Joe says, “God intended it for good,” he’s speaking to God’s ability to bring good out of what was actually bad, not that the bad doesn’t count because it was ultimately redeemed.)

God-centered storytelling is an interpretive framework, a lens through which we see the story. Its strength lies in three things:

• Its alignment with the aims of the biblical writers. This is the story the Bible is actually telling us. The writers want us as readers to see certain things about who God is and what God is like, and focusing on the humans often pulls us away from their original goal.
• Its ability to let the humans be fully human, rather than boxing them into hero/antihero categories. Certainly, sometimes the people in a story “get it right,” trusting God and letting that trust lead them forward. But when the humans don’t have to be heroes anymore, it’s also okay for them to fail, to fear, to fall away. In fact, we will likely connect more effectively to the people in the biblical stories by inviting their fully human experience into the narrative. These are not robots or ciphers; they’re actual, human people like us.
• Its ability to reach kids in a wider variety of experiences. When I tell a child to be brave or be patient, they may not actually have the capacity to follow through, for a variety of reasons. In that case, the story becomes irrelevant to them. In my experience a child often won’t share that aloud. They will play along on the outside, saying the right things, while quietly determining on the inside that this faith might not really be for them, especially the more times they experience stories this way.

But if I tell a child about who God is, that truth is always accessible and relevant, because what I want to know is not Do you believe that and agree with me? but rather When I say God is X, how does that make you feel? Is that easy or hard to believe right now? Why? Have you ever experienced God as X before? What happened? These questions don’t have right or wrong, pass or fail answers. Any kid can answer them in a way that’s truthful. It just takes adults who are brave enough to slow down to the child’s pace, who will be with a child while they express their trust and their barriers to trust without reacting in a way that causes the child to shut down.

With God-centered storytelling as our interpretive framework, we can then use the specific approach of explore and respond.

Order your copy of Woven: Nurturing a Faith Your Kid Doesn’t Have to Heal From by Meredith Miller