Telling Stories

July 25, 2005 by

It’s no secret that Jesus’ use of parables in the New Testament continues to draw parallels to present day story telling. Using the arts—theater, photography, movies, books, and more—generation after generation have continued to take the lead from the Master Storyteller who walked the earth over two thousand years ago. It frustrates me greatly how only recently (within the last one hundred years) Christians—”little christs”—have lost the lead in the use of communication mediums. While I do believe this will only be a short blip on the historical timeline of “Christianity screw-ups,” I do think its implications are calamitous.

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” If only Yogi’s instruction would have been on billboards in the first half of the 1900s. Christians not only came to a fork in the road, they came right up to it and turned around! They were only one letter away from getting “holywood” and missed it on their drive back to church planting in the suburbs (did urban life have too much culture already?) and catching flights overseas for missionary work as the dawn of aviation became the answer to “go into all the world.”

Man did we miss it.

The late Bob Briner, is his book Roaring Lambs, said, “I’m afraid many in the world view us as a flock of lambs grazing in the safe pastures surrounding our churches that have been designed to blend right in with the neighborhood landscape. We’re good neighbors. We look like everyone else. And except for Sunday morning, we follow the same patterns of behavior as those who have little or no interest in religion.” He continues, “We (the church) have created a phenomenal subculture with our own media, entertainment, educational system, and political hierarchy so that we have the sense that we’re doing a lot. But what we’ve really done is create a ghetto that is easily dismissed by the rest of society.”

We must be better communicators
I recall a message from Bahamas behemoth Dr. Miles Monroe. He spoke of this Bible passage from Matthew 13:1-17:

At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories. “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. ‘Are you listening to this? Really listening?'”

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:

Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
so they won’t have to look,
so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
and let me heal them.

But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance.”

Notice the statement by Jesus, “Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.” Dr. Monroe brilliantly brings together this parable and frames the context for all other parables. Watch the disciples in the above story—the close followers of Jesus—asking intently why on earth does Jesus have to speak in parables. Why speak plain truth to those close to you and who know you, but imaginary stories with no obvious point to all of your crowds? Jesus’ response seems almost rehearsed, as if cramming his destiny into three years had already been carefully thought through while he was a twenysomething just a few years earlier. “I tell stories [to] create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.”

Jesus communicates by telling stories, duh
Dr. Monroe goes on to say that God only gives us what we ask for. He is holy. Being holy means being one, coming from the word “integrate” where we get the word integrity. If God says it, he has to do it. And if he does it, he has to be it. He cannot do something that he is not, nor be something he has not said. If he did, his holiness would be in question. That being the case, if a holy God imposed a relationship with Jesus into your life and you did not want it, he would be doing something that you did not want, thus something he can not do because by freewill your decision is to ask or ignore, which means God can not do something he is not. So when Jesus says, “That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight,” he is simply showing the disciples why telling stories is just a part of getting the gospel message through. He is not looking to cram eternal life down people’s throats or force people into a Sunday service with worship, a collection-plate-pass, and a sermon. Jesus is hiding the message inside a container that is being lowered into people’s hearts.

The passage from Isaiah reveals the psychology of the unconverted, “Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won’t have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.”

People respond to good communication—stories
Luke 11:9-10 says, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

I want to be a part of a culture—not exclusive or inclusive of the Christian bubble—that communicates well. I want to tell stories that get people to respond. I want people to ask questions about answers they don’t understand.

And I think I know the answer.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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5 Responses to “Telling Stories”

  • Brian Baute
    July 25, 2005

    Christians have absolutely dropped the ball when it comes to communications innovations. But lest we get tunnel vision and only see the communications issue, let’s not forget that while we were leading the communications revolution in centuries past we were also simultaneously selling indulgences, burning “witches”, going on Crusades (the killing-people type, not the BGEA type), colonizing new lands (read: killing or enslaving all the natives) in India, Africa, and the “New World”), and commissioning new Bible translations to curry political favor with the unwashed masses (the KJV). Just so we have a fully accurate picture of “the good old days” and how good they sometimes weren’t.

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  • Brad Abare
    July 25, 2005

    Brian thanks for your comments. Although I don’t know where you pulled any “good old days” thinking from what I said, I most certainly agree with you that our past is not perfect or even preferred. I was more or less focusing on how we missed an opportunity for continuing to be change agents and communicators. There is hope!

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  • Fifteen Minutes
    July 29, 2005

    Better communitcation

    I picked up this article via Think Christian. Its similar to this one I wrote for Relevant a few months…

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  • Tom Gilson
    July 29, 2005

    Is “innovation” the point? What we’re lacking, I think, is engaging people where they are. If we focus thoughtfully on that, innovation will take care of itself. That means telling our personal story in appealing modes, whether they are new or not; for the story is always new. It also means taking opportunities to answer questions non-believers are asking, as here.
    It also means clarifying the story propositionally when the time comes (as Jesus did with the parable of the soils).

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  • Zain
    November 26, 2005

    I think we are missing the point of scripture. The Bible states that all will come to know him. In my opinion the Christian Kingdom is not to be ran like a media giant. In that we as Christians by faith not theory are instucted by God himself to spread the gospel to the masses. Now with that being said not all Christians have they ability to speak in a fashion that would draw a crowd. What I am saying is that I believe the word is out and that there is a rivival taking place. A few quotes in the piece struck me as odd, “little Christ” and Christians screw ups. I mean the Bible is still the most sold book in history and the most published and I must say the Mel Gibson movie “The Passion” caused alot of people to look at the great sacrifice. What are we looking for perfection in our Christian family? “little Christ” and Christian screw ups are statements leaning towards a search for perfectness which cannot be obtained on this earth. God is good and he gives us the right to free will, but with that do bark at the Kingdom with a slanderous tongue. Human error in all of it’s destructive nature does not mirror the Kindom of God but the Holy Spirit which lives in us does. Through Grace God understands our imperfections. So through the holy spirit we are to understand the same imperfections in ourselves and in others. The “little….Christ and the Chistians screw ups are statements that lead me to believe that, someone has a problem with there Christian brothers and sisters. As a Christians we can’t be a part of this world. You can live on it but you can’t live in it. This world cannot be saved it cannot be fixed it is broken and Christ is coming. Brain the burning of witches is not of God nor where the crusades so when you say “we” I am not included in that. Just like I’m not included with the people who kill abortion doctors and call themselves Christians. Yes abortions are wrong and against everything that is Holy, but I would not consider myself a Christian if I layed in wait outside of a clinic and gunned someone down. Lets be careful as to who we call brother. I seem to be going into a rant sorry, I just wanted to voice my opinion on things again it’s only my opinion.

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