Recently I saw an article on telling better stories from two men who created a performance series where people simply tell stories to a live audience.
I’ve been trying to move my preaching into more of a narrative direction, meaning that I don’t break things down into a few "points" with an "application," but instead simply try to tell a compelling story. Well, not just any old story, but THE story that we Christians live our lives under. I look at Scripture as the story of what God has done and will do, and each passage I preach on then fits into that larger narrative.
This doesn’t mean I am just trying to "tell more stories" when I preach, but that I am trying to tell THE story, trying to see preaching as storytelling. It seems to have worked for Jesus, I remind myself. (Incidentally, it’s interesting how we preachers extol Jesus as a master preacher, but hardly ever attempt to actually preach like he did).
Every time I preach, then, I am telling the kingdom story, God’s story, and inviting people into it, or reminding them that this is their true story. I believe it’s absolutely vital for people to understand that they are part of God’s story, because people make decisions and develop character based on how they perceive themselves to fit into the narratives they believe they belong to.
So when someone struggles with greed, the problem isn’t just their individual desires, but that they probably perceive themselves fitting into a story where accumulating stuff is what it means to be human – getting more stuff is how one gains significance, according to that story.
So it’s not enough to simply tell them they ought to stop being greedy. I need to pull back the veil on their true story (and tell it compellingly!) so they can see their place in God’s true story, where significance is not gained, but given as a gift. If they can see themselves in that story, the pull of "getting more stuff" will weaken considerably.
All that to say that’s why I appreciated the article. In brief, their 5 Tips for Telling Better Stories were these:
- Keep it simple. The brain gets overwhelmed when trying to process too much information.
- Openings and closings are very important. [Strongest material belongs at the beginning and end]
- Be mindful of your story’s spine. This is the basic structure of the story – don’t wander very far from this, or you’ll lose your audience.
- Don’t alienate your audience. When speaking about delicate matters or potentially offensive subjects, plan your approach carefully.
- Tell the truth. [Especially appropriate for those who preach the gospel!] If you are not telling the truth, your listeners will know.
all good advice from a narrative development perspective… However, taking a look at Jesus, the master story teller, sometimes the very point of his story was to alienate, or at least shock his audience… And he didn’t always tell the truth in the concrete sense… the mustard plant is NOT the biggest of all plants… But the outrageous elements of his story telling was always to shock people out of any sense of complacency or familiarity with his story… flagging up that these were not simple moral tales.
Ben Sternke says
A great point, David. Jesus’ parables were often meant to shake his listeners out of their comfortable apathy, and they were certainly not a more ancient version of Aesop’s fables, teaching “moral truths” that “everyone” knows to be true.
More often than not, Jesus was teaching truth that most people wished were NOT true. He stood in the line of the OT prophets (though he was more than a prophet). That’s why so many gritted their teeth at him, and why (from a human perspective) he ended up on a Roman cross.