The Power of Stories

By Neil G.

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"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field" (Matthew 13:44). What a simple, yet compelling story—told by the greatest theologian who ever walked the earth.
 
Most of the time, Jesus taught by telling profound stories like this one. He used stories to capture the hearts of his hearers, or to confound those who rejected him. Some of his stories were based on current events, such as the disaster that occurred at the tower of Siloam.
 
"'Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish,' Jesus said" (Luke 13:4-5).
 
In Deuteronomy 6, God instructs parents to teach His precepts to children. The NIV says to impress them on your children. Moses says this is to be done during the normal routines of life: when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
 
Our family has always made dinnertime special. We ate together almost every day. Dinner was the time when we sought opportunities to impress truth on the hearts of our children. We often did this not with formal teaching, but with purposeful stories and lessons that related to what the kids faced day by day. My grandchildren now tell their own stories, complete with sound effects (like they learned from me). You never merely fall off your bike, you crash with a Slam! Bang! Pow!
 
I learned the power of storytelling while ministering in the villages of Indonesia. There I encountered some of the most intelligent people I have ever known, but many were not able to read. Initially I taught them the Scriptures in a traditional way. My friends would listen politely, but their eyes would glaze over. They couldn’t follow my style of teaching. So I began using the stories of Jesus. As the stories came to life, these farmers took the meaning to heart and began to interact.
 
One of my favorite storytellers is George McBride, an American Navigator who lives in Thailand. George lost his first wife to cancer. He is now married to Awn, who is Thai. George’s storytelling has enabled him and Awn to see the Gospel take root and grow throughout her vast extended family.
 
I was with George and his best Thai friends one warm evening. We sat on mats on the ground under a full moon and cooked our own meals over charcoal while George told stories—with a purpose. His friends were captivated.
 
Chuck Broughton, another Navigator, is also a master storyteller. Chuck came face-to-face with the need for storytelling when he began ministering in prisons. A large percentage of prisoners do not learn by reading, and Chuck began to master the art of teaching with stories. In recent years Chuck has trained many of our Navigator staff in Africa and Asia to use this approach in evangelism and discipleship. He is the best resource that I am aware of on this topic.
 
I am convinced that storytelling needs to be used more widely, even in highly literate societies. According to one survey in the U.S., 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. About 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. In these days of Internet and social media communication, educated people are reading books less often. This affects the way people learn and think.
 
So as you consider ways of impacting those around you for Christ, do the Jesus thing: tell stories! 
 
Neil is an Associate to the International Executive Team. He and his wife, Susan, have been with The Navigators for more than 40 years. In 1979, they pioneered a ministry in Indonesia. They moved to Colorado to work with the International Team in 1993.