There is something very basic and drawing about hearing a good story. The Bible is filled with story after story because life at its most basic level is broken down into a series of past events that are told and retold in each generation. Often the things that are best remembered about a sermon or a small group Bible study are the stories that were told. Stories are often remembered in more detail and for a longer period of time than any other part of the lesson. Because of that it is important that stories are chosen properly and told well.
Choosing the Right Story:
There are so many good stories out there from life, the internet, and scripture that it is important that we chose the one that will best make the point. If we are working through a curriculum that is based on a book of the Bible the main story that is being focused on is often selected for us. In the case that we are using a story as an illustration and have to choose the right one there are a couple of things to consider. 1) Does this story actually make the point I am trying to make? 2) Is there a better story that fits this lesson? 3) Would the story I am going to tell be better used in a different lesson? 4) Is this story appropriate for my group? Not all stories are created equal. A good group leader will know there group and their subject well enough to select the best story to make the point.
Once you have decided which story fits your lesson and your group the best there are a few considerations to make in the actually telling of the story.
Stories are More Than Small Details:
One might think the most important thing in telling a story is to know all the details and make sure to include them all. While the details are important, reciting a long list of details does not make for an interesting story. The key to telling a good story is understanding the movement of the story. Have you ever seen a movie that started with happily ever after, continued through the story line with happily ever after and ended with happily ever after? That isn’t interesting because that is not typically how life works. Life is full of ups and downs, tension and resolution. It has its times of calm, peace, chaos and uncertainty. These are the elements of a good story because a good story parallels how life often operates. Life doesn’t happen flat. Life has ups and downs and so do stories. It is vitally important that is communicated well when a story is told.
Allow the Listener to Be Present in the Initial Problem, Resulting Tension and Final Resolution:
Stories have tension that leads to a resolution. You can see this in any of your favorite shows. Something goes wrong (Initial Problem) that calls for a solution (Resulting Tension) and eventually the tension is worked through and the problem is solved (Final Resolution). Let your group members fully experience each of these. Resolution seems most significant when the problem and tension are fully experienced.
Hear it Again for the First Time:
The first time you heard a story you didn’t know how it turned out. We have heard some stories in the Bible so many times that we rush to the resolution or even the application with little time letting the listener appreciate or be concerned about the initial problem. What makes the resolution so profound is the fact that the problem often seemed so overwhelming. The characters in the story may be in the tension for days, weeks, or months. Our group members may only get to be in the tension for 30 seconds or a few minutes. They should experience the tension before rushing to resolution. As a group leader make sure to allow your group the courtesy of discovering the story for themselves and not giving them all the answers on the front end. Life doesn’t work like that and consequently good stories aren’t told that way either.
Know the Story Behind the Story:
Context is key to knowing the best way to tell a story. If you don’t know what led up to the events or where the events ultimately lead you may miss some of the most important parts of the story. For instance, the story of Ruth is a precursor to the story of David. Ruth highlights a theme of the providence of God that is evident in Ruth but may not stand out as strongly until you realize that the story or Ruth intentionally leaves us looking toward the future. The author of Ruth effectively does that to us in the last verse of Ruth (4:22) by mentioning David. We don’t read about him again until half way through the book of Samuel. Wondering when David is going to show up again effectively keeps people engaged in the Saul story until David finally shows back up in the story. A good story teller leaves you wanting more by leaving some problems unsettled. David becomes the fix for the next series of Problem – Tension – Resolution as the people have a lack of a king (Problem), Saul takes up the mantle (Resulting Tension), and David becomes king in place of Saul (Final Resolution).
Story telling is something that takes practice and gets better with time. Hopefully with these tools you can learn to engage your small group with stories. There is no better way to impact people with the truth than through the vehicle of story. God’s people have always been a people of story.