The Transforming Power of Story
All of us love a good, well-told story. The power of story reaches across all ages, cultures, and educational levels. A meaningful story can wake up a sleepy listener and engage our whole brain to make deep theological truths come alive!1
I remember so well this story by one of our seminary Week of Prayer speakers:
“It happened when I was in the seventh grade. There was a little church school of eight grades with thirteen students in the whole school. Our teacher was just eighteen years old, and this was her first school. She knew her material, but she didn’t know how to control and discipline thirteen kids. She tried her best, but things got away from her, and midway through the school year, the school board met to see if she should be replaced.
“Some of the students were talking about her one day out on the playground below the schoolroom window. I came up and heard them say they didn’t think she was a very good teacher and hoped we’d get a better one.
“When everyone is agreeing on their dislike of the teacher, there is only one thing to do: join them. So, I said, ‘I don’t like her either . . .’ Just as I finished my speech, I saw movement through the open window. There was my teacher standing where she thought we couldn’t see her. But I saw her and will never forget the look of despair on her face. She was looking at the floor, with tears streaming down her cheeks. Suddenly I felt sick. I rushed home and could not sleep very well that night. I had broken someone’s heart, someone who had done the best she could for me.
“The next day, when I got to school, I had to write her a little note and ask her to forgive me. I had broken the heart of a friend. I remembered all the things she had done for us: Helping us after school, buying us nice Christmas gifts, reading to us.
“She was allowed to finish out the school year. I was glad when I heard that she is still teaching!”2
Effective stories can instill values. This one has stuck in my memory for decades. For me, it illustrates the goodness of God that leads us to heart repentance and a closer relationship with Him.
A story sticks in our memory like glue and resurfaces over time, motivating and leading to positive actions.3 Hollywood wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on story scripts if stories didn’t work so well! Rick Sessoms (see Resources on page 27), shares the following truths:
“Eighty percent of the world’s people—including seventy percent of Americans, are storycentric communicators; that is, they prefer to learn and are most likely to be influenced through stories, pictures, drama, and music rather than through reading and writing.”4 Sessoms says the problem is that over 90 percent of Christian workers today communicate through facts, theoretical concepts, analytical information, and exhortations. “This disconnect overlooks a primary method of Jesus Himself and impedes the effective cultivation of leaders in the growing global church.”5
This is so true! Jesus, our great Example of how to reach people, taught mainly through purposeful stories. “And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them” (Mark 4:33, 34a, NKJV). All of Scripture is part of the grand narrative of the great controversy between Christ and Satan and the plan of salvation, with over 70 percent of it in story or narrative form.
Much scientific research has been done proving the powerful results of story. Reviews from over 350 research studies representing 15 separate fields of discipline concluded, without one dissenting view, that story is an effective vehicle for teaching, motivating, and general communication of facts as well as concepts.6
Our hope for this special Ministry issue is that it will help each of us to ask the Lord whether we need to make adjustments for our communication to be as effective as Jesus’. We must use a variety of methods when sharing the gospel with others. Bullet points, exhortations, and PowerPoint slides can be helpful, but be sure to also include purposeful stories.
We have asked some of the best specialists in this topic to share how to use meaningful stories that can reach and change people. It begins with Richard Duerksen’s great lead article on narrative preaching and teaching. Pat Gustin focuses on Bible story.
Kleber Gonçalves discusses postmodern people and the millennial generation and their preference for story. Amy Whitsett and Gideon Peterson both have moving articles on their experiences in reaching people of totally different worldviews and seeing the Lord change them through stories.
Ask the Lord to give you the stories He wants told to meet His needs in your people. Let’s tell the stories God provides, and watch how He transforms lives through His stories!
Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.comments powered by Disqus
- For more information, read Leo Widrich, “The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story Is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains,” Lifehacker.com, December 5, 2012, www.lifehacker.com/the-science-of-storytelling-why...
- This is a shortened version of the story as published in Morris Venden, How to Make Christianity Real (Arroyo Grande, CA: Concerned Communications, 1984), 61–63. Available on Amazon.com.
- This concept was gleaned from Richard Duerksen, Storycatcher: Powerful Stories That Will Impact Your Spiritual Journey (Madrid, Spain: Safeliz, 2019).
- Rick Sessoms, Leading With Story: Cultivating Christ-Centered Leaders in a Storycentric Generation (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2016), back cover.
- Sessoms, Leading With Story, back cover.
- Kendall Haven, Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007), 4.