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Sharing the Gospel through Story

Learn to transition ordinary conversations into sharing Christ

It is far easier to introduce storytelling than traditional evangelism openers. For example, you might simply say, "I've been learning to tell stories. The trainer has asked us to practice each story with ten people. Would you be willing to listen to a five-minute story and tell me if you understood it?"

A friend of mine has used this approach: "I love stories. Do you? Could you tell me one and then I'll tell you one?" This works especially well for someone working cross-culturally and wanting to hear stories from that culture. This way you can be learning language and culture at the same time as sharing the gospel.

Sue was a new Christian who wondered how God could use her to share stories. She had one skill—hairdressing—and just enough money to rent one room and cut hair. Every time she cut someone's hair, she offered a "free story" as a gift. Many people accepted this bonus offer. Over time she saw numbers of people accepting the greatest gift of all.

Another approach is to establish a reputation as a storyteller. When someone asks, "What do you do?" you could say something like, "I'm a teacher—but what I really love to do is tell stories." Establishing this reputation means you'll seldom have to start a gospel conversation from scratch. People will start asking you for stories. Sometimes this is as easy as carrying a prop with you. I started telling stories in a park and discovered that carrying a small pink plastic stool with me signaled to people that it was story time.

After moving to a new house, Bronwyn went to buy new shower curtains. A saleswoman smiled at her, leading to a brief conversation about Bronwyn's surprising ability to speak Mandarin. "Are you a teacher?" the saleswoman finally asked.

"No, I'm a storyteller," Bronwyn replied. The conversation finished and Bronwyn moved on. A few minutes later the saleswoman came looking for her. She wanted to know where Bronwyn told stories and to whom. Bronwyn explained that the stories were for anyone, at any place; yes, even at McDonald's. "To my excitement, she gave me her name and number so that I could contact her and arrange a time to come and tell stories," Bronwyn reports.

You can also wear something that sparks curiosity. A T-shirt that contains questions, symbols from early stories or a Bible verse might stimulate questions, to which you can reply, "There's a story that goes with this shirt."

I wear a necklace with the Chinese character for "righteousness." This is an unusual character to wear and I chose it because others, such as "love," are commonly worn by nonbelievers and wouldn't garner much attention. I hoped people would ask me why I wore that character, especially when they realized it was not linked with my Chinese name.

One day I had a meal with a traditional Chinese family at a restaurant. I was seated opposite two women in their 20s at a long table. The younger one asked me why that character was on my necklace. I asked her what she thought the word meant and then told her it was linked to the stories I tell. However, I warned her that a thorough answer would require me to tell a long series of stories because the answer was contained in stories four, five, six and thirteen. I promised to not tell them in their entirety. Intrigued, the girl and her sister listened to the whole basic set. I drew several pictures on my paper placemat. They became animated as they worked out the significance of why Jesus was crucified on Passover and why the temple curtain ripped at his death.

On another occasion I cleared customs too early at the airport and so had to fill in time. I wandered through some of the duty-free shops and a lady at the jewelry counter inquired about my necklace. She and another sales associate listened to my first two stories, then I explained about the lamb and bridged into how Jesus was the lamb who came to "take away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). I left them with a small portion of Scripture, Genesis 1–4. For my next flight I again arrived early, hoping to follow up.

I discovered that these women had told two others, a man and a woman, and they'd all read the Scripture portion. I now have to turn up early each time I fly as there are five people who've heard stories up to the exodus and are waiting to hear more.

Questions are another great way to bridge into stories. For example, ask, "How do you think the world got here?" Listen to the person's point of view (this is essential), then ask if you can tell a story you believe addresses that question. Another easy conversation starter: "Why is the world such a painful place to live in?" Almost everyone has an opinion on that. Listen first to that opinion, then ask if you can tell a story. You can still tell the creation story first by saying, "The world was originally perfect. Can I tell a five-minute story about that first and then explain what went wrong?" Letting people know the length of the stories is useful because it lets them know this won't be an endless conversation from which there is no escape.

Mr. and Mrs. Lim, handbag sellers, had just experienced a natural disaster that buried their hometown in mud 12 feet deep. They shared their grief and pain, which enabled me to ask (very gently), "Why do such terrible things happen?" Their viewpoint was formed by their religious upbringing. They wondered what terrible sin their town and they as individuals had committed to result in this disaster. Our discussion led me to tell the Genesis 1–3 stories. Normally I would tell these in two separate sessions, but that day it was the second part they needed to hear. Rather than skip the creation section, I used it to set up the contrast between the perfect world God created and the current one marred by sin.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where there's no interest in stories. A "pre-story" that keeps some details under wraps might be one way to arouse curiosity. I've just started experimenting with this method with an older couple who are not ready to hear the creation story. Their adult children have heard many stories, but I would like the whole family to listen together in hopes that this extended family might become a new house church.

In Taiwan the seventh lunar month (about August) is "ghost" month. The Taiwanese believe that the spirits of people whose families don't worship them or provide for their needs at this time are released from hell. During ghost month families need to make three offerings at specific times and follow certain rituals. One evening during ghost month I told a story at a crowded meal table.

