Storytelling Strategies for Discipleship

In this article we are investigating storytelling strategies for discipleship, evangelism, and bible teaching; in other words, how to tell a good story and what we want that story to accomplish.  In our former articles we examined using stories as a tool for discipleship and evangelism, a strategy in selecting stories, what is necessary for a listener to know in order to become a follower of Christ, and we offered a twelve story plan for evangelism in animist cultures, as well as stressing the appeal of stories for short term missions groups.  (Click here for the first article, “Discipleship Through Story,” and on this title for “Evangelism Through Story”).

What is the goal of telling a bible story?

Strategies for story telling

Women listen to a story

What do we hope to accomplish with story?  The first goal should be obvious; we want the listener to be able to receive the story or stories from the Bible and/or our personal story, with an open heart in order to receive Jesus Christ as their own savior.  As illustrated in the previous article, stories have a way of opening hearts and breaking defensive barriers.  A good story produces an emotional response and often causes the listener to relate. 

Second, we want the story to be memorable.  A story needs to be memorized by us, the storyteller, in a manner that makes that story consistent to us and so that we don’t leave out important parts.  But we also want to make a story memorable for the listener so that it can lead to being repeatable.    

Third, ideally, a good story is repeatable.  When a gospel story is repeatable, the listener can become an evangelist immediately.  In Bolivia, my wife Rhonda (M.A. Intercultural Studies, TEDS) told the salvation story, basically a Roman’s road story using a Gospel Cube [1].  An Aymara man was listening and was giving a lot of consideration to what she was saying.  He received Jesus as Savior for his own life, but before Rhonda could leave he touched her arm and stopped her and he asked her how he could remember the story so that he could tell it to his wife.  Rhonda started the story again, sharing each step in a way the man could remember it and repeat it.  Now that’s spreading the gospel.   

Methods to reach the goals

The use of story has always been popular.  It is one of the biggest sources of entertainment and a multi-billion dollar industry here in the United States.  Book publishers are at an all time high, and movies and television shows are the number one forms of leisure time activity. Even the business world has adapted their business presentations to include stories to drive home their platforms.  Many of the story strategies for these popular uses apply to telling bible stories and personal testimonies, but there are some that stand out more than others.

Mnemonics is a device or tool that help the storyteller memorize the story.  After all, forgetting part of an essential story is like a person who is telling a joke but forgets the punch line.  As I pointed out in the first article, Jesus used a pattern when telling many stories.  The story of the two debtors is an ABCCBA pattern that makes it easy to memorize and easy to repeat.

A There were two debtors
B They owed a certain moneylender
C One owed 50, the other 500
C Neither could pay
B When they could not pay the moneylender
A He forgave their debt.

Remember, Jewish society, although sophisticated in many respects, was still orally dependent and many people did not read, and reading material was simply not available.  Not everyone had their own copy of their own scrolls of the Old Testament.  Therefore, many Old Testament passages fit this literary structure.

Look at the ABCD-ABCD parallelism pattern of Isaiah 55:10, 11.

A For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
B. And return not thither but water the earth,
C. Making it bring forth and sprout,
D. Giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
A. So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth
B. It shall not return to me empty
C. But it shall accomplish that which I purpose
D. And prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

The A=it is going
B=not returning
D=the result

Although more complicated and much longer, the story of the Good Samaritan of Luke 10 can be broken down into this literary structure as well. [2]

The first parts has a 3 part parallelism:  ABC-ABC-ABC

A. The person traveled.
B. Something happened.
C. The result. 

  1. A. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and
    B. he fell among thieves who stripped him and beat him, and departed
    C. leaving him half dead.
  2. A. By chance, a priest was going down that road
    B. And he saw him
    C. He passed by on the other side.
  3. A. So likewise a Levite, came to the place
    B. And saw him
    C. But passed by on the other side.

Then there is a break, there is a change marked by the BUT and the pattern changes: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2, D1, D2 (notice the two things that are done in each level)

  1. A. a Samaritan, journeyed down the road and came to where he was
    B. And when he saw him he had compassion.
    C. He went to him and bound his wounds
    D. He poured on oil and wine
    Then there is a return to the ABC pattern
  2. A. When he departed (notice the return to journey as in the first pattern)
    B. He took out money and paid the host
    C. For the host to take care of him
  3. A. When I come again
    B. Whatever the cost
    C. I will repay

The pattern is more complex, but being aware of the pattern can make a story teller retell this story the same each and every time without leaving out important points.  Keep in mind that the pattern can be structured in different ways.  The point is to make it memorable and repeatable.

 Start thinking in terms of mnemonics to help you memorize.  Use the above examples, see if it is not easier for you to memorize and tell it the same way consistently.  In our fourth article we will look at some other tools to help the story and then we will start doing the stuff, telling stories, using these tools and asking ourselves what can be learned through the story we are telling.


[2] See Bailey, Kenneth E., Through Peasant Eyes, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980.


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