I recently read an excerpt from Henri Nouwen in his book the Living Reminder: Service and Praying in Memory of Jesus Christ.1 He says, “The rabbis guide their people with stories; ministers usually guide with ideas and theories. We need to become storytellers again.” I concur.
In this issue of Lausanne World Pulse we give attention to what is now termed in mission circles as the “Orality Project.” I thoroughly enjoyed the article by Carla Bowman titled, “The Storytellers of Dulumpur.” It is in fact about Dulumpur, Vietnam, Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad, and Mauritania. Through storytelling primarily utilizing the narratives of scripture, ministers of the gospel are seeing marvelous responses from people in cities and villages around the world.
I only wish Carla would have spoken of the value of storytelling preaching in London, Sydney, Chicago, and Vancouver as well. Perhaps that is more the responsibility of someone like me. The masters-level course I teach at Wheaton College on preaching combines instruction on the theology of the gospel, and how to speak it in the West and in the Majority World.
I believe story is the best container for the gospel for all listeners, everywhere in the world. But a caution: story proclamation is not easy. It is an art form in itself. It requires a blending of the cognitive, which is the organ for reason, and the imagination, which is the organ for meaning. Further, it requires that gospel speakers learn to present their biblically-centered messages in increasingly compelling ways utilizing the best in dramatic art that is available.
I don’t wish to overcomplicate the challenge, but I do wish to engender a healthy respect for effective evangelism preaching (which I believe best happens through the form of story). Let me take the reader back to Nouwen again:
The story confronts, but does not oppress; the story inspires, but does not manipulate. The story invites us to an encounter a dialog, a mutual sharing. A story that guides is a story that opens a door and offers us space in which to search and boundaries to help us find what we seek. As long as we have stories to tell each other, there is hope. As long as we can remind each other of the lives of men and women in whom the love of God becomes manifest, there is reason to move forward to new land in which new stories are hidden.
I commend to every reader who publicly shares the gospel of Jesus Christ to become a student of the art of gospel storytelling. And as an encouragement, just remember that our Master was the master of the art—so he is the perfect example!
1. 1984. New York: HarperOne.