More Strategies for Telling Repeatable Evangelistic Bible Stories

Perhaps the most famous and most memorable speech in the last one hundred years was the speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963.  Delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., the “I have a dream” speech is still quoted and still referenced today more than fifty years later.  Of course, the topic of America’s sin of racism was dramatic and monumental importance to say the least, but it was the structure of the speech, the hooks and the rhythm, the mystery that followed the hook that causes the speech to resonate and be repeatable to this day.   Surely, there were other great speeches against racism, actions such as the march over the Selma bridge in Alabama, the imprisonment of Mandela in South Africa and the Down with Apartheid movement, the writings of Henry David Thoreau against discrimination, and even the writings of the Supreme Court Justice in the key decision of Brown vs. The Board of Education that led to the dissolution of separate but equal system.  But nothing rings louder than those simple four words, “I have a dream.”  In that speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. started six different paragraphs with those four words and followed those words with examples of life without the racism that he personally experienced.  Every time he said those words, the listen waited for what would follow and whether you remembered the paragraph or not, you walked away with the significance of “I have a dream”…..of life without racism.

That is the strategy of memorable, repeatable, bible storying.  It is that the listener would walk away with the story engraved on his heart and stored in his mind.  That is the goal of bible storying, to tell a story in such a way that it is impacting, that it invites reflection on the listener’s spiritual condition, and ultimately leads them to repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior, and that they don’t forget that commitment and can hide that story in their heart and repeat it.

It is with those strategies, those goals in mind, that we approach storytelling and ask first, what does the listener need to hear in order to be open to receiving Jesus and second, how do we tell it.  We discussed beginning to formulate a strategy of what a people group needs to hear in order to understand Jesus as Savior in a previous article.  [1]  And last week we began discussing mnemonics of the parables that Jesus told, looking at patterns to make a story memorable for both the teller and the listener. [2]  This week we are further examining devices, or tools, to make the stories penetrate the mind and heart.

More tools

A bible story is just that: A story.  In other words, a story is not a harmony of many stories, not a conglomeration of stories and it is not a systematic theology or teaching.  It is interesting that many other cultures learn through story and not through a factual statement.  That means that here in the United States we might factually state that God is all powerful.  But in another culture a story will communicate that fact better.  For example, if we tell a story as God always existing and creating the spirit world, the story communicates that God is creator, everything else was made by Him and therefore, He is over everything else.  That is story. 

A story that is told for memorability and repeatability should aim to not be longer than three minutes.  That’s not to say that they can’t be longer than three minutes, it is just the goal to shoot for three minutes.  Dramas and story in song are exceptions but they have another kind of device that keeps the listener involved-more about that in a moment.  Three minutes is enough time to bring one idea into the story.  Stories are not movies and they are not sermons, but they can be at the start of a sermon and that will often drive home the meaning of the sermon or open the door for the sermon.

Good stories are told with pace and flow.  If you were to hear a story with an emotional high pitched tone throughout, you would begin to get weary and it could lose some of its effect.  Stories should have a rhythm but with highs and lows just like a song.

 Avoid science speak and Christianese.  I once heard a kind and wonderful preacher give a sermon on the streets to Atlanta to a group of homeless and hungry men and women.  She spoke of the balm of Gilead and how desired the Shekinah glory of God.  No one had a clue as to what she was talking about.  Tell a story like you were telling it to your younger sister.  You are not trying to impress anyone-let the story make the impression.

If you can, choose a strong colorful sound bite.  I have a dream is a perfect example.  In the creation story you might say, “Before there was anything, there was God.”  That phrase can be repeated, “Before there was man, there was God.  Before there were animals, there was God.  Before there were angels, there was God.”  And go on from there, but be careful not to overdo it. 

 Use different voices when appropriate or perhaps two or three teenagers can tell one story that has more than one character.

If it is possible or especially in the case of drama, have the audience participate.  My wife wrote a wonderful and well received drama about the creation of man and the sin of man (dramas can sometimes take on more than one story).  Prior to her telling the story she asked the audience to boo every time she narrated the word, devil, and to cheer every time she narrated the word, God.  It was fun and memorable for all.

This brings me to an interesting thing about drama in other cultures.  Drama is well received when it is narrated.  It makes the play easier to follow and it is easier for some of the people on your team to participate.  Team members do not even need to understand the language to follow simple instructions to act out a drama.  But please, be sure and practice.

Next Tuesday we continue with devices and strategies to tell memorable and repeatable stories.

[1] Evangelism Through Story

[2]  Storytelling Strategies for Discipleship

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