Storying the Gospel—Part 3

October 17, 2015

by Maria Fontaine

In order to effectively share the gospel with the people we seek to reach in the many different settings the Lord calls us to, it often takes different methods to successfully convey the message. Storytelling is one of those time-tested tools that has proved effective in bringing the gospel to life.

I’m quite excited at seeing how the method used by Jesus—and by many others through the centuries—has become a key in reaching many throughout the world today. It’s exciting to find something that is very simple that would appeal to most everyone and that would be fairly uncomplicated, and where you don’t need to buy anything, prepare special materials, or otherwise have to be concerned with accessibility.

With Bible storying, all it takes is your own knowledge of the Bible and your willingness to tell the story with expression, sincerity, and passion. Anyone can use the basic form of Bible storying—merely knowing the story well and then telling it to someone. It appeals to young and old, rich and poor, all kinds of learners, whether literate or oral, and all kinds of cultures and religions. You can have a very mixed group of people and be storying to all of them at once.

The secret is that each person can receive exactly what they need, which may be entirely different from what another person receives at the same time. There is no one conclusion or principle being “taught.” What is happening in a Bible storying session is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to each heart and giving them the things they need the most as they open themselves up to God’s Word. The Holy Spirit reveals different things to each person depending on various factors—their experiences, their worldview, their knowledge. All will provide different perspectives to the same story.

Keep in mind that the approach to Bible storying when it is being used with literate people may be a bit different from the way you would use it with solely oral learners. The principles, however, are still the same. In their book, Truth that Sticks, Avery Willis and Mark Snowden use their experiences with Bible storying with oral learning populations to show how it can be very effectively adapted to use with literate societies, like the United States.

Here are several interesting points from their book:1

You may wonder what to do about modern relativism and cultures that teach there is no absolute truth. The answer is simple: Just tell the stories. Stories are not just illustrations to prove our points; they are vehicles of God’s truth. Even though some people won’t believe, the Word has power to both convince and convict.

I have discovered that people with PhDs also love to hear carefully told Bible stories and that you can then go as deep in meaning as you like in the dialogue if you ask the right questions.

We use Bible storying with amazing effectiveness with people of other religions. The stories usually slip under the radar of any real or imagined defenses because we are not directly confronting their beliefs or arguing with them. If they are willing to hear enough stories, there is often a cumulative effect until they can’t deny the truth of God’s Word.

Here are some comments from people who have read this book (Truth That Sticks): 2

A commonly heard objection to Bible storying is that Bible stories are just for kids. But as the authors point out, everyone loves a good story. And stories (as opposed to straight Bible exposition) have several advantages to them. When people learn stories and internalize them, they have the power to change their worldview. Stories are useful in evangelism because they are less confrontational than apologetics. They are also relational, and foster interaction better than just handing someone a tract. In the discipleship of children, parents can easily use Bible stories to teach their children the faith. Children can even take those stories and share them with other children. Stories can even be used to answer theological questions and to train leaders.—Karl

The authors testify that in their experience, “storying produces disciples who are ‘walking and talking Bibles.’” These people know their Bibles and can share them with others. The fact that storying holds out the prospect of really getting people into the Scriptures, and the Scriptures into them, is a very compelling argument for using this method.

Storying would also seem to lend itself to equipping people with Bible portions that they can share directly in evangelism, long after isolated verses have become fuzzy in their memory.—Karl

The idea is so simple that we were already practicing it with the non-reader in our house. Sunday afternoons we pull out a set of pictures we have that tell the major stories of the Bible and she asks questions about the pictures and I tell the stories. I just never thought of teaching adults, or students through stories.—Jonathan

Jesus knew the power of stories (think parables) and in fact, God inspired much of the Bible to be recorded in story form. There may well be a Bible story to illustrate every truth of scripture! Willis and Snowden unwrap “Bible storying” as a simple and effective way to use our natural love of narrative to draw people into a life-changing encounter with God’s truth. Storying need not be the only tool in the teacher’s toolbox, but it is one that can be used frequently and effectively.—Kevin

I largely minister with and to first and second generation Hispanic immigrants in the U.S., many of whom have a low literacy rate not only in English, but in Spanish as well. I’ve already begun exploring the other resources mentioned in the book and plan to begin storying in the next few weeks.—Wenci

My main “takeaway” was the importance of telling Bible stories in a way that others can repeat them to others. So often our discipleship process never reproduces. People are taught, but they never teach another what they have learned. The Bible has been preserved over these years for a reason. We need to use whatever means we have to help disciples learn its content.

I am excited about any means that gets the Word into people so they can be changed by it. “The disciple-making process is essentially helping someone replace the non-biblical portions of his or her worldview with a biblical worldview.”—Wren 

One of the large churches in the U.S., Rolling Hills, which is using Bible storying as a major evangelism/discipleship tool, had some excellent resources online. Here are a few interesting points they found beneficial in their situation that may help make Bible storying even more effective for you.  They define Bible storying as follows.

Bible storying is:

  • A way to follow what Jesus modeled as He taught using stories and parables about the kingdom of God.
  • An active group participation experience that is intended to lead to deeper understanding and application of God’s Word.
  • An opportunity for the Holy Spirit to be the leader and for us to act as facilitators drawing out what He is saying.
  • An effective tool in the discipleship process.
  • Open to everyone and a great way to include people at all phases of their spiritual journeys, including non-believers.

