Storying the Gospel—Part 3
By Maria Fontaine
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Storytelling is a time-tested tool that has proved effective in bringing the gospel to life. I’m quite excited at seeing how the method used by Jesus—and by many others through the centuries—has become a key in reaching many throughout the world today.
With Bible storying, all it takes is your own knowledge of the Bible and your willingness to tell the story with expression, sincerity, and passion. It appeals to young and old, rich and poor, all kinds of learners, whether literate or oral, and all kinds of cultures and religions. You can have a mixed group of people and be storying to all of them at once.
What is happening in a Bible storying session is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to each heart and giving them the things they need the most as they open themselves up to God’s Word. The Holy Spirit reveals different things to each person depending on various factors—their experiences, their worldview, their knowledge. Keep in mind that the approach to Bible storying when it is being used with literate people may be a bit different from the way you would use it with solely oral learners. The principles, however, are still the same. In their book, Truth that Sticks, Avery Willis and Mark Snowden use their experiences with Bible storying with oral learning populations to show how it can be very effectively adapted to use with literate societies, like the United States.
Here are several interesting points from their book:
You may wonder what to do about modern relativism and cultures that teach there is no absolute truth. The answer is simple: Just tell the stories. Stories are not just illustrations to prove our points; they are vehicles of God’s truth. Even though some people won’t believe, the Word has power to both convince and convict.
I have discovered that people with PhDs also love to hear carefully told Bible stories and that you can then go as deep in meaning as you like in the dialogue if you ask the right questions.
We use Bible storying with amazing effectiveness with people of other religions. The stories usually slip under the radar of any real or imagined defenses because we are not directly confronting their beliefs or arguing with them. If they are willing to hear enough stories, there is often a cumulative effect until they can’t deny the truth of God’s Word.1
Here are some comments from people who have read this book (Truth That Sticks):
A commonly heard objection to Bible storying is that Bible stories are just for kids. But as the authors point out, everyone loves a good story. And stories (as opposed to straight Bible exposition) have several advantages to them. When people learn stories and internalize them, they have the power to change their worldview. … In the discipleship of children, parents can easily use Bible stories to teach their children the faith. Children can even take those stories and share them with other children. Stories can even be used to answer theological questions and to train leaders.
The authors testify that in their experience, “storying produces disciples who are ‘walking and talking Bibles.’” These people know their Bibles and can share them with others. …
Storying would also seem to lend itself to equipping people with Bible portions that they can share directly in evangelism, long after isolated verses have become fuzzy in their memory.—Karl
Jesus knew the power of stories (think parables), and in fact, God inspired much of the Bible to be recorded in story form. There may well be a Bible story to illustrate every truth of scripture! ... Storying need not be the only tool in the teacher’s toolbox, but it is one that can be used frequently and effectively.—Kevin
My main “takeaway” was the importance of telling Bible stories in a way that others can repeat them to others. So often our discipleship process never reproduces. People are taught, but they never teach another what they have learned.—Wren2
One of the large churches in the U.S., Rolling Hills, which is using Bible storying as a major evangelism/discipleship tool, had some excellent resources online. They define Bible storying as follows.
Bible storying is:
- A way to follow what Jesus modeled as He taught using stories and parables about the kingdom of God.
- An active group participation experience that is intended to lead to deeper understanding and application of God’s Word.
- An opportunity for the Holy Spirit to be the leader and for us to act as facilitators drawing out what He is saying.
- An effective tool in the discipleship process.
- Open to everyone, and a great way to include people at all phases of their spiritual journeys, including nonbelievers.
Bible storying is not:
- A leader-centric, study-focused, one-right-answer type of experience.
- A good fit for people who do not wish to participate and share openly.
- Easy; in that it takes prayer and preparation so that God is able to use you as His vessel. [Maria: Make the goal to tell the story as though you are retelling an event that has happened in your life, which you’re personally engaged in. Try to make the story “yours” and to “feel” it.]
- Dependent on a gifted speaker or someone with lots of Bible knowledge.
The authors of Truth That Sticks give the following tips for telling the story:
Story selection: There are several ways in which stories can be grouped and told over a designated time period.
- Chronological: Starting with creation.
- Topical: There is a topic that a group is studying, and the stories relating to this topic are storied.
- Bible character: Different than chronological, in that you are getting more specific about the events in a biblical character’s life.
- Situational: Similar to topical, in that different biblical characters are being faced with the same situation or predicament.
Facilitating a story: Bible storying starts with the Scripture and allows the Holy Spirit to be the teacher. The role of the leader is to be a facilitator and not the Bible teacher.
Explore and experience vs. explain: The leader helps participants get into the Bible and the story [rather than him simply explaining or teaching] what the passage means.
Facilitate vs. teach: Everything is brought back to the story for dialogue to happen and questions to be answered.
Listen vs. speak: As a leader I want to be in a position of listening to the Holy Spirit and to the participants and not be so anxious to give the answers. This is not about my performance and results, but the Holy Spirit being able to work in and through people’s lives.
Story vs. sermon: Stories are interactive, whereas a sermon is a one-way conversation.
(Maria:) I believe Bible storying is worthy of promotion. The more often people participate in the dialogue, tell stories themselves, help the group process the story, and hold each other accountable for carrying out the truth, the more they get the stories into their lives and follow the truths in them. Bible storying in the form of mime, flannel graphs, sketches (skits), chalk drawings, or putting stories to song or rhyme or chants, whether delivering it to one person or to a group, can be very effective. Bible stories, whether narrated or acted out, are all expressions of the Word, and His Word won’t return void.3
Originally published October 2015. Adapted and republished May 2018.
Read by Irene Quiti Vera.
1 Avery T. Willis Jr. and Mark Snowden, Truth That Sticks: How to Communicate Velcro Truth in a Teflon World (NavPress, 2009).
2 Excerpted from reviewer comments on Amazon.
3 Isaiah 55:11.