Why Storytelling is Important to the Life of a Christian
“Hi, sweetheart, how was your day?”
“Good,” your teenage son says, tossing his backpack on the floor of the car.
“What did you learn about?”
“Nothing,” he says, pulling out his headphones.
“How did you do on that test?”
“Fine,” he says, swiping on his phone.
“Did anything interesting happen today?” And now he can’t hear you and won’t answer. You wonder if something is wrong, if there’s something he’s hiding, or if you are slowly starting to lose connection to your son.
You’d love to hear a story from his day.
Or you saw something remarkable happen: on your morning commute, not only did a groundhog cross the street with a piece of pizza in its mouth, it then met two crows on the other side, and they engaged in an epic and hilarious battle, ending with the crows flying away and the groundhog eating the pizza in victory! It was so amazing, you can’t wait to tell the guys about it around the watercooler!
Or you’re reading your history textbook and reviewing the notes, trying to remember dates, facts, names, and places for the test on Friday. It doesn’t seem to be sticking, until you find a dramatized version of some of the information on YouTube. Sure, it’s not all accurate, but it has been a great way to help you remember some of the events. You take the test and make the best grade in class!
Or you’ve had a really hard time with the death of your father. You feel very alone, and it seems like no one else knows the grief you’re going through. You tell a friend about it, and they share with you that they went through a similar situation about a year ago. You suddenly feel connected and understood, and you gain insight to help you get through this difficult time.
Storytelling is not just telling ghost stories around a campfire, reading a novel before bed, or having family movie night on Saturdays.
While these are great storytelling experiences, they do not at all cover the scope of storytelling in our lives. We engage in storytelling all the time, and it is an essential part of the human existence. It connects us to each other, it unlocks memories and educational pathways in the brain, and it helps us to understand our past and prepare for our future.
As far as we know, animals are linguistically incapable of telling stories; most only share information about what is here and now. But as humans, we can begin to understand and follow stories even as babies, and we start to form stories from our imagination from around two years old. Just today, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter informed me that Donald Duck came to our house to help her throw a birthday party for her baby bear, and that’s why our cat was wearing a necklace–which he specifically informed her he wanted for the party. “Did you know that, Momma?” No, child, but thank God for your telling me!
I strongly believe that God designed the art of storytelling for the sake of knowing Him.
From early on, He told accounts directly to prophets, who then told wider audiences. Then, it wasn’t just word of mouth but in writing, and these stories were diligently studied and committed to memory by scribes and earnest students. And then, of course, the best storyteller came. And then His followers went throughout the world, telling people what He taught, and we today have the stories recorded in a Book and share our stories with others now.
Storytelling is the origin of our faith, according to the well-known words from Paul in 2 Corinthians:
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God.”
We hear through people we know and trust sharing stories with us–personal stories of struggle and redemption, stories through sermons and lessons, or stories directly from Scripture. Stories undoubtedly lead you–yes, you–to your faith.
Jesus knew the power of stories.
It’s not coincidence that most of His teachings were through parables. We now know that cognitively, storytelling is a more powerful teaching tool than lecturing and spoonfeeding information.
Think about your own experience. You probably had a teacher or professor sometime in school that was dry, boring, and very informative. How much do you remember from that class? Probably not a lot, other than how excruciating it was every day to stay awake. But you probably also had another teacher who was lively and personal, using lots of real-life and/or hypothetical examples (that is, stories) to illustrate their lessons. Those are the classes you remember. This is because stories cause more neural connections, which better solidify information into memory.
Stories, examples, anecdotes, etc. light up memory/experience, imagery, prediction, emotion, and, of course, language processing centers, and as more senses are described in the story, more sensory centers activate as well. Add to this that metaphor is one of the most complex functions of the human brain–and one of the most integral to storytelling–and you have a brain that will happily devour that information.
Jesus used many storytelling strategies that really solidified His parables, and God did the same throughout Scripture, even using some of the skills of the writers to drive them home.
Relatable characters, strong sensory details, powerful imagery, relevant settings, efficient dialogue, impressive conflict, amazing resolution, compelling themes–and even linguistic tools like wordplay, allusion, energetic word choice.…These are all throughout Scripture in the stories the Lord wanted us to know.
As disciples, understanding the craft of storytelling can give us a deeper appreciation of the Bible and the stories therein. And as disciple-makers, becoming better storytellers can utilize this skill that God gave us to fulfill Jesus’s final command.
In this series, we will be looking at some of the main components of crafting strong stories through the eyes of a follower of God. We’ll look at scriptural examples and explore how these aspects can be used to form powerful narratives when sharing with others today.
As disciple-makers, becoming better storytellers can utilize this skill that God gave us to fulfill Jesus’s final command.