Bible storying is not:

  • A leader-centric, study-focused, one-right-answer type of experience.
  • A good fit for people who do not wish to participate and share openly.
  • Easy; in that it takes prayer and preparation so that God is able to use you as His vessel. [Maria: It takes practice to recount the Bible story naturally and accurately, remembering clearly the details but not reeling off a memorized script. In fact, you should not memorize the words, but make the goal to tell the story as though you are retelling an event that has just happened in your life, which you’re personally engaged in. Try to make the story “yours” and to “feel” it.]
  • Dependent on a gifted speaker or someone with lots of Bible knowledge. 

Overview of a Bible storying experience

While every Bible storying experience is different, we (the authors) recommend that you use the following basic outline:

Review: A Bible storying session usually begins by taking a few minutes to review the previous story by asking questions about what people remember, what stuck out to them, and how they put into practice what God gave them.

Hook: The hook is something that the leader uses to get people ready to hear the story. The hook can be an example, a question, a demonstration, or a personal story.

Telling the story: Begin with any information that people may need to know about the story, and then simply tell the story. Your listeners should have their Bibles closed, so they can focus on you and the story.

Replay: Facilitate group participation by having everyone open their Bibles and read the Scripture passage that you just storied. You can either have group members read the passage line by line or you can work through the Scripture passage by asking sequential questions.

Reflect (head questions): Now move to asking the group questions by first requesting that they reflect on what they just heard or learned. These are called “head” questions because they focus on what people think, know, or have learned.

Examples of head questions: 

  • What was a key to learning for you in this story?
  • What is something new that you saw?
  • What do we learn about God from this story?
  • What do we learn about people (ourselves)? 

Relate (heart questions): Then move on to relate questions, which are designed to get at what people are feeling or what is stirring in their hearts as a result of the story. This is an important step to help people move from head knowledge to more personal, heartfelt answers.

Heart questions, examples: 

  • What were you imagining when you heard the story?
  • What most stirred you about this story?
  • Tell of an experience you had that relates to this story.
  • What about this story is personally convicting to you? 

Respond (hands questions): Finish with questions that are directed at what the group members believe God is asking them to do as a result of the story. These questions focus on how they will be the “hands” of Jesus, and they often help to bring a healthy form of accountability to the group. Pay particular attention to what people share, as this will set the stage for your next storying session’s review step.

Examples of hand questions: 

  • After hearing the story, what is God asking you to begin, change, or stop?
  • Where, or in what ways, is God inviting you to join Him?
  • Who is God asking you to reach out to as a result of hearing this story?
  • Who can you share this story with during the coming week? 

Further examples of head, heart, and hands questions: 

  • What was the most important thing you learned from today’s story? What impacted you the most?
  • Was there anything that was difficult or hard to understand?
  • What choices did the people make? What else could they have done? What happened because of the choices they made?
  • Is there something in your life right now where you need to know or experience God like this?
  • Something I learned about God is… What difference will this make in your relationship with Him?
  • How can you put your new discoveries and insights into practice this week?
  • What I believe God (the Holy Spirit) is saying to me is...
  • What is God inviting you to do through this story? 

Telling the story:

Story selection: There are several ways in which stories can be grouped and told over a designated time period. There will be a core story set that we ask each group to start with, but sets can then be made: 

  • Chronological: Starting with creation.
  • Topical: There is a topic that a group is studying and the stories relating to this topic are storied.
  • Bible character: Different than chronological, in that you are getting more specific about the events in a biblical character’s life.
  • Situational: Similar to topical, in that different biblical characters are being faced with the same situation or predicament. 

Facilitating a story: Bible storying starts with the Scripture and allows the Holy Spirit to be the teacher. The role of the leader is to be a facilitator and not the Bible teacher.

Explore and experience vs. explain: The leader helps participants get into the Bible and the story and not have to explain or teach what the passage means.

Facilitate vs. teach: Everything is brought back to the story for dialogue to happen and questions to be answered.

Listen vs. speak: As a leader I want to be in a position of listening to the Holy Spirit and to the participants and not be so anxious to give the answers. This is not about my performance and results, but the Holy Spirit being able to work in and through people’s lives.

Story vs. sermon: Stories are interactive, where a sermon is a one-way conversation. 

As I try to wrap up this very big, important subject in just a few words, I want to say that I believe Bible storying is worthy of promotion. The more often people participate in the dialogue, tell stories themselves, help the group process the story, and hold each other accountable for carrying out the truth, the more they get the stories into their lives and follow the truths in them. Bible storying in the form of mime, flannel graphs, sketches (skits), chalk drawings, or putting stories to song or rhyme or chants, whether delivering it to one person or to a group, can be very effective. Bible stories, whether narrated or acted out, are all the Word, and the Word won’t return void.3

P.S. If you’ve used Bible storying in your ministries, or if you’re using it at present, I’d be very interested in hearing from you about your experiences. Perhaps we can post your testimony on one of our sites.

1 Avery T. Willis Jr. and Mark Snowden, Truth That Sticks: How to Communicate Velcro Truth in a Teflon World (NavPress, 2009).

2 Excerpted from reviewer comments on Amazon

3 Isaiah 55:11.