Although I enjoy writing songs from time to time, my recurring attitude toward my own songwriting could be summarized, “Andrew Peterson already exists. What’s the point?” We in the church could be tempted to have the same attitude toward telling stories. In order for our Western culture to stop and pay attention, we’re going to need to tell better stories than it’s used to hearing. In discouraging moments, we might well think, Disney already exists. How can we in the church expect to tell the best stories? The Disney+ tagline is “the best stories in one place,” after all.
Recently, I joined some fellow Renew.org leaders at a lake house retreat where we took time to discuss the question, “How can we tell the world a better story?” If we want to reverse the current trend of the secular culture out-discipling church people, we in the church are going to need to learn to tell better stories. But how?
I’d like to offer an answer by telling a story.
A few weeks ago, I participated in a “storying” training. Led by a friend who works with Muslim refugees, the training centered on how to tell gospel stories for a small group setting. His method was surprisingly simple: You memorize a story from the Bible. You recite the story word-for-word. You recite it again. You ask questions taken directly from the story. You recite the story again. You ask the group what they learned.
I have always enjoyed creative communication. Part of what’s energizing about writing sermons and lessons is the creativity that goes into crafting them. But after the storying training, I decided for my next sermon to put creativity on hold and give this simple storying method a try. It was a chapel service at a local Christian school.
From the Gospels, I picked a Bible story I had never taught from: the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50). I memorized it ahead of time from the NIV. Then, when it came time to preach for the chapel service, I recited the story for the kids. Then I recited it again. Then I asked twenty or so questions, straight out of the text. I made a couple points of application from the story, prayed to wrap up, and I was done.
It was the best chapel sermon I’d ever preached.
The kids were engaged in the story, and when it came time to answer questions from the story, it became immediately clear that they had listened incredibly well, for they were nailing the answers. As she stood behind him at his feet doing what? Weeping. Then she wet his feet with what? Her tears. Then she wiped them with what? Her hair. Then she did what? Kissed them. And then what? Poured perfume on them. Afterward, I kept hearing from students and staff how helpful it was. Jesus’ compassion toward the excluded woman had really moved them.
And you know what’s funny? I had nothing to do with it. I was honestly just the messenger relating a story word-for-word from the Gospels. I didn’t even feel like I was the teacher that morning. I was simply relating a story in which Jesus was the point and the Holy Spirit was the teacher. The experience chastised my self-reliance and elevated my faith.
How do we in the church tell the world a better story?
The secret I had been missing was this: We tell a better story first and foremost by recognizing that we’ve already been given the best stories in one place.
In the Bible, God didn’t primarily give us an answer book to help us feel smart or a law book to help us behave. He mainly gave us a series of stories. Stories of redemption. Stories of restoring what was broken. Of finding what was lost. Of journeying home.
If we want to tell the world a better story, I suggest that we start by telling and retelling the stories we’ve already been given. The Holy Spirit can take it from there.
If we want to tell the world a better story, I suggest that we start by telling and retelling the stories we’ve already been given.