What is Storying?

Previously I wrote about why I thought story was a key missional practice in reaching and effectively discipling both traditionally oral and functionally non-literary hearers.  In literary societies the priority lies mainly with the teller, we read books and attend lectures or sermons by experts.  However in a non-literary context, “The missional mind-set places the priority on the hearer, not the teller.”[1]

This is not to discount the role of the storyteller or relativize all truth to purely subjective experience.  There is objective truth but there is also a subjective interaction and appropriation of that truth to the individual and a community.  Storying invites an interaction with an objectively true biblical story in such a way that those who participate are learning, discussing and engaging with the story firstly at a subjective level that invites them to consider whether this story fits with their experience of the world.  If it does they must then consider whether it is objectively true.

But what does it “look like” to do Biblical storying?[2]

REWRITE the biblical story keeping close to the biblical details but looking to simplify (e.g. remove details like place names, less significant people etc) and highlight repetition, turning points, tension and eventual resolution.  This is not a creative retelling (e.g. modernised setting), although this type of story may be helpful in itself; negatively it detract from the biblical text and limits reproducibility.  The average story ought to be about three minutes long.

REVIEW: Begin each storying session with a review of the previous story or stories as a group.  “Who can remember the story we did the last time?”  Try not to move on to the new story until everyone is up to speed.

TELL: Tell the story from beginning to end, resist the temptation to stop and add extra information or explain something. Stick to the story!  Be real and natural.  Be yourself, relax and have fun.  Use your voice to “explain” the story- change the tone, pace, volume as the story requires.  Do not read the story- tell the story.  Storying works best when the storyteller memorizes the story.

RETELL the story as a group asking everyone to participate in the retelling.  You could also retell it in pairs or smaller groups, or even have one person attempt to retell the story with help from the group.  To literary learners this may seem redundant and they may be tempted to skip this step.  Oral learners are comfortable with repetition and this is a key step for aiding memory and creating a reproducible story culture.

REFLECT: The storyteller leads the group in a time of dialogue and reflection on the story. This is not the time for the teacher to preach or for the expert to engage in a Question and Answer time.  This is a time to guide listeners to discover the truths in the story NOT from YOU.   For those of us who are teachers, this requires us to let go of our need to be the expert and allow the Bible story to do its work through the group’s reflection on the story. The teacher will aim to direct the group with a few well-chosen thoughts or questions.

The leader will always simultaneously look to direct questions back to the story and redirect questions back to the group.  Learning to ask the right kind of questions is a key skill for this to work well.  Learning to be patient is also key; allow time for people to process, for differing opinions, tensions, questions and wondering.  This is not a curriculum; this is not a rush to see who learnt the most from the story and who can get the right answers.  Storying is an invitation to reflect, to meditate, to wonder and to enter the world of the story and explore it, pick it up, turn it over, take it apart, put it back together and as we do that to God’s story, the Holy Spirit does the same thing to us.

Mark Miller says it well:

“A sermon tells people what to think.  A story forces people to do the thinking for themselves.  It can feel dangerous because it allows for interpretation… Do we trust people and the Holy Spirit enough to allow them to think for themselves?  Can we leave something open-ended, knowing the conclusions might not come until later that day, week, month or year?  Can we allow people to own the stories?  Or do we do all of the interpreting and leave nothing to the imagination?… In our attempts to make the Gospel clear, we have often squeezed the life out of it.  Jesus’ parables were intriguing, open to interpretation, playful, interesting.”[3]

[1] Mark Miller: Experiential Storytelling (Zondervan: 2003); p45 cited in Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p54.

[2] Drawing from Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p61.  And Caesar Kalinowski: Story of God Training

[3] Mark Miller: Experiential Storytelling (Zondervan: 2003); p37,41 cited in Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p63.

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