Before the story I asked, "What do the Taiwanese fear?" My dinner companions mentioned ghosts and spirits, graveyards, the dark and death. I asked about ghost month and why they made their offerings. Did they truly believe in ghosts or were they just following a tradition? Some of the family really seemed to believe in ghosts, while younger members just did the rituals to keep their elders happy. After listening to their responses, I told this story:

Two thousand years ago there lived a man who terrified his neighbors. He was possessed by a group of ghosts, or evil spirits. He lived in the local graveyard next to the sea, and was so wild that he didn't wear clothes, he cut himself, and he often cried out in a loud voice. The local people tried to restrain him with chains, but the spirits made him so strong that he just snapped those.

One day a boat drew up to the shore next to the graveyard. A man got out and 12 others followed him. When the spirit-possessed man saw the first man, he ran and fell to his knees in front of him and said, "What do you want with me, son of the most high God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For the man from the boat had already told the spirits to leave. The spirits begged the man not to send them into the abyss. Instead, they asked permission to go into a large herd of pigs. They did and were drowned.

The pig herders ran into the local town and told everyone what had happened. The people came to see, and right away they noticed the man dressed and in his right mind sitting at the stranger's feet. The people were afraid and they asked the stranger to leave. The freed man begged to go with go with the men in the boat, but he was told, "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So that is what the man did.

Originally I told the story with Jesus' name included, but now think it would have been better to be vague and ask, "Who was this stranger who had such power?" I concluded by saying, "This story comes from a book of stories. It's toward the end. I'd love to tell you stories from the beginning and then tell you more about this man."

The town where I live is a fishing port. My coworker and I spend time each week walking and praying for our town street by street. We've met several groups of fishermen chatting and drinking tea. I think telling a few of the Bible's fishing stories would lead to interest in hearing more. I could perhaps tell these as "fish stories," such as, "Have you heard the one about a man who lived three days in the belly of a fish?" Or, "Have you heard the story about the men who caught so many fish that their boat nearly sank?" Or, "Did you hear about the fisherman who walked on water?" Pre-stories could be selected to communicate with farmers, business people, medics, prostitutes and tax collectors.

Though you might think finding an opening for stories is difficult at first, it becomes easier with practice and as God gives you confidence. Lynne recalls her early experiences of telling stories in Central Asia:

Over the last four years I have sat at an uncountable number of local parties, and each of them was the same. We would sit on the floor around a tablecloth filled with bread and sweets, about 20 ladies in the room, and the ladies would gossip while I would sit there silent and frustrated, wishing I could share something that would lead them to know the Lord but not knowing where to begin. Starting is always the hardest, isn't it?

Then as I began to grow in confidence telling the creation and Fall stories to individual women, I started to realize that there are opportunities to begin all over the place. The more I would tell the stories, the more links and ways to begin I would see. I also noticed that the Lord was prompting me and I was often just too fearful to open my mouth. By the time I got up the courage, the conversation would have moved on. I determined that, with the Lord's help, I would try to act immediately on any idea he gave me.

Surprise, surprise, at the very next party I went to, a lady had come back from years living as a "foreigner" and "stranger" in Russia and spoke of how hard it was. They all turned to me and commiserated with me that I was also away from my homeland. There was my opportunity! "But I hope you realize that I'm not the only foreigner here," I said. "Actually we are all foreigners, away from our true homeland because none of us are in the special place God created for us. Let me tell you a story from the holy book . . . "

Do Whatever God Leads You to Do!

If we're doing Bible storying it is never a waste of time. Stories are so powerful that they will have an impact on people's lives now or decades into the future. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share a whole set with someone but even better to share more.

Lynne reflects more of her early storying experiences:

Two things had really been holding me back from storying more widely and more often. The first was that as a woman I felt I should not share stories with men. There were many reasons for this: my church background, which is strongly against women teaching men, an assumption that my message would be ignored because in this [Muslim] culture men do not normally take advice from women, and so on.

The second barrier was that I felt embarrassed to retell a story in front of someone who had already heard it. My Westerner's brain reasoned that it would be boring for them to hear it over again.

Long taxi drives are wonderful places to practice telling stories. The passengers are bored and the driver likes anything that helps keep him awake. So on a long and dusty trip to the capital city, over two mountain passes with perilous drop-offs littered with car corpses, I began telling my first few stories to a local friend I was traveling with. I needed the practice and she desperately needed something to take her mind off how carsick she felt. The stories were rough-and-ready—but all the people in the jeep listened in.

A week later was the return journey, with the same friend and same driver and two new passengers. One of the new passengers, a man, was intrigued by something I said, and when I said it was explained in a story, he pressed me to tell it. But the driver and my friend had heard before! And two of the listeners were men! God was about to change my assumptions and free me from lies that were stopping his word from going out.

So I told the first two stories. I have never had a car full of people so engaged. The taxi driver even began to help me to tell the story. Although my language was understandable, he began to throw in idioms and jokes that really made the story come alive in their language.

Try It

As you consider this method of evangelism, what do you struggle with in implementing it? What needs to change in your life so that you can prioritize people and focus on evangelism? What do you fear most in evangelism? What words in Scripture would speak directly to these fears? What method for sharing the first story appeals most to you? What other ideas do you have?

Finally, go out and try telling a story you've learned to five to ten people. Rate your experiences as:

a. Positive: The person was interested.

b. Neutral: The person listened but didn't interact or ask questions.

c. Negative: The person became angry or asked not to hear any more stories.

What did God teach you from your storying experiences?

Taken fromTelling the Gospel Through Story: Evangelism That Keeps Hearers Wanting Moreby Christine Dillon. Copyright(c) 2012 by Christine Dillon. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.

September10, 2012 at 8:28 AM

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