What was your favorite teacher like?
One of my favorite teachers was my high school calculus teacher. He always had a lot of enthusiasm (which isn’t that easy for something as bland as a higher level math class), and his was a personality that was infectious. But what always engaged us the most was when he would tell us a good story.
And he had plenty of them.
Regrettably, his stories rarely had much to do with numbers and other mathematical maelstrom. Mostly they were just entertaining.
Imagine how powerful his teaching might have been if he had figured out a way to weave mathematical concepts into his library of stories.
The Universal Appeal of Story
What is it about a story that has such universal appeal?
Jesus was certainly well aware of this universal appeal. During his brief ministry he used numerous stories to teach a variety of things about the Kingdom of God. His stories, sometimes provocative and many times unpredictable, excited the imagination of an uneducated audience. The stories did this without pushing past the limits of his audience’s mental capabilities. His stories made the intricacies of deep spiritual truth easily accessible.
With this example of Jesus’ ministry, I believe that a story is a highly effective way to teach the elemental truths of baptism to a child.
This isn’t to say that other methods cannot work. Certainly there are many ways one might choose to teach a child about the meaning and purpose of baptism.
However, because stories hold such wide appeal, they naturally pull in kids who have varying personality types and learning styles.
Using Story to Teach About Baptism
This is why I chose a story as the delivery vehicle for my children’s baptism preparation booklet, Joey’s Baptism.
There are four different ways that a story can be used as an aid to learning about baptism — or any other topic, for that matter:
The lesson itself can be the story.
With this approach the story and the lesson are tightly woven together. The lesson arises naturally out of the circumstances of the story with little need for explanation of the lesson. This is the method Jesus used many times with the parables he told. The story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-31 is a good example.
This method can be quite challenging, as it takes a good deal of skill to create a story where the lesson naturally flows out of it without additional explanation. To be effective it is vital that the story only cover a single point. Further, for this method to work best, it is important to create a story that grabs and keeps the interest of your audience, a task that is often easier said than done.
Since baptism has several distinct elements, telling a single story of this type probably can only cover one portion of baptism preparation.
The lesson can be multiple stories.
This approach, essentially a variation of the first one, would result in a whole series of stories. One story would be created for each element of baptism. Each of the stories would be constructed in a way to illustrate the particular element it was explaining. The stories would mostly avoid making direct reference to the lesson being taught; instead each story would be crafted so that the point of a particular lesson would naturally flow from the circumstances in the story.
Since the creation of a single story of this type presents a sizable challenge, creating several stories is just that much more difficult. However, if you are able to do so, this approach is a dynamite way to teach children.
A story can be wrapped around the lesson.
The difference between this approach and the first two is how tightly the story and the lesson are woven together. With this approach the story itself does not directly exemplify the lessons being taught. Instead it merely provides an engaging set of circumstances in which the characters discuss the lessons which are being taught. This means that many of the circumstances in the story could easily be changed without having much effect on the point of the lessons.
For example, this method is the one I used for Joey’s Baptism. What I did is create a story about a young boy who sees a baptism at church one Sunday. His experience sparks a desire in him to learn about baptism. He pays a visit to his grandpa, and Grandpa takes Joey different places to help explain the different elements of baptism.
So the story itself is not an illustration of the meaning of baptism. Instead it acts as a framework within which Joey and Grandpa discuss and explore the meaning of baptism. The story is made interesting for children by having the different discussions between Joey and Grandpa take place at different locations.
Stories are added to the lesson.
This approach relies on telling entertaining stories merely for the purpose of keeping the attention of the audience. The stories have little or no relation to the points being taught; they serve only to regain the attention of an audience when its focus has drifted. This was the method used by my calculus teacher.
Because of the “disconnectedness” of the stories to the lesson, this approach is probably less effective than any of the other three approaches. It does have some value, because it at least has the effect of regaining the attention of your audience. But because the stories are disconnected, your audience can easily tune out again once the story finishes.
Although the use of story has some clear advantages over other methods of teaching, it also presents a couple big challenges.
The Challenge of Story Preparation
Perhaps the biggest challenge is the time needed for preparation.
Now if you happen to have a story available to you that is related to the lesson you are wanting to teach, then the preparation time is minimal. Or if you happen to be one of those fortunate few individuals who can weave wonderful stories at a moment’s notice, the use of a story for teaching a lesson can be very easy.
However, for the rest of us, creating a story will be a little more involved. It will take creative energy and effort to come up with a meaningful story that engages the children we are trying to teach. And this, in turn, will take a significant amount of preparation time.
The other other big challenge consists of creating a story that actually appeals to children. A story does not have to achieve high literary marks to be an effective teaching vehicle. On the other hand, if the story drags or uses language that does not match the age level of the children, it will fail to have its intended effect.
These two challenges explain why a story is often not used for teaching a lesson.
Yet because of the importance and significance of baptism, I believe the extra effort needed to wrap baptism preparation in a story is well worth the effort. That’s why I took the time to create Joey’s Baptism for my children, even though at the time, I didn’t know for sure if anyone besides my own kids would ever use it.
As you try to decide which baptism preparation materials you use, consider using a method that uses story as the delivery vehicle. You’ll be using a method that naturally engages the imagination of your children. And when the imagination is engaged, explaining spiritual truth becomes much more effective.
Coming Up: In our next mini newsletter article we will cover
The 5 Must-Have Elements When Preparing Children for Baptism.