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And this, dear friends, is a real shame.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s a huge place in our parishes for teaching doctrines and theological concepts. There’s a gaping need in our church for tackling relevant issues and topical studies. These are key. But let’s not forget that at the center of the Word of God is a grand story of salvation. We understand the Bible by understanding a narrative of God working to reclaim His creation from sin, death, and hell. The individual Bible stories we begin to learn as kids fit like puzzle pieces into understanding this epic story of salvation.
Sold yet? If so, great! Go and reclaim the stories you learned as children in Sunday School! If not, here are five reasons I believe parish educators should consider including more Bible stories into their parish education programs for adults.
Bible Stories Are Exciting (Really!)
Did you ever wonder why children’s Bibles (ones with pictures) skip a lot of the content in the Bible? It’s because much of it simply isn’t appropriate for kids. Prominent themes for so many Bible narratives are really PG-13 or R rated in their content. The Bible was written by adults and covers many adult themes. For youth and adults in our parishes, these are really relevant. Just as Disney softens fairy tales for its movies, we soften most Bible stories for children. This is not wrong to do for children. But we’re being dishonest to our adults for not giving them the full scope of the themes and content. For example, the story of the flood is not about a bunch of happy animals on a boat, but about God’s wrath against sinners and His uncompromising promise to reclaim His creation. Samson isn’t simply a story about a strong man, but about God’s faithfulness in saving His people despite their most horrific character flaws. The list goes on, and it’s exciting.
You Can Catch Up with the Kids
Now, this reason is more relevant to you if you’ve got your own children in a Lutheran School or Sunday School. But still, hear me out if you don’t. Many adults carry around a certain amount of shame when they go to church. If they have kids in a Lutheran School or Sunday School (or other parish programs), it’s likely that the kids know the Bible stories better than they do. After all, the focus of much of our Lutheran School and Sunday School curricula revolve around teaching Bible stories. If you as an adult never attended these things as a kid (or if it’s been a really long time), your lack of understanding can feel … well … embarrassing. I’ve had parents sheepishly come to me over the years admitting that they can’t talk confidently with their kids about matters of faith because their kids know the stories better than they do. The hopeful part, however, is that it doesn’t take much for adults to catch up with their kids. By learning a few stories, adults can get some serious context to engage in meaningful conversations with their kids. Better yet, if you teach adults the same Bible stories the kids learn in Sunday School, say in a Bible class setting, then not only do they learn together but they also have built-in home devotions. Growing in Christ and Cross-Explorations curricula from CPH both provide this great opportunity.
Bible Stories Encourage Higher-Order Thinking
It’s easy to think that reading stories from Scripture is a childish or simple thing to do for a Bible class or small group. Frankly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The stories of the faith, if taken within their context and actually read from Scripture (not summarized) provide a very complicated and engaging tapestry for learning. As I’ve said earlier, the Bible was written by adults for adults. The themes involved in many of these stories are very rich: life, love, honor, God, death, hope, forgiveness, etc. When adults actually dig into the text of Scripture together, reading and studying, there emerges an endless supply of themes and questions. Higher-order thinking processes include objectives like analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creation. Taking a rich narrative like, say, Samson and digging in provides for a wealth of opportunity for these thinking skills. Learners can analyze the different episodes of the overall story for similarities and differences. They can synthesize themes from the text with other themes in Scripture, like the role of anointed leaders throughout Scripture. They can evaluate the purpose of violence in the narratives of Scripture, comparing the differences between Old Testament and New Testament salvation themes. Again, if you know the right questions to ask and give the learners time to dig in, there are so many opportunities for rich and deep discussion that emerge from Bible stories.
Bible Stories Are Your Stories
In the day-to-day of life, it’s easy to feel that there’s little meaning behind things. We live our vocations and fulfill our responsibilities to the best of our abilities. Then we go to bed, get up, and do the same things over and over again. What’s easy to miss, however, is that our lives are part of God’s great plan of salvation. They really are. God, though Christ, is reclaiming this creation for Himself, and He’s calling us to take part in it. We’re called by Baptism and the Word, fed by the Sacrament of the Altar, and sustained for battle by God’s Gospel promise. The Bible stories that adults so often miss out on involve us in that mission. How? Because they are our stories. Those ancient people in the stories, like Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and even Peter and Paul, are our spiritual ancestors. God called them to take part in the salvation story. God calls you do to the same, in your own way, in this time. Just like when extended families gather for a holiday and share old family stories about Grandpa or events from back in the day, so when we Christians gather together we share old family stories of our ancestors of the faith. We learn who we are from these. We learn from mistakes, and we reflect on triumphs. If we adults don’t learn to study these Bible stories, which become our stories, then we miss out on understanding our identity as God’s people today.
Bible Stories Help You Understand Worship
Much of the Bible is written in narrative form. That is, it’s written like a historical story. And even the parts that aren’t written like a story (poetry, prophecy, epistle) were written in the context of the narratives. So when we gather for worship and listen to Scripture read aloud to us, we’re going to hear episodes from different Bible stories. It’s just going to happen if your church spends any time reading the Word together. The truth is, if you don’t really understand the flow of the overall story of Scripture, all too often these readings in worship will sound disjointed or strange. There is a sad reality that we often assume that the hearers are familiar with the Bible stories in our church readings. In fact, many of our learners don’t really understand how they work together. But if we spend some time teaching these Bible stories, our learners will get much more out of them. They’ll begin to see patterns emerge for the different Sundays of the Church Year, and they will get a better picture of the grand stories of Scripture.
These five reasons are the tip of the iceberg for why teaching and learning Bible stories is important to the faith. We should never abandon our doctrine or cease trying to make our content relevant or engaging. But they form a platform for doing all these things if we simply open our eyes to the power of Bible stories for adults.
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