Storytelling ~ story listening
Become all the storyteller you were created to be!
Since forever and:
- the dawn of communication, one human to another …
- the first tribe gathered around their camp fire …
- the beginnings of the passing on of survival skills, dreamings, and traditions …
- the start of handing down histories, one generation to another …
Among the respected elders of the tribe, there were the storytellers.
This statement has the ring of truth as we have plenty of evidence of early storytelling in rock art. And even today we love and appreciate a great story! But the main point of all this is:
When it comes to learning the craft and developing the art of storytelling, a vitally important part of the journey explored in this part of Midst is the need to become a great story listener.
Being a storyteller, story listener or being a story listener, storyteller … no one of these comes first but they both must be present in order to excel in this area.
The principles below will help you to observe and listen to the stories of others, your community, and to God’s Story. There are also going to be suggested ways to share God’s Big Story, the stories of your community as well as your own stories.
Want even more? These principles are also going to be helpful when it comes to preparing great drama, clown ministry skits, puppet scripts, upfront presentations, testimonies and the like. They will also help you to deliver story versions of encouragement, blessings, corrections to behaviours, captions for photos, and more.
Again, these principles will profoundly influence the way we engage in and listen to God’s Big Story, the Bible.
What do you see?
The icon image you see by clicking on this link: what do you see? >> depicts the age-old conundrum … what do you see?
Two people face to face? Or a lampstand?
- Two people sharing stories? Two people listening to the other’s story? Connecting into each other’s language, body language, their lives, or their histories in dynamic, relational ways? … or …
- A static, brass-cold candlestick? (As useful as such things are as a recent human invention.)
When it comes to seeing yourself as a storyteller, a story listener, or neither, the choice is simple. Engage with the person you are listening to in a respectful, creative, and thoughtful way as possible. Or be as passive as a lump of brass. Too harsh? The truth is that most of us are somewhere in between most of the time. Both at once. Like the icon image.
Are you connecting?
To be fully ‘present’ in any given situation essentially means communicating your desire for a meaningful connection. This includes listening and really hearing with your ears, seeing with your eyes, and sensing in your spirit what is being communicated. It includes listening to Holy Spirit, who is already at work in the world and in the person’s life whose story is communicated before you.
Are you listening to Holy Spirit as well as the person in front of you? Do you desire a connection? Are you praying to be open to God hunches, inklings, ideas, or pictures coming up for you as you pray into this situation? This latter idea is gleaned from Rick Richardson’s book entitled, ‘Re-imagining Evagelism’. Well worth a read.
Storytelling and story listening, since time immemorial, is about connecting. It’s God’s call to you and me to be followers of Jesus, doing life in the power of Holy Spirit who is alive and working in and through us. This makes you a part of God’s Big Story, reflecting that Story in the way you listen to stories and in the way you share your story! Are you up for being a part of that?
Explore further …
Surrounded by stories!
Discover stories in every corner of everyday life.
It’s hard to imagine living life without a connection with at least something, or someone. That may be the dark sense of reality for some. The hope here, as storytellers … story listeners, is that we will connect not only to the stories of others but also be more able to participate in, and be engaged by God’s story. May it be so, that story brings light to our lives.
- Take a moment to consider 3 important types of stories for storytellers … story listeners.
- Share a simple story … a highlight of your past week.
- Allow a retelling of a part of one Bible story to wash over you to see what happens.
God’s story; Our story; Your story/my story.
Their are various ways of understanding the interplay of these three stories. Learning to engage and connect with each of these through storytelling and story listening helps us to respond and participate in each story. No matter where you start, growing a just-right relationship, a sense of belonging, or some appreciation or identification with each of these stories is the beginning of a journey to the centre of all three.
God’s story … best expressed in creation; the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the Hebrew Bible as it points to Jesus; the New Testament along with God’s church being Jesus ‘with skin on’ in the world and individual lives today. Wow! God’s Big STORY!
Our story … Our families and friendship groups, tribes and villages, communities and cities, nations and alliances … all with their leadership styles, values, traditions, culture, policies, and STORY!
Your story, my story … individual stories. All different. A perceived truth for each of us as individuals. Origins, history, ups and downs, highs and lows, loves won and lost … everything. Whether we can articulate our own story in words or have the capacity to listen to another’s story or not doesn’t change this idea that we each, individually, have a STORY.
