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Read through the Gospels and you cannot help but notice that storytelling was one of the key characteristics of Christ’s teaching.

Jesus was able to hold people’s attention with his stories, and through His artful storytelling, profound spiritual truths were brought to light. His stories always had an interesting beginning, were incredibly vivid and gripping, and painted pictures and images that not only fired the imagination, but were easily remembered and passed on to others. They were simple stories that were quickly understood, but held truths of great depth that were not quickly forgotten! They created intense images that burned themselves upon the listener’s imagination, giving each something to see in his own mind’s eye.

Why Storytelling?

Our lives are lived and told in story. Stories are, in fact, the oldest form of teaching. In Biblical times it was the Father’s responsibility to tell the stories of God’s people to his children at every opportunity as much as it was the prophet’s responsibility to proclaim God’s words to His people. Stories are meaningful for any age student from any culture. Every person, regardless of age, background or situation, has a story. That’s what makes stories so powerful!

Stories have a way of weaving their way into our subconscious–both the stories of our own experiences and the stories we hear. Stories can be a source of personal growth and build community not only with those around us, but with those who journeyed in the faith long before us. Stories can bring laughter to our sorrow, healing to our hurts, clarity to our doubts, understanding to our confusion, answers to our questions, and decisiveness to our choices. Listening to a Story is like starting out on a great adventure. We want to know how it ends and what it means.

Stories connect those things that are commonly known with spiritual truths. The familiar is used to explain the unfamiliar. The concrete is used to explain the abstract. Abstract principles and concepts are illustrated in practical, real to life actions. He used a story of the birds and lilies to help listeners understand a believer’s trust in God. He used the wind to explain the Holy Spirit (which was also a play on words). He used grapes and figs to explain fruitful discipleship. He used salt and light to describe the effect of believers on the world. Jesus deliberately took things that his pupils would understand and applied spiritual truths to them.

Storytelling Methods

Jesus used stories of real events, both historical and current. Luke 13:1-5 refers to then-current events concerning Galileans killed by Pilate and the Tower of Siloam. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is not presented as a parable, but as a real situation. Stories often hold interest and present abstract concepts more effectively than a simple statement of the point of the story.

Jesus’ most frequent method of storytelling was the parable, often described as an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” A parable is a story that uses a parallel between a very familiar situation (like farming) and a less familiar topic (like the Kingdom of Heaven) to shed light and understanding on the latter.

Jesus also used metaphors and similes and other word pictures. Word pictures – words and phrases that create a picture in your mind – are a very effective communication tool. Instead of just saying that it is bad to make children who believe stumble, Jesus painted an effective word picture by saying that it would be better to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea than to make one of these little ones who believe to stumble. (Mark 9:42) The latter statement has much more impact. (Luke 17:2,6,24,37) A metaphor is a word picture where something is described by calling it something else. Jesus called Herod “a fox.” A simile is a similar comparison introduced by the words “like” or “as.” Jesus described His love for the people of Jerusalem with a simile: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I would have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

All of these show the place of storytelling in the teaching ministry of Christ. Youth ministry is about hearing the stories of young people, creating experiences that result in stories, and sharing with one another the story of God’s work in this world through Jesus Christ. And through exploring these stories, we all move a little further along in our journey with Christ.

To learn a little more about how to be a life-changing storyteller like Christ see Steps to Story Telling


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