Telling the stories of Scripture is a lost art that's making a comeback. We can tell you all the reasons and try to describe the experience, but the only way you'll get it is if you do it. Will you? Really, you have all you need right now. Just grab your Bible, get some friends together, and tell them one of those stories! If you still feel a little unsure, read on. We'll share with you some things that have worked for us when it comes to prepping a story, telling it, and getting an awesome discussion going after. We could also give you some creative ideas for how to get a group started if you're interested. Let's go!
"Inside each of us is a natural born storyteller, just waiting to be released." ~Robin Moore
Storytelling is definitely more caught than taught. At the same time, most of us never caught it from anyone, so we need to be a little more intentional about learning this ancient craft. The biggest tip we can give you is to just start doing it and you'll get better as you go! Here's an approach we've developed that works well for us. Try it, experiment with it, and feel free to adapt it however you please. ("How to" pdf here)
1. So firstly, pick your story. This is something your group may have already figured out. Are you going through the stories of the New Testament, or maybe tackling the stories of the Old Testament? Are you going through them chronologically, thematically, or more randomly depending on the story you want to bring? (Story lists are here)
2. Read through the story. You may find it helpful as you read to remember that most stories have six elements that all start with the letter "c": commencement, context, characters, chronology of action, conversation, and conclusion. If that sounds too complicated, put it in this fairy tale formula: "Once upon a time in a land far away, these people did and said these things, the end." So as you're reading note the time and place (once upon a time in a land far away), and then watch for the action and listen for the quotes (these people did and said these things). You may also want to try reading the story in several different translations to give you the fuller sense and lock it in your brain better.
3. Organize the action and quotes in your mind. Writing bullet points, or drawing or acting it out, could help you see the storyline in your mind's eye. This is like the skeleton.
4. Form the story in your mind. This is like fleshing it out. Do your best to form the story accurately, so try not to add stuff or leave stuff out. At the same time, form it in your own words, and in such a way that your hearers will feel like they're right there. Go over in your mind when and where the story happened. Imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations the people in the story were experiencing. Include those details in your tale because, after all, the tale is in the details! ;D
5. As a bonus, do some background research on the story. Think as if you'd be telling the story to a group of people who had never read the Bible before, because hopefully you do have some people like that in your group. Look at maps and learn a little of the geography. Read about what else was going on in history during that time period. Read Bible commentaries on the passage, and learn about any words or customs people may not understand.
5. If this is still new to you, practice telling the story to a real person until you can remember and tell it smoothly, and invite them give you feedback on how you could tell it better. This could even be a sneaky way of telling God's stories to someone who wouldn't otherwise hear them!
"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do, and I understand." ~Xunzi
Starting a group, storytelling the Scriptures, having honest conversations...this stuff isn't hard. Most of it's so instinctual it takes less than five minutes to learn! Here's how to do all the things...and why.
Ever had s'mores? Melted chocolate and toasted marshmallow, sandwiched between graham crackers. Eat one and you'll want s'more! That's what telling the stories of Scripture with your friends is like.
The graham cracker is like the Bible. Eaten by itself, it can feel a little dry and crusty. Not everybody eats graham crackers every day. That's where the chocolate and marshmallow come in!
The chocolate is the relationships. You know that rich, satisfying feeling you get from hanging out with people you really like? Getting into the Bible together makes it so much sweeter, too.
The marshmallow is like the questions we discuss after the story. They're sticky! They pull you in, glue the whole experience together, and stay with you later. Mmm. And now, brace yourself. Because there are even bigger reasons than chocolate!
1. We are created in the image of a storytelling God. Ever notice how you lose track of time when you're reading a good novel, or get emotional watching a movie and have to keep telling yourself they're just actors, or how kids always want just one more story? What's with that? Why are humans such compulsive storytellers, and animals aren't? What does that tell you about the one who made us his mini-mes?
"We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories." ~Jonathan Gottschal
2. The Bible is a story. If God is the greatest storyteller ever, is it any surprise that his book is the greatest story ever, like a historical novel spanning centuries and comprised of many smaller stories? Let that sink in: those stories are the Word of God. They're also the context for the laws, prophecies, etc. We all know that taking Scripture out of context is very naughty. So why don't we spend more time on the big story?
"People are looking for stories that really mean something - stories that are redemptive, inspiring, and bigger than an individual." ~Scott Harrison
3. Messiah told stories all the time. Is it any surprise that the son of the storytelling God was also a master storyteller? Mark tells us Yeshua never taught the crowds without using simple little stories, called parables. His disciples memorized these short stories from their Rabbi and retold them countless times, and they're still doing it today! Using stories to reach people...maybe they were onto something.
