One fond memory I have of my childhood is going to story time at the local library. I hope that you were able to experience story time at some point in your life, but in case you weren’t, let me briefly describe the experience to you. You sit on a rug or in a parent’s lap with a whole group of other children your age and listen to one of the librarians share a story. Sometimes the story was read from a book, other times the story was memorized and performed. As much as getting to see the pictures in a book is enthralling, I always found (and still find to this day) something extra special about a story that is told or acted out from the heart. As a side note, this is why I believe giving a passionate devotional or message from memory is one of the most effective tools we have in youth ministry.
The question is, what’s so great about story time? Why did I and so many other children want to go to it? Why do parents read to their children? Why did Jesus frequently tell stories or parables as a central part of His teaching? These questions all have a similar answer: we love stories! We love telling stories as well as hearing them. If you gather a group of people together, it will only take a few moments oftentimes for them to begin sharing stories with one another. One person will share a story and then another will jump in afterwards with a story that is related to the first story, and this could go on for hours and hours.
I think one reason we love stories is that we are all wired not just to hear tales that relate to our lives, but we are wired to want to be a part of a bigger story. We want our lives to matter, to count, to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves. This is why so many people flock to either playing or watching sports. This is why movies, books, story-rich video games, and other media are so popular. This is why we love supporting various causes in today’s day and age. It makes us feel like we are making a difference and that we are a part of something big. This is one reason why the LCMS Youth Gathering, Higher Things, or similar large group experiences can be so impactful to young people. These events remind youth that they are not alone, that they are a part of something big, and that God wants to use them as a part of this great mission. It’s that last part that I think we as youth workers really need to key in on. The stories we share at these events, at church, and at youth group are very different from the ones we hear about in the various forms of media we consume. The big difference, and what I believe is such an opportunity in youth ministry, is the fact that you are a part of this Story. The great Story of God’s love for us is one that you, your youth, and your whole church are invited to be a part of, just like Moses, Gideon, David, Peter, or Paul were called by God to use their gifts to serve.
As I’m looking at this idea of youth ministry as story time, there are three points of application that come to my mind:
- Give youth an opportunity to share their stories. I know of very few young people who want to be a part of something where they just sit and listen the whole time. Even the most introverted of kids deserves the chance to tell what’s going on in their life. This is so important for building relationships and as a result, should be a cornerstone of any youth gathering. There are numerous ways to open up this opportunity to youth. Have discussion questions with each lesson or Bible study that ask kids to think of a time in their life that connects with the topic at hand. Ask for prayer requests at each gathering. Do highs and lows of the week as an icebreaker for a meeting. Have unstructured time where your youth and adults can just talk and be together. Have a couple of kids over to your or a leader’s house for dinner (there’s almost no better way to really get to know kids than sharing a meal). Break youth up into smaller discussion groups for a time, as this gives the more shy members a better chance to speak up.
- Take time to share the great Story of Scripture. This is the area that is most similar to the library’s story time. It is your chance to share a story. Read from Scripture, but just like the best storytellers do, make it come to life. Bring some excitement when you read the Scriptures. Consider memorizing your next devotion or message to really connect with your hearers instead of your notes. Have the youth act out a Biblical account instead of just reading it. Share stories of how God has changed people’s lives throughout history. Regularly focus on what God has done for you throughout His Great Story of creation, redemption and restoration in the death and life of Jesus. Have the Bible be a core of everything you do, not just a side-note.
- Use every opportunity to connect these two stories together. Here is the key for us. We absolutely have to connect the youth’s stories with the Story that God has invited us all into. Don’t always talk about the Bible and what God has done in the past tense, but talk about what God is still doing today in the lives of believers. Share how God’s promises apply to your youth. Connect the stories that your youth have shared to the Bible by using them as application points for the lesson. “What does it look like for us to love our neighbors? Well, let’s take the example of what Johnny shared earlier about his friend. How can Johnny share God’s love with his friend?” Remind youth that they have a purpose, God has given them gifts to use, and that they are a part of God’s Story today not just when they get older. Find multiple ways each week to apply the truths of Scripture to the context of your youth’s lives. On sensitive issues, consider having a private conversation with a youth afterwards about how the lesson for that night impacts what they’re going through. Have a mission statement for your youth group. Give youth ways to use their gifts in service to church and world. Root talks about their identity in what God has to say about them. Put God’s Word as the ultimate authority in your life, youth group, and church.
Having youth ministry as story time gives a chance for youth to be heard, belong, be a part of a mission, connect their everyday life with their faith, and build strong Christ-centered relationships. With benefits like this, maybe we all need to talk a little less or maybe play fewer games (gasp!) and start asking more questions. How does this relate to your life? Where have you seen this scenario play out? How are you like this Bible character sometimes? What does this passage say about who you are in Christ? How can you put this verse into practice this week? Thanks be to God for giving us the biggest Story possible to be a part of, the Story of His amazing grace for sinners like you and me. What a beautiful Story of redemption, love, and sacrifice that has application in every aspect of our lives!