As a culture, we are afraid of the simple.
Maybe that’s an overstatement, but we tend to say we like simple more than we really do. Think about it. Our initial thought when something seems simple is that it can’t really be that way. When something – an item, an idea, a project – seems simple, what do we usually end up doing? We end up making it more difficult, adding to layers of complexity to it, as if that makes it better, more acceptable, or more effective. Sometimes this is because we like a challenge and the simple wasn’t good enough. Sometimes the more complex something is, the more “needed” it makes me feel. Sometimes it’s because we just can’t accept something in its simplest form so it can’t be “right”.
Getting my girls to do 7th grade algebra has been a nightly tissue-fest. One opens her math notebook with a melodramatic sigh, resigning herself to the inevitable torture chamber she is about to enter. The other sets the notebook on the table and starts crying as if it she were getting ready to read her own obituary. “I CAN’T DO THIS! It’s too hard! I didn’t understand what the teacher said! It’s all her fault! (of course)”
But once we sit down and I can get them to shut their mouths long enough to show them a couple lines, they kind of eek out a whimpy, “Oh, that’s all you do?”
I was speaking at a church and somebody came up afterwards and said, “Storying isn’t really all that difficult, is it?” Nope. There are many great ways to communicate about God, teach from the Word, and help people see God, but something that is very common to all of us has been forgotten to be an incredibly effective way of helping people connect with God. Or to put it another way, sometimes we forget that the simple way that Jesus modeled doing ministry and try to make it more complicated.
Here are a few simple reasons why storying, whether it’s done cross-culturally or within a community or even with our own families, is a good skill to be familiar with.
- Stories are natural. There’s something that just seems normal about telling a story, not needing a high IQ or a title or a high theological education to tell something that is very powerful.
- Stories are easy to reproduce. They have images, characters, emotions, action, resolution. If something leaves an impression on us, it’s easier to recall. Can you give the three points from the last sermon you heard, or can you tell somebody the three stories used to illustrate those points?
- Stories are simple. How many stories have bullet points, lists, and subsets to remember? They just flow.
- Stories are done in community. Unless you like telling a story in front of a mirror, when stories are shared it tends to deepen relationships.
- Stories are journeying together. So instead of arguing over theological points, we are discovering things together, walking through the story and it’s take-aways.
- Stories lower the barriers that initially opening a Bible could bring with a person who isn’t a follower of Christ. In some cultures or settings, this is a huge benefit to keeping doors open.
- Stories can be shared anytime. You can be at a dinner table, in a coffee shop, on a plane, in a small group, on the phone, driving, or sitting around a roasting goat.
- For many people, the story you share might be the only Bible they ever encounter. Maybe because there is no alphabet for their language, or maybe because it’s a risk in their context, or maybe because of past experiences have burned them on religion.
- Stories can be told by anybody. We all tell stories. Some better than others, but we all can tell a story. People with no reading ability can tell a story!
- People like stories. Simple enough.
I think when we look at Jesus’ ministry we see each of these. Like I said before, there are a lot of great ways to help people connect with God. Stories are one simple and powerful way.
I guess I could teach algebra with stories, but my girls hate word problems.