"A lost coin is found by means of a candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story." ~Anthony De Mello
5. Over half the world is functionally illiterate, including North America. Functionally illiterate doesn't mean you can't read - it just means you don't. Most people today don't get their information through reading books; they get it through talking with their friends and watching YouTube. If your idea of evangelizing or discipling those guys is giving them a 1000+ page book from a foreign culture, can you see how it might not fly? So what's your plan?
"A picture is worth a thousand words, and a story is worth a thousand pictures." ~Stephen Stringer
4. The Gospel is a story. The Good News is a story about a carpenter living in Israel two thousand years ago who turned travelling preacher and did something. Feel that for a moment - that story saved you. You heard it, you had a personal encounter with that carpenter, and he changed you! You know what else is crazy? They didn't even write the story down for a couple decades at least. They just travelled the world, telling it word of mouth. What if the reason you never share the gospel is because you never learned how to tell that story?
"It is the manner of the Gospel that it must be preached by word of mouth, and a living voice. Christ himself has not written anything, nor has he ordered anything to be written, but rather to be preached by word of mouth." ~Martin Luther
6. Everybody loves a good story. Not everyone wants to hear about your religious beliefs. Maybe Westboro or ISIS turned them off, or they already have a religion, or they're ADD. You'd be surprised though how many of those people would be open to hearing you tell a story, and maybe even talk about it with you. Remember, that thing isn't just a story - it's God's Word and he's in it! Trojan horse!
"Facts, opinions, and value statements push people apart. Stories bring people together." ~Chuck Matthei
7. Stories answer our big questions. We all hit a point in our lives when we start asking the big questions. Why am I here? Is there an afterlife? Why do people keep mowing their lawns? Everyone has questions like this, and every culture has their own set of stories attempting to answer them. Sociologists call these big stories myths. They're not just stories we tell ourselves - they're stories we live.
"If you want to change society, you must tell an alternative story." ~Ivan Illich
8. Stories determine who we are. Our myths are burned so deeply into our brains we just accept them as reality. Our whole lives come from those big stories too, because they dictate who our people are, and what's normal for people like us. That's why Passover and Hanukkah are such a big deal for the Jewish people. So if you want to change your life, guess where that starts?
"It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story." ~Patrick Rothfuss
9. Stories give us hope. Stories help us make sense of the craziness. They tell us what's wrong with the world and how to fix it. They explain what the good life looks like and how to get there. Communism and the American Dream are two examples. That's why people are willing to die for an ideology - because their stories are giving them something to live for. Changing the world has always started with trying to change the story that gives people hope.
"The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda of an entire generation that is to come." ~Steve Jobs
how to prep a story
how to tell a story
"Every story you tell is your own story." ~Joseph Campbell
1. Before you start, ask these two questions and leave some room for responses after each. Who did you tell last week's story to, and what happened? If last week's story was telling you to do something, how'd that go?
2. Tell the story as you prepared it. Generally that means telling it as simply as you can without adding to it, while at the same time describing the sensory details and explaining words and customs that people may not understand.
3. Tell the story in your own style. Just be yourself! Maybe you'll tell it in a relaxed way and have fun with it. Or maybe you're really passionate, and you'll be super intense! Don't feel bad if you feel nervous either, it's normal. Just stop, take a deep breath, smile, and tell the group you're nervous if you have to.
4. Tell the story in a repeatable way. What you don't want people to say is "Wow, I could never tell a story like that!" What you do want them to say "That was ok. I could do that." The role of the storyteller is to awaken the storyteller in others. ~Jack Zipes
5. If your mind goes blank or you forget what happens next, ask the group to jump in. At least one person in the group has probably heard the story before, and can help get you going again.
6. There are lots of fun ways to incorporate all five senses. For sight, you could have a couple people act it out as you're talking. Or draw stick figures! For hearing, have the group make up sound effects as you go. For touch, and maybe even smell or taste, bring objects to pass around. The basic rule of storytelling is show, don't tell. ~Julianna Baggott
7. At the end ask if you missed anything. You want to reconstruct the story as accurately as possible, while still telling it in your own words. If you're concerned you may have missed a fair bit of the story, you could have someone read it from the Bible and compare.
"If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten." ~Rudyard Kipling
"The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon." ~Brandon Sanderson
Don't just tell the story, you need to talk about it too! It's like the marshmallow in the smore, remember? If you told the story you could guide the discussion, or you could have someone else do it if you don't feel comfortable.