Share a highlight from your last week.
First things first! A short exercise to get us going.
Imagine you are with one of your friends sitting in a cafe. You have both ordered and, while you wait, you simply share one highlight of the week
If you are in a room of people, form groups of two and share a highlight.
If you are by yourself, find a way to share it with a friend.
VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you don’t mind the world knowing your highlight. We’ll come back to this below so don’t forget each other’s highlight. If you are by yourself, take the time record it on your smart phone, write it down, text it to someone, or type it into the ‘ZOOM’ chat box if this is an online workshop.
Simple. Please do this before proceeding!
1 story … 3 versions
- some Bible verses (part of a bigger story);
- a paraphrase of these verses; and
- a commentary.
Each link below provides a glimpse of the power of story, storytelling and story listening. If it doesn’t provide this for you at this point, that’s OK … it is simply a glimpse of where we are heading with all this.
VERY IMPORTANT: Click on them one by one and just pause a moment on each story. Note your responses or reactions (thoughts, feelings, and/or sensations) to each of these. Maybe share these responses or note them down.
 “John 2:2-5.” In Holy Bible: NRSV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989.
 Rodríguez, Carlos A. Drop the Stones: When Love Reaches the Unlovable. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2017, 19.
Story as a meal of tacos!
Explore this metaphor and imagine the experience. Yum!
Deconstructing stories are the first point of call as the different parts that make up storytelling and story listening help us to learn how to listen to everyday stories as well as Bible stories. Then, as story listeners, we can improve our skills as storytellers.
- Find your diet-appropriate equivalent of a regular taco meal to help you explore the metaphore.
- Break down the metaphor and explore the 5 parts of storytelling … story listening.
Story deconstructed #1
A story is like a taco meal:
• sitting back and appreciating the experience;
• considering seconds and wondering about desert, hmmm.
Disclaimer: Soz if you don’t like tacos, even if you leave off the cheese and substitute green lentils for the meat.
Story deconstructed #2
Exploring ‘ a meal of tacos’ as a metaphor for ‘story’
In the exercise above, as a Story listener: you heard someone share a highlight and/or as a Storyteller: you shared a highlight (you told it or wrote it down).
These were simple stories! Time to analyse these. You will be prompted to do so with the questions in italics below.
There are five parts of a story to consider as a storyteller or to discern as a story listener.
A bit like the taco ingredients prepared and then assembled, they are perceived to exist. There are the plates, the oven turned on, the veggies and cheese, the spicy meat and onion (or green lentils, pictured), and the taco shells. These are the shared items that add to the taco story.
Getting the facts straight is the basis of any story. Sometimes people offer the facts as a story … “I did this; I’m doing that; this happened; so and so did this; who; when, where, what.
Story listening [facts]: Listen for the facts. Ask a clarifying question or two to uncover a person’s perceptions of events. Get the timeline clear. Work out what facts are important to know and which ones are only delaying the story.
What facts did you hear? Some? None? What facts did you assume or already know without being told?
Storytelling [facts]: Be clear about your perceptions of the facts and share them succinctly. Decide which facts are important to include and which ones only complicate the telling of the story.
What facts did you include in your story? Some? None? Why? What facts did you assume the listener already knew?
The Thoughts, Emotions, Sensations
A bit like the experience of eating tacos, there are different ways for people to express what is happening for them either during or just after the meal.
- Thoughts: I reckon this is the best! (eyes gleaming) … I don’t believe there is a better meal to share with friends. (serious) … WOW! Amazing colours, all those ingredients, don’t you think? (looking for agreement)
- Emotions/Feelings: Love! Love! Love sharing a taco meal with my friends and family! (smiles) … (smiling, licking lips, looking happy) … Oh dear, I’m a bit anxious about my heart indigestion later, (concerned look) … Oooo … gastrocolic reflex! TMI? (sheepish look)
- Sensations: yummy yum yum! ooooh ahhhhh, I am so full!! (smiling, patting stomach) … (frowning, patting full stomach) … I’m just left with this delicious spicy tingle in my mouth. (smiling)
People view, express, or respond to experiences primarily, but not exclusively, through one of three lenses … Thoughts/ Emotions/ Sensations. With experience, a combination of two or all three may come into play. The more mature you are, the quicker you can interpret what you are experiencing to process and respond. Ask me how I’m feeling right now, and I will probably pause to think about it for a moment before replying. I can tell you what I’m thinking right away if you ask. That’s just me. In different situations, some people have a nagging in their gut, hairs standing up on the back of their necks, butterflies in their tummy, weariness in their bodies, picking up good, good, good vibrations, or other sensations. Sometimes it takes time to puzzle through this and turn these sensations into words that describe thoughts or feelings. So … what about you? How do you primarily operate?
