The Ministry of Storytelling Part 1
I believe storytelling is a legitimate and necessary ministry of the Church. This is not a new discovery, rather this is something that the Church, and indeed all of God's people have practiced from the beginning. We greatly value storytelling at Grace City, but we certainly did not invent it. We stand in a very long line of tradition (the good kind) where "those redeemed of the LORD tell their story" (Psalm 107:2).
So what is the ministry of storytelling? Very simply, it is the practice of giving public testimony to what God has done. With a definition that broad, there are certainly many things that fit under the ministry of storytelling, all of which are important. Without exploring all of the possible ways that the Church can and does practice this, I want to focus on making a brief case for the following conviction:
The local church should be creatively and continually innovating methods of storytelling for the purpose of obeying the Great Commission.
The biblical basis for storytelling as ministry is found first in the reality that the Bible itself is a story, which demonstrates that God communicates through storytelling. Additionally, storytelling itself is a consistent theme throughout Scripture and has always played an important role in the corporate life of God’s people. God repeatedly commands His people in the Old Testament to remember and not to forget the story of how He has redeemed and blessed them. Scenes of this story are often replayed in the Prophetic writings as a call to repentance and renewed faith in God. Many of the Psalms also recount Israel’s redemption story with great detail. In short, the Bible is constantly telling the story of the Bible.
Then, in the New Testament, Jesus himself uses storytelling in his ministry via parables. Many of the recorded sermons in the book of Acts use storytelling as a primary communication tool. Paul frequently tells his own conversion story in his preaching and writing, and he urges us in the book of Ephesians to speak “truthfully” with one another (Ephesians 4:25). He’s not talking about exchanging abstract truth with each other, but personal truth, sin, struggles, growth, doubts, hopes, dreams, and how we see God working in our everyday lives. He’s talking about sharing our stories with one another in community.
The ministry of storytelling is something that God has hardwired into humanity for the purpose of helping us to love and worship God. Why? Because when God’s people forget the story of what God has done for them, it results in forgetting God Himself and in turning to a false reality for fulfillment. Perhaps this is what Paul was getting at later in the book of Ephesians when he writes, "Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you" (Ephesians 5:14). He wants us to wake up to ultimate reality, to the story of the one true God, who has acted on our behalf in his Son, Jesus Christ. This gospel is a story of cosmic proportions, yes, but it also meets us very personally. Our individual stories can be transformed, caught up in, and even contribute to God's cosmic-sized story. What a privilege.
I am increasingly convinced that the local church should embrace a renewed commitment to storytelling as an essential framework for ministry and mission. Story is the human language. This is part of being made in the image of God. If we want to help more people meet, love, and follow Jesus, we have to speak their language.
In a world of bad news and fake news, the best news is that the Good News is real news.
Our world needs to encounter and experience this Good News through Jesus' Church, and if we fail to be fluent in the language of storytelling, we will have settled for being, in Francis Schaeffer's words, Christians "talking to ourselves."
It’s not a question of whether or not the Church has the best story, it’s about whether or not the Church is effectively telling that story to the world. The best story wins, but only if it’s told in a compelling way. What is the key to a compelling story? I think the secret sauce is authenticity (speak truthfully with each other), but that's a different article. The ministry of storytelling is real, mission critical, exciting, and something every believer can practice. For me, it is nothing short of tremendous privilege to invest myself into this work.