How to Tell a Story

I spend my life as a pastor and preacher but most often I am a storyteller. Some people need to hear simple stories that help them understand the Bible. Some people require stories to let them know the Christian life is a real and can be lived out. Stories reveal, stories captivate, stories raise questions and stories help us understand deep truth.

I do not just use stories in my preaching. I use them in almost every form of teaching that I do. A good story can change worlds and form ideas in every realm of truth. Jesus was the master of this in a form of teaching called parables. Those simple stories that still capture our imagination 2,000 years later.

With that said, I think that every Christian needs a full backpack of stories that they can draw upon to share the gospel, explain the Bible and challenge people in their faith. Most of us think we are good storytellers, but in reality most people I encounter are terrible at it.

So today I would like to share some tips on how to tell good stories, especially when talking about faith.

1. Don’t Be the Hero of Every Story – This is the biggest mistake I hear people make in Christian storytelling. People get tired of hearing about all of your accomplishments. The same is true for stories about your children.

2. Put the Spotlight on Other People – This second one follows the first. Tell about the successes of other people. Share stories that make other people look good.

3. Share Your Flaws More than Your Victories – If you want to share a story of how bad people act then go to your own stories. This demonstrates honesty and humility while disarming the people who want to throw stones because they think you have it all together in Christ.

4. Tell Stories That Share Common Experiences – Telling people about that time you were scuba diving off the coast of Africa loses people’s attention. A story about dealing with crazy people in traffic draws us into your story because we all have been there.

5. Think Like a Child – Disney and Pixar have mastered the art of telling stories for children that also engage adults. Simple is always better in storytelling. Great stories take the very complex and make it understandable not vice versa.

6. Use Humor (When possible and when appropriate) – Humor connects and disarms. I think certain places and topics are off-limits. Most of the time a good funny story is captivating.

7. Fully Develop Stories – Details make a story better. Which sounds better to you? “I was in the car with a bug that scared me” or “a huge wasp somehow got into our car. He buzzed around my ear and I thought it was a fly until I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I have always been afraid of getting stung so …” Do you hear the difference?

8. Lose Your Nervous Tick – “Um” and my least favorite “It was like, like, like … um … you know.”

9. Make Sure Your Stories are Christian – This applies to topics and language, but it is also about content. I cringe when I hear a preacher tell a story about world changing and use a secular humanist as their example. Tell me about something that underlines faith in action.

10. Listen To People Who Tell Stories Well, and Learn From Them – I listen to sermons, comedians, Garrison Keillor, older people. I watch movie development along with the plot in books. I notice things that catch my attention and try to replicate those.

I know these are simple ideas. It is very possible you will forget most of them. Probably many of you think you have mastered them. I really doubt you have. I know I haven’t. My hope is that I get better and better at telling stories so that I can share God’s story. I don’t care if people like me, but I want them to know God and stories are one of the best ways I know to do it.

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