If you're guiding the discussion, remember that these stories are the word of God, and Yeshua is the living word of God. When you get together to tell these stories, Messiah himself is present, speaking personally to people and showing them stuff!
Your job is just to facilitate that encounter. So as soon as the story is over pose the first question, and give the group time to think and share. When they're ready, move on to the next question. Here are our favourite questions. In the next section we'll talk more about why questions, and why these ones.
1. What do you like about this story, and what don't you like?
2. Who would you be in the story, or who can you relate to?"
3. What is this story telling you about God?
4. What is this story telling you to do?
5. How does this story fit into the bigger story?
6. Who could you tell this story to?
Remember, your job isn't to teach. It's just to pose the questions, get the group talking to each other, and gently guide them back if things get too off track. You may find that people tend to talk to you instead of the group. When that happens, just look down and they'll naturally turn and start talking to the people who are looking at them. If someone asks you a question, repeat it to the group. And if one person won't shut up, slide in and ask someone else what they think.
If you feel the discussion is going too far off topic, the best way to bring it back is just to say something like "So..." and then repeat the question. The question of "how far is too far" is a tricky one though. You definitely want a free and open discussion. But you also don't it to be so random that people lose interest or get weirded out by that one guy who, you know. If you're not sure, ask the group. Some may prefer a relatively controlled discussion, and others may want you to just pose the questions and then run for cover.
Remember that not everyone is an extravert, and that spirit runs deep. So don't be afraid of silence, or worry if some people aren't talking. And let the group know that's ok too. At the same time, if they're ready to move on to the next question don't leave them hanging. If you're not sure, ask "any final thoughts before we move on to the next question?"
"People don't believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. And they always believe what they tell themselves." ~Seth Godin
how to talk about the story
"There are two ways to share knowledge. You can push information out. Or, you can pull them in with a story."
Have you ever noticed how God relates to people in the book of Genesis? He asks them questions. "Adam, why are you hiding?...Cain, why are you so angry?" And when Messiah comes, it's no different! "Where are we going to get enough bread to feed this crowd?...How does it read to you?...Why are you crying?" Why? Why does God ask people questions? Is it that he doesn't know the answer? Or could there be a deeper reason?
When someone asks you a question, what happens? They get your attention. You feel drawn in. We're actually wired in such a way that it's almost impossible to not respond when asked about something. A question is an invitation to engage and be yourself. How about when someone just stands there talking at you? Your mind wanders. Or your guard goes up. Or you mumble something about the restrooms and run!
Here's a fun way to remember this difference. The question mark looks like a little hook, and that's what a question does. It catches people and brings them closer. The exclamation mark looks like a little baseball bat, and in both cases when you start swinging that thing at people they run!
God is smart. He knows how we're made. He doesn't want to just tell people stuff. He's inviting people to come a little closer and talk with him. He wants to be related to. And he wants to relate to people where they are, for who they are. God really loves people. That's why he asks us questions. It makes you wonder, why are most religious services all about telling you the right answers? Can you blame folks for responding the same way they respond to that guy at the party?
That's why we use questions in Yeshua Groups. Alright, so now let's talk about why we use these specific questions.
why these questions?
1. What do you like about this story, and what don't you like?
2. Who would you be in the story, or who can you relate to?
3. What is this story telling you about God?
4. What is this story telling you to do?
5. How does this story fit into the bigger story?
6. Who could you tell this story to?
These are the questions we suggest using in your discussions. At first glance you may think they're too simple. Like, anybody could have come up with these! Well, that's actually the point. The simpler an idea, the easier it sticks and the faster it spreads. We spent hours of research and experimentation developing these intuitive questions, and they really do work. Having said that though, of course you don't have to use them. You're more than welcome to experiment and see what works for your group. Like for instance, if you have lots of coffee drinkers in your group you could ask "what is this story telling you about coffee?" Ok, so let's talk a little about why these questions work.
"What do you like about this story, and what don't you like?"
God wants people to be real with him. That story about Jacob wrestling all night is there for a reason. So are those prayers saying things like "just leave me alone so I can be happy for once!" The disturbing fact is that the Bible reads like a dark novel. Alcoholism, incestuous relationships, sibling murder...and those are the good guys! The Bible is very realistic about how messed up humanity is, and that includes the saints. This has even been pointed to as evidence for the historical accuracy of the Gospels - the apostles are saying and doing stupid things on almost every page!
Religion, on the other hand, is too often the opposite. It can't handle real people with real struggles. It either makes you fake, or it makes you leave. If somebody's been burned by bad religion and then comes to your group, they need to know that you want them to be real, and say what they really think. That's why we talk about what we don't like about these stories.