For example, three different people can be standing together and be experiencing the same thing and, in turn, they will say, “I’m getting a bad vibe about this”, “This is not fair!”, and “This is making me very sad!” Probably same responses, different languages. So … who are you most like?
It’s why children sometimes look a bit silly if they can’t answer a question straight away, if at all. They were asked a feeling question instead of a thinking question. Best to ask both in slightly different ways and give the choice of which one to answer. For a group, asking all three ways might go something like this: “I wonder what’s happening for you right now? How does this make you feel, or what does it make you think about?” As you get to know an individual child, you may learn, in time, to ask the question in a way they have the best chance of answering rather than in the way you prefer to ask it.
So … what’s your preferred lens to experience or respond to the world? Thoughts, emotions, or sensations
This is important because it will help form the way you listen to a story (e.g. the way you ask clarifying questions) or tell your story (e.g. maybe adding extra perspectives to help a listener process what you are sharing).
Story listening [Thoughts/ Emotions/ Sensations]: What did you pick up? Thoughts? Emotions? Sensations? A mix? Do you need to ask some clarifying questions about what was said? What can you affirm or feedback anything to the person? Maybe they only reported facts in the early part of their story, so … would you like to respectfully ask what they may be feeling, thinking, sensing?
What thoughts, emotions, &/or sensations did you pick up, feel, sense in the story you heard? Or, from what you saw on their face or in their body language, what could you check? What did you assume from what was not expressed? What would you like to clarify, wonder about?
Storytelling [Thoughts/ Emotions/ Sensations]:As a storyteller, there are lots of options here. If you’re sharing with a friend, you may like to share the story using their ‘language’ and save some confusion. You may like to use your facial expression or body language to express some of this part of your story to an individual or a group. It’s OK not to share these because you may create engagement/ intrigue/ suspense. Or you may include an ‘I wonder …’ question. E.g. “I wonder if you can guess what is going through my mind right now, what I might be feeling, or maybe what’s happening to me right now?
What thoughts, emotions, &/or sensations did you include in your story? Some? If so, how did you do that? None? Why not?
The meaning, consequences, outcomes, so what? what happened next? where to from here?
What happens in a meal of tacos? A beautiful mess! That’s generally the outcome. A lot of leftovers on the plate to scoop up with broken pieces of tacos or a fork. Do the other outcomes include a full stomach? Salsa sauce all over everyone’s faces? Dirty napkins or shirt fronts? Perhaps the discussion has started, “Let’s do this again!” or, “What’s next?”
Lot’s of possibilities like this happen in every story, from the simple sharing of highlights to the complex narrative of novels! All options sit together in this category, all the same but different. Some of them sound like thoughts or feelings, but that’s OK. They belong in this part too.
- it means … going without; we can go on our holiday after all; I will have to pay it back; having to say I’m sorry; well, for one thing, I will be able/won’t be able to afford the rent; …
- natural consequences, good and bad … I’m in trouble; my first pay goes into my bank account today; …
- outcomes … I’m very thankful; more than I thought possible; not being able to finish the job for ages; happily ever after; a new car; spend more time with the kids; …
- so what? … dunno; just stuck, I guess; time to move on; moving to Queensland; …
- what happened next? … got a new job the next day; nothing, just months of waiting; …
- where to from here? … take a break, recover; sit back and enjoy it all now I’m finished; any suggestions?; …
Story listener: [Meaning] Sensitively ask clarifying questions to explore the natural outcomes of the other parts of the story. Be aware of your own responses/reactions as to what you would do or say, but resist chipping in with these. Remain a listener.
meaning, consequences, outcomes, so what? what happened next? where to from here?
