The other day a missionary friend called me for recommendations for Sunday school curriculum in Thai that he could use for a small church plant on the outskirts of Bangkok. There was only one that I could think of, but I didn’t know if it was in print anymore. I was stumped for a moment. What could I recommend to him... that was in Thai? What do you do if you don’t have any ready-made materials to put in the hands of the Sunday school teachers at your church? What if there just isn’t anything available?
Then it dawned on me. Just tell Bible stories. But not just any stories. And not in any old way. Select a set of stories from the Old Testament and New Testament, and systematically work your way through the entire Bible. And don’t just tell a story, but help the kids really learn the story and discover what it means. Get it in their heads. Get it in their hearts. A couple years back, I started learning how to do Bible storytelling via Simply the Story, and ever since then I’ve been seeing ways to put it into practice all over the place.
There is a whole Simply the Story training workshop to learn how to help people learn Bible stories well, but the basic format that I suggested to my missionary friend goes like this. The teacher (who has already learned the story), tells it to the kids, using their own words, but being careful to maintain content accuracy. Don’t add to, or subtract from the story. After the teacher tells the story, have one of the kids tell the story back to you. Or have them tell it to each other in pairs, as much as they remember. After that go through the story again as a group, lead them through the story with simple who / what / where / when, and fill-in-the-blank type questions. Then, talk with the kids about the story, asking who did what? what other choices did they have? do we know what the people in the story were thinking or feeling (from what we see in the story)? What does the story teach us about God? About ourselves? Do we see any situations like this today? And whatever other questions will help the kids discover what is happening in the story and why it matters. If the kids are old enough to read and have Bibles out to look at, the Bible story can be read before the story telling. But if they can’t read, this method still works as long as the teacher has learned the story well and has questions in mind.
And that is basically it. There is your Sunday school curriculum without needing to spend the time and money on acquiring some sort of fancy set of books and activities. And in some places, especially on the mission field, there aren’t any fancy sets of Sunday School curriculum to choose from. They simply aren’t available in the language you need them in. But that’s not an excuse to not teach the kids. If you have a Bible in the language you need it in, then you are good to go.
“But”, you may object, “the Sunday school teachers at our church aren’t able to put together a lesson like that on their own. We need a ready-made curriculum to put in their hands!” That is a valid concern, but it highlights a weakness in many churches that needs to be fixed. We have become far too dependent on mass-produced Bible study guides and Sunday school materials, such that those teaching don’t really know what they are teaching, but are just passing on whatever is in the book. That method can work okay for a while, as long as you have a good book. But what really needs to happen is pastors, elders, church planters, and other mature Christian leaders need to sit down with those who will teach Sunday school or a small group Bible study and teach them the material first. We need to wean people off of external aids so that they know how to rightly understand the Bible for themselves and are able to pass it on to others (2 Tim 2:2). Putting a book in someone's hand is no replacement for personal instruction.
Anybody will a little bit of natural ability can stand up and tell a Bible story to a bunch of kids, but if they themselves don’t have a good understanding of the Gospel, grace, and the grand redemptive narrative of Scripture, then the Sunday school lessons will quickly degenerate into moralism and legalism. Every lesson will conclude with, “God is love,” “Be good like this person in the Bible,” or “Don’t be bad like that person in the Bible.” But the goal of Sunday school should not be crowd control or behavior modification. It should be heart change. And you’re only going to get that if kids are seeing and hearing the Gospel of grace, and the character and nature of God through His mighty deeds in Scripture.
While pre-packaged Sunday school materials are not necessary to teach Sunday school, a firm grasp of the Gospel is. If someone understands the Gospel, and has a maturing understanding of Scripture, then it is completely do-able to teach Sunday school week after week by simply learning and preparing questions about a different Bible story each week. If you want an activity to do, you can have the kids act out the story. Or for something a little calmer, there are plenty of free Bible coloring pages online that you can download and photocopy. I’ve also included below a set of 50 Bible Stories that are suitable for oral Bible storytelling.
If you are a Sunday school teacher looking for something to teach, I hope that this brief article has given you some ideas and inspiration on what to teach and how to do it. For pastors and church planters who are looking for something to put in the hands of Sunday school teachers, I would recommend not only forwarding this article to them, but better yet, set a time to get together with them mid-week and go through together the Bible story they will teach this coming Sunday. If you can teach and equip them first, then their time with the kids will be more productive and the likelihood of the lesson ending up in moralism or legalism will be greatly reduced. You’ll be able to help your teachers mature in their own understanding of Scripture, and to make their Bible storying with the kids more Gospel-centered.
50 Bible Stories for Oral Bible Storytelling
The following list was complied by the folks at Simply the Story as a selection of stories suited for oral storytelling. This list is not set in stone and you may want to add or delete stories as you see fit. But if you are wondering where to start in working through the Bible with a class, this is a good place to start, covering about one year's worth of lessons.
Creation of Man/Woman --> Gen 2:15-24
Temptation of Eve --> Gen 3:1-13 (19)
Cain and Abel --> Gen. 4:1-8 (12)
Promise to Abraham --> Gen 12:1-9
Abraham/Sarah in Egypt --> Gen 12:10-20
Joseph and Potiphar's wife --> Gen. 39:6b-23
Burning Bush --> Ex. 3:1-12
Crossing the Red Sea --> Ex. 14:21-31
Moses rod and rock --> Ex 17:1-7
Brass serpent --> Numb 21:4-9 cf. Jhn 3:14-16
Joshua meets Captain of Lord's Host --> Joshua 5:12-6:5
Dagon --> 1 Sam 5:1-12
Goliath´s defeat --> 1 Sam 17:31-51
David´s sin --> 2 Sam 12:1-14
Jars of oil --> 2 Kings 4:1-7
Lost Axe --> 2 Kings 6:1-7
Righteous and wicked --> Psalm 1
Jonah runs --> 1:1-12
Jesus´ temptation -> Matt 4:1-11
Walk on water --> Matt 14:22-33
Transfiguration --> Matt 17:1-8
Unforgiving slave --> Matt 18:21-35
Triumphal Entry --> Matt 21:1-11
One leper --> Mark 1:40-45
Paralytic --> Mark 2:1-12
Jesus asleep in the boat --> Mark 4:35-41
Blind Bartimeus --> Mark 10:46-52
Widow's Mite --> Mark 12:41-44
Resurrection --> Mark 16:1-10
Catch of fish --> Luke 5:1-11
Withered hand --> Luke 6:6-11
Gaderene Demoniac --> Luke 8:26-39
Jairus Daughter Raised --> Luke 8:40-55
Good Samaritan --> Luke 10:30-37
Mary and Martha --> Luke 10:38-42
Rich fool --> Luke 12:13-21
Bent over woman --> Luke 13:10-17
Prodigal son --> Luke 15:11-32
Rich man and Lazarus --> Luke 16:19-31
10 Lepers cleansed --> Luke 17:11-19
Two men went up to temple to pray --> Luke 18:10-14
Zacchaeus --> Luke 19:1-10
Wedding at Cana --> John 2:1-11
Healing at Pool of Siloam --> John 5:1-14
Mary anoints Jesus --> John 12:1-11
Lame man at beautiful gate --> Acts 3:1-10
Ananias and Sapphira --> Acts 5:1-11
Paul Stoned -->Acts 14:8-23
Shipwreck on Malta --> Acts 28:1-6(10)
Look at face in mirror James 1:23-25