You may nod in agreement with this, but then find it extremely uncomfortable to actually hear people sharing their negative reactions to stuff in the Bible. When that happens don't worry. Remember that God's a big boy, and he can take care of himself. And he likes wrestling.
"The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell." ~Ben Okri
"Who would you be in the story, or who can you relate to?"
Have you ever gotten so sucked into a novel you couldn't put it down? Or found yourself sprinting for the restrooms after the movie because you didn't realize you had to go? That's the power of stories. You don't just listen to a good story, you lose yourself in it. Why? For several reasons, actually. But the biggest is because you can relate to the people in the story. In fact, in your brain, you actually become them. This is true of the stories of Scripture, too. Which is what makes them so powerful! The moment you start relating to the people in God's stories is the moment you start relating to God. You enter his story, and then he enters yours. That's why it's so important to make these stories personal.
"If a story isn't about the hearer he won't listen. A great and interesting story is about everyone, or it will not last." ~John Steinbeck
There is another reason. I'll be honest with you, I've had times when I was dealing with personal trauma and could barely handle reading the Bible. I was in so much pain, and then I'd read about these people going through horrific experiences, and I'd see myself in their stories and bawl my eyes out. I told myself ok, I just won't read the Old Testament for awhile, only the New Testament. I only got a couple chapters in before I hit the story about stricken parents losing their little sons to an evil regime, and I fell apart again. I told God through the tears how I hated his twisted stories, and how the violence sickened me. I wondered if I had the wrong religion, and if maybe Buddhism would be a better fit, just meditating on positive things. To make a long story short, I realized that God's stories aren't there to distract us from the reality of evil, or from our own sufferings. But they can help us find meaning in the midst of our experiences. And maybe even some healing.
"All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story, or tell a story about them." ~Isak Dinesen
"What is this story telling you about God?
Here's how conversation works. Show the other person that you're truly interested in them and what they have to say, and you'll find that when it's your turn to talk they'll be interested in you too! This is usually true even if they started off totally closed. If people can see that you're making a genuine effort to understand their thoughts and empathize with their feelings, by the end they'll be a little more open to hear from you too. So, to bring that home. Thus far in the conversation, the questions have been inviting people to talk honestly about themselves. Now's it's God's turn to talk about himself. And he will!
"Storytelling reveals meaning, without committing the error of defining it." ~Hannah Arendt
“The shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.” ~Anthony de Mello
"What is this story telling you to do?"
James compared Scripture to a mirror. He said when you hear God's Word but don't act on it, it's like you just looked into a mirror, and then walked away and forgot what you look like. This is a powerful insight into human nature, because everything people do is determined by how they perceive themselves. If you see yourself belonging to a group and they all live a certain way, that's probably going to become your norm also. By this point in the conversation you've heard a new story, met some new people you can hopefully relate to, and maybe had some new thoughts about God and yourself. That's the point where you may also be open to a new vision of your future, one that gives you hope! Talking about the changes you're imagining for your life is a great way to make them more concrete. And next week before the new story is told you'll have time to tell the group how those changes are going, too!
"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives - the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change - truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts." ~Salmon Rushdie
"If you wish to influence an individual or a group to embrace a particular value in their daily lives, tell them a compelling story." ~Annette Simmons
"How does this story fit into the bigger story?"
Let's face it, when it comes to the Bible it's easy to miss the forest for the trees. We talk about how the Bible is a story and how we need to read it in context, but that's easier said than done. To further complicate things, some of these stories are culturally foreign and may even seem a little bizarre, especially if you're storytelling through the Hebrew Scriptures. Now that we've finished entering into the story and relating to it, it's time to pull back and see the bigger story that stretches all the way from then to now, and ask how it relates to us.
"The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?" ~Carl Jung
"If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all." ~Joseph Campbell
"Who could you tell this story to?"
God's stories were made to be told, and the great thing about word-of-mouth communication is that we're already doing it all the time! If the story helped you, you probably know someone else who would find it helpful too. If you're not sure, but you had an emotional experience or a profound realization through the story, just tell somebody about that and share the excitement! This question is hardwired into our movement to make it contagious.
"Stories have to be told or they die. And when they die we can't remember who we are, or why we're here." ~Sue Monk Kidd
"The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds." ~Dalai Lama
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let's do this!
10. There is one more reason. But it would be like trying to tell a blind person about the sunset, or trying to describe sheer pleasure to someone with no nerves. You really do need to experience it for yourself. Your heart comes alive. You feel this energy. People start crying at stories they've heard a hundred times. It's like God walks into the room...because he does.