This post is the last in the Faces of Innovation series, based on Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. For quick reference before I get into the last "persona", here are links to the previous "faces" in the series:
Faces of Innovation: the Storyteller
Many people today are recognizing the value of stories for human beings. It seems like traditional Western thought has elevated abstract reasoning above the vagaries of the story, but now stories are making a comeback. And that’s a very good thing.
One of the fascinating new areas of scholarship is the study of how cultural narratives work, how they inform and form the values and praxis of entire people-groups. In short, people are discovering that storytelling is a fundamentally human way of conveying information. I’ve written before about how I’m convinced that Christian theology needs to be conceived in more narrative terms. If this is going to happen, we’re going to need our theologians to become Storytellers. This practice of "theology-as-narrative" has a long history in Judaism, actually. Stephen, when he’s being killed, is doing theology as he re-counts the story of the world for his accusers. Jesus was doing theology when he told his parables (albeit quite a "Trojan-horse" theology, where the story contained an explosive twist). Paul was doing theology in Romans when he tells the story of Israel in a new way. Stories allow multiple layers of truth to resonate simultaneously, and remind people of the story that gives their lives meaning and mission.
In the business world, Storytellers are becoming more and more important for the same reasons. Seth Godin and others have told us that good marketing is essentially trying to tell a truthful and compelling story (sounds like the Gospel, yeah?). Stories always connect at a deeper level than pie-charts and Powerpoint presentations will ever do, because they engage people emotionally. And more and more people (even those who don’t think they’re very "emotional") are recognizing that almost all of us think we’re making "rational" decisions, when we are in fact making emotional decisions, and then using reason and intellect to rationalize our emotional decision. Stories are a great way for companies to spread their values and ethos across the entire organization.
Some of my ponderings on preaching in the postmodern world have focused on the idea of preaching as storytelling. Not just using stories as illustrations in a sermon, not just utilizing a few anecdotes to prove a point (see how the abstract "principle" is still the main thing when you use stories like that?). I am more interested in preaching as storytelling, as a way of immersing ourselves in the story we are living in, which will affect our lives in multiple ways. When preaching is a story, then many layers of meaning and truth are allowed to resonate all at once. Because of that, diverse and personal applications can be made by the listeners. Jesus was a master at this kind of practice: telling a story that re-interpreted the story his hearers thought they knew by heart. Those with "ears to hear" realized with a shock that Jesus was claiming to embody the fulfillment of all the promises made to Israel. Those without "ears to hear" wrote him off as a lunatic. I sometimes wonder if our sermons ought to be more provoking and less explanatory. Preaching ought to awaken us to a new world, and send us off in search of it, as opposed to just trying to prove that there is indeed a new world we aren’t seeing.
A few other ways (besides narrative preaching) that churches can embrace Storytelling:
- Tell the stories of normal people who have been impacted by Jesus. The "Christian-eze" term is testimonies, and they’re extremely important. Someone telling a story of how God changed her life makes a much bigger impact than a church staff member saying, "God changes lives" from the pulpit. A company in Minneapolis called Medtronic is best known for their cardiac pacemakers. Many times when the company needs a spark, the top executives will bring in patients who use Medtronics’ products and ask them to tell the entire company a story about how a Medtronic product changed their life. The employees listen to these stories, which are often deeply touching, and go back to work with a renewed sense of the importance of their work. Sometimes churches need to hear a story about what kinds of things God is doing, so they can remember the value and importance of what they are involved in.
- Take communion often. Every time a congregation partakes in the Eucharist, the story of Jesus is told, or in Paul’s terms, "you declare the Lord’s death." Jesus’ death on the cross was his victory over evil, and his resurrection was the beginning of God’s new world. That is the gospel in a nutshell, that Jesus has conquered death and evil, and God is now working (and invites us to join him) to implement that achievement. Taking the communion meal often reinforces this basic Christian story and enables people to center themselves more fully in that story.