"These are themes that continue throughout our lives and our relationships with God and one another. Using a Story-based approach to faith formation is grounded in that tradition of passing along the Biblical story - generation to generation."
Passing on the Story
One of the priorities of most Christian education programs is to pass along the Biblical story from generation to generation. After all, we are a story-based people who have experienced God through the ages in the story of God's relationship to us and God's creation. God still speaks to us through the Bible.
So what is "Story-based" approach to faith formation? For some, this category might be called Bible-based or Scope & Sequence. It's the type of curriculum that is chronological in scope and sequence, working its way through the Bible in two or three years—typically Old Testament lessons for Fall and Winter quarters and New Testament lessons for Spring and Summer. This is the most frequently used curricula across denominational perspectives and has been used for the longest period of time of the Sunday School movement of Christian publishers. Some examples:
Traditional curriculum resources often fall into this category. They focus on teachers teaching the Bible because volunteers recognize it, have experience with it, and are comfortable with it. They typically include age-graded teacher books, visual resources, student books, and take-home papers. The teachers use a lecture style of teaching, while the students mostly listen, write things on paper, and do arts & crafts projects. The advantage of this type of curriculum is that the Biblical story is told in sequential order (helpful for children) and over the course of many years, many stories can be studied. If a church stays with the same curriculum for many years, participants will be exposed to all the main stories of the Bible.
In the past this traditional form of curricula hasn't been the most effective way of engaging children do to its didactic approach of the teacher having the answers to give to the children. Thankfully, recent publications of this type of story-based (using Bible stories) are now more experiential, tapping into Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences by offering a variety of activities to follow hearing the Bible story.
Questions to ask when reviewing story-based curricula
Balance: Is there an overall balance of stories from both the Old and New Testament?
Biblical content: A corollary to "how much Bible" may be how much Scripture is actually printed in the curriculum resource. Do you need to see numerous references to Scripture actually sited or quoted? Can you recognize the biblical/theological basis of the content even if the Scripture references are not always printed or quoted?
Translation: What version of the Bible is used? Are the stories paraphrased, and if so, are they an accurate 'translation' or does the author add his or her own opinions and interpretations?
Interpretation: Reflect on how your church or denomination reads Scripture. Are the stories presented broad enough to allow for varying understandings of Scripture by participants? Does the resource imply or employ a suitable range of understanding as well?
The Centrality of Scripture
Whatever curriculum we choose to use with children (or youth, or adults), hopefully a core component is tied to our Biblical story. The themes of creation, sin, judgement, and redemption can be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. They are themes that continue throughout our lives and our relationships with God and one another. Using a Story-based approach to faith formation is grounded in that tradition of passing along the Biblical story - generation to generation.
Sharon Ely Pearson is a 30+ year Christian formation veteran, currently serving as an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated. Wife, mother, soon-to-be-grandmother, and author, she enjoys connecting people with each other and the resources they need for growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus.