Bible Storying in a Post-Christian Generation
One reality observed about Generation Z is that they are the first fully post-Christian generation in the United States. In Meet Generation Z, James Emery White defines a post-Christian generation as one raised without “even a memory of the gospel.”
As youth workers, we can no longer operate under the assumption that our students come to us with a foundational understanding of who God is and what Jesus has done. Even if they have heard the word “gospel,” they may not understand it as the life, death and resurrection of Christ—good news that is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). We cannot even assume they have a basic knowledge of well-known Bible stories from Veggie Tales or VBS.
This is true even where I serve in the heart of Oklahoma—a place to which many have referred as the “buckle” of the Bible belt. I recently sat down with two high school students who had come to faith and asked to study the Bible together. Both of these students had been in and out of local churches growing up. So in our first meeting I assumed a basic level of biblical knowledge that we could build upon. To my surprise, these students’ experiences in church had not given them even a general understanding of the gospel.
Realizing I needed to start from scratch with these new believers, I went back to a Bible study method called Bible Storying, which I had often used while living overseas.
An Evangelism Tool Reimagined
Bible Storying was originally used by the Southern Baptist international evangelism agency as a method for sharing the Scriptures in cultures that are either illiterate or have no access to the Bible by simply telling the stories of the Bible. Students and their leaders look at the narratives of the Bible such as creation, the Fall, Noah, Babel, Abraham, etc. and then study those smaller stories in relation to the overarching storyline of Scripture. Bible Storying helps to establish foundational truths such as God’s nature and the reality of sin, which makes the gospel good news to the soul.
Missionaries often use Bible Storying among unreached people groups—and the trend James Emery White observes in Generation Z indicates that our students’ generation is largely unreached. The International Mission Board describes the ideal candidates for Bible Storying as those who “did not grow up in a culture that has been shaped in any way by the Bible.”This description increasingly applies to our students.
What better way to tell the story of the gospel to those who do not know it than to use the stories of the Bible? This is what Bible Storying has provided for my students and me. It is a simple method that draws upon the individual narratives of the Bible to communicate the metanarrative of Scripture. With illiterate cultures, it was a way of “reading” the Scriptures by telling the individual stories that lay the path for the Bible’s storyline. In the same way, it can help post-Christian cultures study the smaller narratives of Scripture as a bridge to the gospel.
One of the beautiful realities of the Bible is that it speaks to us through a variety of literary genres. It weaves together a tapestry of poetry, prophesy, dialogue, narration and more. Still, narrative is the most prominent genre represented, with a total of 525 individual stories making up approximately 75 percentof the Scriptures. And of course, the entirety of Scripture forms one coherent storyline (Luke 24:44-49).
The narrative composition of Scripture should speak something to us of the importance of story in communicating the gospel. I most often find myself teaching my students through crafted rhetoric; however, John Walsh reminds us that only 10 percent of the remaining 25 percent of Scripture is comprised of analytical reasoning.Couple this with what we know to be true of Generation Z,and storytelling becomes invaluable to youth ministry.
So along with using Bible Storying as a discipleship tool with new believers, such as those two high school students, I have also begun using it with my leadership students in an exciting way—as an equipping tool for evangelism.
Bible Storying as Discipleship
Based on what we are learning about Generation Z, Bible Storying can be key in equipping our students for evangelism among their peers. Learning to communicate through narrative not only forces students to study the Scriptures themselves, but it offers a practical tool that can be easily replicated. It is a simple and effective way to train our students to know and to share the gospel.
When I use this method with more spiritually mature students, I do not necessarily walk through the full narrative arc of Scripture from beginning to end as I would with a new Christian. Instead, I focus on a few of the smaller narratives that have some of the clearest gospel bridges in them—stories like Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Jesus and the Paralytic, or the parables and miracles of Jesus.
Typically, I structure our time this way: For the first five minutes, we read through that week’s assigned narrative text. Then we spend five minutes making observations about the passage (context, meaning, etc.). After that, we spend another five to ten minutes applying the text to our own lives. After we have studied the text, we switch from study to training. The second half of our time is spent retelling the story (imperfectly, but with accountability to the Bible). Once everyone has had a chance to practice telling the story, we spend about ten minutes applying the story to our context.
After a few weeks of studying narratives, we do some role playing. It’s important to give students time to build up a “bank” of Scriptural narratives, and to remind them each week that we will eventually put the stories into practice. After three or four weeks, I end our time by giving hypothetical situations that students or their peers might face, such as a friend going through suffering, a friend who is not a believer but is curious about Christianity, or a friend who has trusted in Jesus but does not yet know how to pray. Then we talk through the situation, answering questions like “how would you engage with this person?” “What story might you tell this person from Scripture that would bridge the gospel to their lives?”
I have been so encouraged as I have watched our students realize how Scripture applies to all of life, and how easily they can get to the gospel in everyday conversations. Our study times not only give them practice, but also encouragement as they hear the countless ways others bridge to the gospel using the same stories from Scripture. It is beautiful to witness the Bible come to life for them as they grasp the individual stories for what they truly are —smaller foretastes of the larger redemption story that is unfolding.
Best of all, through Bible Storying, my students are learning how every corner of Scripture, from narrative to rhetoric, ties together in one big story of a God who did not leave His broken creation to their own sin, but who rescued His people through the life, death and resurrection of His Son—and who is working the redemption of all things.
In a generation being raised with little to no understanding of the gospel, maybe an evangelism tool that began as a resource for unreached people groups is exactly what our students need to be trained and equipped for the work of ministry in their post-Christian world.
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017), 64.
See the International Mission Board’s Explore Missions course, “What Do Missionaries Do,” https://imb.pathwright.com/library/explore-missions/62307/about/.
John Walsh, “About Bible Telling,” BT Stories, http://www.btstories.com/about-2/.
Walsh, “About Bible Telling,” http://www.btstories.com/about-2/.