The Strength of Storying…
Ministry isn’t easy. Those who serve, whether as pastors of churches, or who minister in other ways, can certainly resonate with that fact. And, it’s tough in different ways for different people.
Although I’ve come to grow substantially in this area, for years, vulnerability was one of my most difficult hurdles. To share with another… perhaps even the person you are trying to counsel or minister to… your own faults, stories of your own hurts an failures, but for the sake to encouraging and being able to connect with them… this takes some courage. And, if you’re an introvert like me, even sharing “good” stories can be tough, because it’s much easier to counsel someone with a verse from Scripture, than it is to testify about how Scripture transformed my life.
Why? Well, as I’ve reflected, my upbringing and my nature is one that runs from the elusive world of passions and subjectivity, and finds security and safety in the rational and objective. Show me sound exegesis, and I can’t argue with you. Tell me a story about what you “felt, saw, heard, did, or desired,” and the truth is only as valid as the tale-teller. (Again, as I said before, my views have changed, but this doesn’t mean that I still don’t sometimes catch myself needing to work through some of my skepticisms) Stories, and especially stories from the soul, and stories from my past, is truly a sacrifice and entrusted gift transferred from my heart, to another’s. But, what will they do with it? Will they believe it? Well, it depends on how much they trust me. It depends on my character. It depends on my ethos.
Ethos, according to the great rhetoricians, was the character or the good will and virtue a speaker had in the eyes of his audience.  With this sort of credibility with your audience, you can penetrate their heart powerfully. Without it… well, if you don’t have it: you’d better start building it, if you want someone to listen.
When we look at Paul as a model for ministry, how important was it for him to establish his character and his credibility with his audience? Yes. And in fact, in often times, it seems that he does this… through telling some of his own personal stories.
Paul’s use of autobiography in his epistles has drawn lots of attention from scholars and pastors. His insertion of narrative in the middle of a letter (not a history book) must be for a purpose. In some cases, Paul reflects on his past and his character to defend himself from the attacks of slanderers. Yet other times, it appears that telling of us life is not to boast, nor to defend. Rather, it is to encourage his flock as their loving pastor.
This can be seen in 1 Thessalonians 2:-12. This letter, which gushes with adoration, familial language, and love for the persecuted Thessalonian church, as a whole seems to be a letter of encouragement and exhortation- to keep them enduring as they so faithfully had, and to give them a few additional tid-bits on relationships in the church, and clarifying some points of eschatology.
Yet, in 2:-12, we see several verses where Paul retells of his times of suffering and persecution, both while on his way to Thessalonica, and while in their midst. Some have speculated that Paul is doing this to build his rapport, because opponents of the apostle are tearing him down. But, there is little specific evidence for this, and the reader is then just left guessing “who might they have been?” and any guess is almost as good as any other.
Yet, perhaps Paul uses personal stories to be an encouragement and an example to his persecuted flock. By telling of his own sufferings, he is also telling of his own endurance. Paul is establishing himself as an in-group exemplar, the leader and model for the church to “chin up” and to follow. Although reflecting on some of these memories may have evoked some past pain, Paul knows that the benefit to his “children” (2:7-8) will far outweigh any cost in vulnerability.
If there is something I keep learning more and more… it’s that, to the human soul, story isn’t cheap and empty. Rather, story is captivating and powerful. Yes, a “big fish” story can shot your credibility as a storyteller, but for a person of good character to tell of a time that places you in the action and in their shoes… a pastor might have a far easier time reaching ones soul this way, than by the dry drudgery of reason and footnote- saturated exegesis that my silly mind for whatever reason tends to prefer.
 So say Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian.