Three men, one problem...
To mark World Storytelling Day, Nate Morgan-Locke shares his thoughts on the place of story in our evangelism. Nate is our Associate Evangelist. He currently lives in the US with his wife and children where he studies at Westminster Theological Seminary.
Three men were standing behind the one-way mirror looking through at the young children sitting at the table in the next room.
The challenge before them: how to get the children to eat their Chicken Pot Pie?
The first man went through. He began with Strongly Articulated Commands, like: “Eat the food.” And then a Rhetorical Question: “What did Daddy say?”. And finally the Profound Word: “Do as you are told.” It worked to a point, but once the man left the room, and the children thought they were alone, they hid the pie crust in their pockets and fed it to their dog.
The second man went in. He took a softer approach. He sat down next to the children and wiped the tiny tears from their cheeks. He asked if they would like something different to eat. They nodded. The man gave them ice cream and chocolate and Sugar Crisp cereal with milk at just the right temperature.
The man left the room and the children became monsters, who lived in caves they thought were palaces, and broke off the chains of all who dared bind them with inconvenience.
The third man walked in. The same children who had fed the pie crust to their dogs and become monsters were now remarkably returned to their earlier pie-refusing selves.
The man sat down and started to whistle the main title theme of the 1992 film Last of the Mohicans (but the children didn’t recognize it because they were too young). With his hands he mimed the playing of a fiddle.
Once they were attentive, he told them a story. A story about three men who were standing behind a one-way mirror trying to work out how to get some children to eat Chicken Pot Pie...
I am all of these men and this is inspired by a true story. But in a funny kind of way you are all these men too. And if we (as the Church) want to reach others with the gospel we need to be all three.
We need to state (as simply and boldly and clearly as possible) the propositional truth and imperatives. We also need to be prepared to sit alongside, to wipe away tears and to ask people questions and allow them the freedom to respond. But also we need storytellers who help people see life from a different perspective.
What makes the Life Explored series distinctive is that it features this third approach, using films to engage people with stories. That’s not to say it doesn’t involve the others too: each session includes simple, bold and clear Bible teaching, and it’s ultimately delivered (in real life) by people living in community, caring for others and offering hospitality.
I’m not saying the story approach will always work - that would be ‘methodolatry’ - and I’m definitely not saying that the other two approaches shouldn’t be used. They absolutely should! I’m saying it’s an additional way forward. It’s a both/and.
The idea of Story has been increasingly embraced by the evangelical Church over the past few years (most excitingly by university students in the UK) but this ought not be a fad.
I fear we may be guilty of the Inigo Montoya Fallacy from The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
We can’t just call everything a Story and write an X in a Cultural Engagement box. We need more conversations about the very nature of stories and what’s involved in telling them.
What do you think? Does storytelling have a place in our evangelism? What should this look like?
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