This year (2015-2016) in Followers, we are storying our way through the book of 1 Samuel.

I’m trying an experiment.

Our culture is quickly and surely heading to a post-Christendom society. In essence what this means is our culture no longer assumes Christian moral moorings by default. I like to say that our culture has graduated from Christianity. Almost as if learning about “Christian” character and the stories in the Bible were good in childhood and adolescence, but once one enters adulthood, it’s time to move on to less legendary stories and supernatural belief to something more concrete and “real.”

The experiment I am trying is telling the stories found in 1 Samuel without mentioning they are found in the Bible. Instead of saying things like “in the Bible” or “Israelites” I’m using phrases like “this is an ancient story,” “from the Middle East,” and “the story says this.” I’m not at all trying to negate the Bible nor the power of its stories about Israel and God’s redemptive plan for all of humanity. On the contrary, I hold those thoughts in high regard. My experiment is to see how the students respond to the stories without obvious and verbal references to “verses,” “in the Bible,” and “God says this.” When the story references names, locations, when God says something, etc. it is mentioned in the storytelling.

What I’ve noticed so far (3 weeks into this experiment) is that students “lean in” to the story rather than “lean back.” In other words, if I say “today’s story from the Bible is…” what usually happens is a mental leaning back of sorts. What I’m trying to do is cause students to lean forward. So in essence, this experiment is to see if telling these stories sans references to the Scriptures actually changes students’ posture in engaging with these stories.

So far it has been incredible! The students are intrigued from week to week with the unfolding story of Samuel and his family, Elkanah and Hannah, and Eli and his family, Hophni and Phinehas. They want to know what happens to the different characters in the story from week to week. We do a short recap and then do the next story in the text. I’m using stick figures on the screen to tell the story as well. My daughter (3rd grade) tells me that the stick figures is her favorite part of the teaching time!

Important note: Followers is an outreach type program for children in Kindergarten through grade 5. On Sunday mornings, our formal teaching has overt language like “in the Bible” and such. So a number of the students that come to Followers are aware that these stories are in the Bible. I want them to figure that out and they do. The others who do not come to our church on the weekends will not know these are Bible stories by default, but they figure it out as well as we’re going along.

All to say that this is an experiment to see how children immersed in a post-Christian society respond to “camouflaged” stories from the Bible.

What I’m learning from this experiment is the stories are powerful enough to stand on their own. The kids seem to learn pretty quickly that these stories aren’t just any stories, but have a transcendent nature to them that exudes divine authorship. Pretty fascinating!


  1. Jeremy,

    This is very, very good! I have been reading various articles about this issue. I have personally found that relating in terms of science is also effective. Drawing a correlation between the two. Some have said that the Bible is made “more real” and less childhood “story” because once they find information tying the two (Bible + Creation) for things they can touch, see and feel everyday, then they can then start looking at the Word as tangible and real and not a “story”. Thinking about this further, Schools, National Parks, etc. aren’t using “stories”. They are using science as they understand it and our culture seems to esteem that in higher regard than our “stories”. I often use the Mount St. Helen’s event to show that the information we receive from these sources isn’t “truth” all the time like it is being accepted. For instance, the rocks formed and taken from that event were given blindly to a science team to analyze and though they dated them 2.8 million years of age, they were from that 1980 tragedy. I hope I’m making sense here. Anything to reach these people with the Truth of the Gospel.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Barb! I wonder if the “language” of the culture has shifted (for better or worse) and that shift might necessitate slight change in the way anyone shares things with kids (no matter what context).

      I think “story” is more powerful and pervasive than we think. Almost everything is wrapped in a story. A while back I there was an NPR article written about a new theory related to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Instead of the prevailing theory of the asteroid event, researchers theorized (based on some fossilized evidence) that something more subtle was going on… something about the phytoplankton or some kind of prehistoric basic food source died off, which eventually extinguished the dinosaurs. Anytime we’re doing history (no matter how far back we go), we have to wrap the evidence (even though it is limited) in some kind of narrative to see if it makes sense. We “story” many things like this, including our own lives as we share events with people. It’s all stories.

  2. I’ve found that adding those stick figure to the story really help to cement the recall of the story. Even when the drawings are poor – the lean in even more when I admit they’re poor and poke fun.
    I’ll try to remember to post something with one of my pictures attached on my blog and link back to this.

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