What We Can Learn From the Storyteller

Part 1 in a series on life-changing habits

Have you ever driven to work or dropped the kids off at school and then suddenly realized that you had no idea what happened between your departure and your arrival?

The habits that we foster and the things that we do repeatedly in life, nearly without thought, have a powerful impact on our lives. Knowing this, what might happen if we began to intentionally shape the habits that we develop?

This practice of habit-forming is actually a biblical concept. Paul appealed to the brothers and sisters in Rome: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2 ESV). He also urged fellow believers, in an ongoing battle for truth, to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV).

After reading the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, the ReachGlobal Africa Division Leadership Team identified three habits with the potential to create a positive ripple effect from the inside out. Like one domino pushes another, our vision is that the habits applied in one area will impact many other areas of life and ministry, becoming building blocks within the culture of our ReachGlobal division.

In this scenario, identifying the right habits was crucial. Habits have the potential to set a long-term trajectory that is difficult to change; habits are hard to break. When we pondered which three habits we should pursue as a team, we spent time in prayerful consideration and sensed God leading us toward story, collaboration and rest.

At first glance, these habits may seem arbitrary and devoid of biblical connection. But as we have explored these three themes, we’ve found a gold mine of purpose and biblical substantiation. In this article, I want to unpack the habit of story, and then follow up with subsequent articles about collaboration and rest.

Learning from the Storyteller

Just as God created music and the arts for a purpose, He also created story and is the mastermind of the story.

Approximately 75 percent of the Bible is narrative. Why? From my perspective, God communicates to us in the way in which He has created us. Songs and stories are both tools of worship in the temple of the Old Testament and in the Church of the New Testament. When Jesus wanted to cut to the heart of a matter, He often used a parable to get there. Despite the linear approach that many in our culture have adopted in communicating the Word, as evidenced by our quest for the perfect three-point outline, what we remember most vividly are the songs and stories that we sing and hear. Why? Because stories and songs engage the creative side of our brain. They awaken our imagination and give us real life, memorable hooks upon which we can hang truth. Jesus was a masterful storyteller. If we want to learn how to tell a great story, we should start studying the parables that He used in His teaching.

Our love of stories is not simply a cultural characteristic but a deeply human, imago Dei characteristic.
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In the world of our ReachGlobal division, many countries in Africa have an oral, story-based culture. Therefore, a key to effectively communicating the gospel across much of the continent is to be a good storyteller.

But is this only true in Africa? I don’t think so. Our love of stories is not simply a cultural characteristic but a deeply human, imago Dei characteristic. We were created in the image of the Storyteller who started with “In the beginning…” Wherever you are in the world, if you understand the art of telling a captivating story, you’ll win over your audience, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or culture.

Ripple effects

What happens when we begin to develop the habit of story in our lives? What are some of the ripple effects?

From the perspective of a missionary, pursuing stories to reach communities can be fairly pragmatic. Stories also help us to fundraise effectively. Those who give usually give to help people. We’re all motivated to give when we hear well-told stories about how people’s lives are being changed.

On a broader scale, stories build morale. As the Bible has shown us, retelling the stories of God’s sovereign hand in our lives, both in the good and the bad, renews our perspectives. Stories build the bonds of community and remind us of who we are and to Whom we belong. Stories motivate us toward where God is leading us together.

How might the use of a story-based approach change the impact of your teaching or preaching?
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Think about it: How often do we sit around a table or a campfire or a living room with family and friends, telling and retelling, with laughter and tears, the stories of our lives? When we do this, we reflect the image of our God and activate one of the most important purposes of His story: to remember and retell His goodness.

So, what’s the story that God is writing in your life and in the lives of those around you? Have you shared those stories lately?

How might the use of a story-based approach change the impact of your teaching or preaching? As was demonstrated many times through the fruitfulness of Jesus’ teaching, people tend to take greater ownership of what they learn through thought-provoking questions after a story, rather than through answers that are merely given to them.

Finally, when we think of becoming more like God, we often think of characteristics like holiness or lovingkindness. But what if we sought to uncover some the germane characteristics that we tend to overlook? God is holy, and His steadfast love never comes to an end, but He is also the Storyteller, Collaborator, and Originator of Rest. What might change in our lives if we strive to become more like Him in these ways?

In the next article in this series, we’ll look at God as the Collaborator and consider the potential impact of the development of a habit of collaboration. In the meantime, think of a good story to and go share it with someone.

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