When I was a Children's Pastor, one of the tools I like to use was "Playtime Parables." I would act out a Bible story or Biblical truth using action figures. I used to do them live, plugging a video camera into the projector so all the kids could see it. When some of our equipment changed, it got too awkward to do these tales live, so I began putting them on video. The kids enjoyed them.
Whenever I get into details about Playtime Parables, I'm always careful to give credit where credit is due. In this case, the idea, the inspiration, yea verily the genesis of this teaching element was something called "Toybox Tales." Toybox Tales was the brainchild of Mr. Karl Bastian, a children's pastor.. Using his incredibly diverse collection of action figures, Karl presented a lesson nearly every week to the the kids. And then, as an added bonus, he uploaded these lessons to his website, Kidology. And not only that, he even provided a "how to" segment. Being a bit of an action figure collector myself, I had to give it a try. Thus, the birth of "Playtime Parables."
(and before I go any further: if you're involved in Children's Ministry in any way, I encourage you to check into Kidology by clicking the link. It is a membership site, but there are enough free areas to give you a taste of the plethora of resources available to members. And if you want to see the art of using toys to teach at its finest, go to Toybox Tales.)
While some of our Playtime Parables are in a digital format, I haven't had the time or ability to get them in an easy to access format. Plus our earliest ones are on an ancient medium known as "video tape", so those aren't totally available yet either. As soon as I get them into an easy to transfer mode, I'll either upload them or put them on a dvd for others to enjoy.
So what did we do with a typical "Playtime Parable?" Sometimes our stories would fit the theme for that Sunday. Sometimes it would illustrate one of the Biblical principles we were trying to get across. Others would be adaptations of Biblical stories. I would make a rough script (which gave me room to ad lib), then pick the "cast:" the action figures that would star in the segment (between my own purchases and the figures I got out of Happy Meals, I had quite a few). My "stage" was a purple storage bin. I cut out the bottom and one of the long sides, then put backdrops, furniture, or whatever I had on hand to decorate it for the story. The camera was focused on the stage while I moved the figures and provided the dialogue (using different voices, of course). Made sure the kids could see and hear and awaaaaayyy we go (uhhh, "away we went").
So what kind of stories did we do? Here's a sampling:
- Spider Man learns that Jesus is not only real, He alone is more powerful than any imaginary character.
- The crew of the Starship Enterprise learns how to be thankful.
- Little duplo/lego characters want to join a club, but have to be slimed first. They find out they already meet the requirements and so sliming is unnecessary (we could actually show the sliming, as opposed to acting out the Gentiles being compelled to be circumcised!)
- A multi part series that crossed over Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with the Chronicles of Narnia, the Pirates Who Don't Do Anything (from Veggie Tales), and a couple of other universes. Faith, courage, and dependence on the Lord were taught.
- A retelling of the life and ministry of Elijah, featuring the characters from the GI Joe movie.
- The familiar Christmas story about the little boy whose birthday is trumped by a celebrity (in this case, Iron Man); and the parallel of Santa upstaging a Christmas celebration. This one was so popular, we repeated it a few years later.
A Playtime Parables (or Toybox Tale, or whatever it may be called) is simply a tool. It's not the centerpiece, I don't build the lesson on the presentation. It's a short illustration using items that some of the kids probably have in their bedrooms. I had a kid tell me once that he went home and began acting out his own Bible story using his action figures. And that blessed my heart.
Take advantage of the tools at your disposal....toys, funny skits, video...whatever you can use to fire up the delight of children and point them to the things of God!