By: Brian Harris
Though the title might make you think this post is aimed at church preachers, it isn’t.
It was a comment made in a podcast exploring communication styles. The podcaster suggested that there is a preacher and a story teller in each of us, and that we need to soften the preacher and develop the story teller.
It’s worth thinking about. I think he was saying there is a bossy “I’m going to tell you what to do” part in us, living alongside a more winsome, “let me share my life and experience” self. Put differently, in communication I can put myself in “the expert” seat or in the “fellow traveller” compartment. Unless “the expert” is genuinely accomplished, saying things so novel and captivating that you can’t help but listen, we quickly tune out, usually with some irritation. We don’t live in an age where we welcome being told what to do, and its annoying when it happens.
But we are curious, and we love stories, and we do enjoy glimpses into the lives of others. Because of this the podcast suggested we find a way to storify communication. Even if you are leading a training session on something as technical as baking a perfect sponge cake (don’t over mix the ingredients!) wrap it up in an account of success or disappointment. And let them know why baking a perfect sponge cake matters (because cake really, really matters!)
It has set me thinking.
Is it possible for someone who is called to be a preacher (as many readers of my blog are) to fulfil their calling by learning to be a better story teller? And regardless of our calling, is it possible to have greater impact in the lives of others by developing the story teller inside of us?
As this wasn’t a Christian podcast, I was interested that it noted that the Bible tells stories really well, starting with the classic opener, “In the beginning…” In the beginning what? We lean in and listen more than than if it started “Here are the 10 things you must do by next Tuesday.”
I guess the difference between being a preacher and a story teller is the element of risk and vulnerability. When I open myself I risk your judgment of me. It might not be favourable. Indeed, you might act as a preacher and tell me 17 things I am doing that are wrong (and we usually think of preachers telling us what’s wrong, not what’s right). That evaluation might be very painful – for my story is an integral part of me in a way that a few propositions about life aren’t.
When I live from the perspective of story, I see you as a player in the account of my life. We are both different because of the encounter. In 1 Thess 2:8 Paul writes, “we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” In other words, Paul says that he shared two stories with the good folk of Thessalonica – the story of the love of God, and the story of Paul’s own life, and the extraordinary difference Jesus made for him. This was witness and testimony lived out in the context of daily life – and it transformed those who encountered it.
At a time when people are terrified of evangelism and afraid to speak a word for Jesus, why not soften your preaching voice, and simply live and tell your story? And if you are like me, once you start, you will find there are so many to tell.