What [meaning/ consequences/ outcomes/ so what?/ what happened next?/ where to from here?] did you hear/assume as you listened Some? None? What clarifying questions as to these as to any of these?
Storytelling: [Meaning] A skilled storyteller will help a listener see, comprehend, or sense the outcomes, complications, or consequences for the focus character in each part of the story. Sometimes this is left out, and a storyteller will perhaps ask an ‘I wonder …’ question. (e.g. I wonder what happened because of what he said?) Sometimes the storyteller will purposefully leave this part out to create intrigue, suspense, or a deeper listener engagement.
As you shared your highlight, what [meaning/ consequences/ outcomes/ so what?/ what happened next?/ where to from here?] did you include in your story? If not, were you trying to achieve something by not including something of this?
This is the brief moment of ‘sitting with the experience of a meal of tacos’ stage. Blink, and you might miss it.
In this space, you might hear from others or a deep part of yourself, “Yummmmm” (with a smile) … “Best meal ever!!!” … “oooohhhh” “aaahhhhh”, or “hmmmmm.” Some of these expressions may not even quite capture the sensation we may be feeling. It’s also often a good place to pause and give thanks for the meal and for other things those gathered might be thankful for in their lives. Someone might reflect, “Time for a cleanup? Nahhhh!” There may be the beginnings of a rush from others to clear the table and the mess for whatever’s next. Try to resist this move. Gently discourage this if you can. Encourage everyone to dwell in the moment!
The first 3 parts above were for the storyteller to include or leave out. The Pause is mainly for the story listener. What happens in you, the story listener, when you hear the story is important. And even though it is important, this is sometimes the most difficult part of a story process. Maybe, as a listener, you are already jumping in, or the storyteller is already moving on. Appreciating this moment is an art and a skill. It takes intentionality and practice to get this bit right. But why?
Story listening [The Pause]:Here is the opportunity to appreciate what is happening in you as you as a result of what you have heard. Are you responding with any thoughts, emotions, or sensations? Has it triggered something in you and is causing a reaction? A story listener, in touch with their own thoughts/feelings/senses, has the opportunity to monitor this. It is important because you are giving yourself to be completely present in the story being shared, to monitor what’s happening for you; to acknowledge that and to deal with that as necessary in the event of adverse reactions that have been triggered, and to be prepared for the next step.
So … what was your response/reaction to the story you heard? Any thoughts? A lot or a little emotion? Did you experience a hunch, inkling, vibe, or sensation in your body? Positive? Negative? None? How would you describe this?
Storytelling [The Pause]:But even as a storyteller, you can also acknowledge this moment and, importantly, allow your listeners to process this part of your story. Here is the opportunity to appreciate what is happening in you as a result of sharing the story. You can take this pause to gauge any response in your listener regarding their thoughts, emotions, or sensations. (Are they puzzled/thinking? Maybe showing emotion? Perhaps squirming and holding their arms? Do you need to use this pause to get a sense of what to do regarding the next step of storytelling … story listening.
So … what was your response/reaction to the story you just shared? Take a check of yourself … Any thoughts? A lot or a little emotion? Did you experience a hunch, inkling, vibe, or sensation in your body/spirit? Positive? Negative? None? How would you describe this? Nothing? That’s OK too.
The choice! What’s next?
Ahhh … the meal of tacos’ is done … that moment of pause has passed … the first course over … all cleared from the table … now, the choice. That’s enough? What to do now? Maybe dessert? “Ice cream would go well with tacos. Have we got any?” “Something more to drink?” What to do? … Let’s put on a movie?”
So how is this a part of the storytelling … story listening process???? Surely the metaphor breaks down at this point!!
Nup. Let’s push it a little further …
Story listening [The Choice! What’s next?]: As a story listener, you have heard, nodded, and maintained appropriate eye contact, asked clarifying questions, entered into their story through empathy or some thinking to the extent you are able, and you have paused a moment to check yourself … now what? Here are some choices:
- Pray for wisdom in this choice … ask for Holy Spirit’s help give you a sense in your spirit as to how to proceed.
- Ask further clarifying questions … check something or understand something a little better.
