3 Reasons Why Christians Should Be Good Storytellers
I’ve recently found myself surrounded by stories – I’ve been reading them, telling them, listening to them, and living them. It all started when I read East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I had heard that it was a good story, but I was entirely unprepared for its power. I found myself lingering over numerous sentences, admiring their ability to beautifully capture an idea with the perfect metaphor. I laughed, cried, and cringed with each character, their fictitious feelings and circumstances becoming tangible with each turn of the page. Through all of this, I was suddenly aware that I was no longer reading the book, but in mysterious ways, the book was reading me.
I’ve since become increasingly convinced that Christians ought to not only immerse themselves in stories, both from Scripture and the world at large, but also be good storytellers. Here are 3 reasons why…
1. People primarily think, speak, and live stories. It is the language of humanity.¹
Stories are fundamental to our humanity and to our identity. From our earliest moments, we become captivated by stories, both real and fantastical. We don’t have to teach children the various components that make up stories, they know who the antagonist and protagonist are without our explanation. They don’t need to understand the difference between conflict, climax, and resolution; we seem to instinctively know what a story is and how it feels.
The way we perceive and make sense of the world around us is mediated through story. When we think of the life we want to live, or the family we want to have, or the experiences that will shape and define us, we tend to think of stories we’ve seen or heard that relate to whatever we’re thinking about. I want to go to Switzerland precisely because I’ve heard stories of it in history, seen pictures (snapshots of a story), and listened to my friend tell of his travels there.
Stories are the language of humanity and if Christians want to reach the world with God’s story of redemption, then they must be good storytellers.
2. The Bible is, in it’s simplest sense, a collection of stories of God’s work in history.
As hinted at above, the Bible is the story of God’s redemption wrought in history. While there may be different genres within the Bible, ranging from history, to psalm, to epistle, all of these are rooted in a story that happened. The psalms are not just songs sung about God’s goodness or faithfulness; they were birthed out of Israel’s experience of exodus, conquest, and exile. The epistles are not just a collection of good morals to maintain or certain propositions to be believed; they were written in direct response to stories that Paul was hearing of the various churches. As Paul heard what was happening, he jumped into the story of the churches, hoping to change their course.
Even more, we come to know God in story. Moses was not changed by propositional truths about God; he encountered him in the burning bush. Abraham did not believe God was faithful because it was probably a good thing to believe; he experienced God’s faithfulness in the simple provision of a ram. Peter was not so foundational to the early church because he had taken leadership courses that gave him good managing skills; he had walked, eaten, slept beside, laughed, talked, and journeyed with Jesus for three years. His own story intersected with the life of Jesus and he was irrevocably changed. I myself was not intellectually convinced of God’s existence; I heard the stories of God’s presence in the lives of those around me and sensed God’s presence in my own life. God met me in my own story and my life has been changed because of it.
3. Jesus was a good storyteller.
When Jesus was asked a question or when an issue was presented to him, in most cases, he responded with a parable or story. It was his most popular form of teaching and also his most powerful. The story of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are two of the most well known stories, and rightfully so. Though short and succinct, they masterfully connect to matters that are close to every heart. No one can read those stories and not be touched by their power. And these are only two of the stories that Jesus told. If Jesus’ teaching was primarily mediated through story, then for those who want to follow in his footsteps must be well-versed in it as well.
So grab a good book or pick up the Bible and turn to Genesis and immerse yourself in good stories. Take note of what captures you, what invigorates you, and what cuts to your heart. Then go and do likewise.
1. I am highly indebted to James K.A. Smith’s book “Imagining the Kingdom” for a clear articulation of this.