- Ask for the next story … listening to the next chapter honours the storyteller and, let’s admit it, you’re just a little curious as to what happens next.
- Tell your story in response … because honouring and identifying with the storyteller may be achieved best with a story of your own, maybe even one that’s flavoured with your experience of God.
- Tell a God/life/true story … “Your story reminds me of a story in the Bible. May I share it with you?” … “Someone I know (or have heard about) has a similar story, want to hear it?”
- Ask how you can help
- Ask how you can pray
- chat on with a story just because it’s your turn … let’s not over-complicate this storytelling … story listening stuff.
After hearing or reading someone’s shared highlight, what did you want to do/say/ask? Comment? Clarify something? Share a story? Say, “May I pray for you? How can I pray for you?” Share your own highlight as a response? Say, “Wow! Yes, I know, the same thing happened to me!”
Storytelling [The Choice! What’s next?]: As a storyteller, you have shared your story, and you have paused a moment … now what? The same list of choices above applies to the storyteller at this moment. Adapt them as responses to the story listener.
After sharing your highlight, what did you want to do/say/ask next? Thank them for listening? Ask if you needed to clarify something for them? Ask if they had questions about that (maybe you could see they looked a little puzzled). Ask them for their highlight? Ask, “What’s been happening for you?” Ask what they may be thinking or feeling. Maybe say, “I could see your story was affecting you some way.” Maybe say, “May I pray for you? How can I pray for you?” Go with the flow and allow them to interrupt to share a story of their own. Maybe you will need to be a bit assertive and ask to finish your story without the interruptions.
After sharing or writing your highlight, what did you think/feel? What did you want to do/say/ask after sharing your story? Add something? Clarify something? Share a second highlight? Ask for the listener’s highlight story?
A conversation between a child and a leader
Check out these two scenarios.
As you read each of these stories, check to see what story elements you can detect … [facts] [feelings/thoughts/senses] [meaning/consequences/so what] [your response/reaction] [what happens next?]
And life is like this. A meal of tacos. Messy tacos and messy storytelling … story listening. Sometimes we can’t tell if listening is happening. Not everything is happening according to any set rules. We forget the ingredients. We get all the parts right but in different orders and that’s OK. Context is everything. Depth of friendship makes story sharing interesting. The candlestick image reminds us that sometimes we are just lumps of brass and can’t engage and connect. Sometimes it seems like we are not engaging and connecting, but we really are.
So … truth and grace
On one hand, let’s not be too judgy or hard on ourselves. The truth is we are all on the learning journey so be gentle on ourselves and others.
Becoming the storytelling we were created to be will mean being intentional about using or excluding any of these aspects of storytelling mentioned above. It may include engaging “I wonder …” questions to help a listener connect the story with their story. It may mean asking for another story instead of jumping in with one of our own. All these choices are difficult to consider in the moment. The truth is it’s a tough gig. It will take some practice. It will take grace to forgive ourselves and others as we learn.
For further reflection
Story listening may also include clarifying questions to determine a deeper comprehension of any of these story aspects.
As a story listener hearing the child share news about the death of his goldfish, what would you do or say in these moments?
Indicators of thought processes include sentences starting with belief statements. “I reckon it’s not fair!” is an example. What are some others?
Add ons to this section
When it comes to emotions it’s worth noting that an attempt exists, out there in research land, to place every human emotion into one of six categories. Imagine only having 6 emojis when you text on your smartphone! Imagine being able to discern all gazillion emotions in others let alone yourself.
Again, it’s also worth noting that if we always ask, “How do you feel about that?” it is often a difficult question for young people. Not everyone responds to the world through a ‘feeling/emotional’ lens. A better question might be, “What are you thinking or feeling right now? What’s happening to you? Heart racing, butterflies in the stomach?” Find a simple way to ask a broader question.
Telling and listening to everyday stories
There are lots of ways!
Having spent some time understanding a range of component parts of stories, the next step is to see how this applies to real life. The old adage of, “You need to learn the rules before you can break the rules.” applies to storytelling … story listening.
- Once you know the order of the different parts of stories, you can change them.
- Applying storytelling principles helps you to improve your communication skills.
- Talk to shop assistants and answer your phone and differently to become better storytellers.
Story deconstructed #3
This is where the taco metaphor breaks and will be discarded.
A taco meal cannot be cleared away and cleaned up before it is cooked and prepared. However, the story process outlined above can be changed. The elements of storytelling … story listening can be reordered.
- Starting a story with the [feelings/ thoughts/ sensations] will help to engage listeners who may be puzzled as to why.
- If the story’s outcomes are told first in some intriguing way, the listener will be wondering how things may have arrived at this point.
- The person you are with maybe telling lots of stories. If it is Holy Spirit wisdom for you to really listen to all these with grace may be important. You may be earning the right to share your own story at the right time.
- Sometimes, the facts of the story may be enough.
- The pauses at the right times may be longer. More time for more processing.
- Sometimes, the length of pauses may allow for responses to develop.
- Something tangible to engage the senses as a story is shared or listened to may help. A doodle pad and pens, tearing paper, or blocks to build with could help responses of [thought/ feelings/ sensations] to surface and be articulated.
- Responses to your stories may not result in words exactly but may be expressed in music, poetry, art or drama stories.
- Listen to a story and respond in music, poetry, art, or drama stories.
- The combinations and possibilities are numerous once the basics principles are practiced.
Enjoy the complexities without making them complicated. Always aim to make the complex, simple!
Short Story Format
Here are a few examples of story telling for a variety of contexts in real life.
For each of these storytelling formats, there are two tasks.
1. Imagine you are delivering the story. Use storytelling principles to deliver the story, pause (gauge responses … imagine possibilities), and ask yourself and Holy Spirit, “What next? What choice?”
2. Imagine the story is being shared with you. Use story listening principles ‘story’ outlined above. Pause to note your response/reactions. Ask yourself and Holy Spirit, “What next? What choice?”
Because this is a workshop space, the task is to critique these stories and determine how you would make these stories your own so you can share them with your capacities, skills and style! Use the comment space for each post to share your ideas, responses, or ways to improve the story. If you don’t like the story as it is presented, rewrite it and share it giving your reasons to our learning community. Please add your own examples in the comment section of each post.
A storytelling exercise
Tell stories whenever you are asked, “How are you?”
You know the general pattern. The shop assistant says, “HelloHowAreYouToday?” and you reply, “GoodHowAreYou?” and they say, “Good.” This is little ritual happens even though any one of you may not be ‘good’ in the sense of physical wellbeing. It’s may not be the time or place to discuss ‘good? in the sense that we are all created ‘good’ and it’s our behaviours that may not be acceptable at times. And the queue waiting behind you may not appreciate a drawn out pop psychology session related to the mental well being of either one of you.
Here’s a quick alternative to help you practise your story telling.
- Hello, how are you? (bland expression)
- Disappointed! (slight frown)
- Why? (surprised) … supervisor’s ears prick up
- Because when I was here yesterday you didn’t ask me if I had remembered to buy coffee. I’dd run out at home. (slight smile, twinkle in the eye)
- Laughter … especially from supervisor who quips, “Oh, so now we have to read customers minds now do we?
- It would have been helpful!? (General smiles all round)
- Hello, how are you? (bland expression)
- Worried! (slight frown, twinkle in the eye)
- Oh, why’s that? (slightly concerned)
- Because I’ve been coming here everyday this week for supplies and, at this rate, my money will run out. (slight smile, twinkle in the eye still)
- (Laughter) Good for us!!
- Well, that’s a good point … happy to help! (General smiles all round)
- Hello, how are you? (bland expression)
- Devastated! (clown face of despair)
- Oh dear, what’s happened? (slightly concerned)
- I’m reading these books about a hero who is learning and growing skills and getting into all sorts of adventures and situations and it’s exciting and a fantastic story! (slight smile, twinkle in the eye still)
- (Puzzled) So, how is that a problem? (smiling but suspicious)
- Well, the author hasn’t written the third book in the trilogy … and people who read the first two when they first came out have been waiting 8 years! We may never get to find out what happens! (General smiles all round)
- The pattern works best when you start with the feeling. (or thought bubble, or sensation). It generally evokes a response. Sometimes just a look that says, “You’re weird, I don’t want to engage with that!” So be warned!
- This pattern can be used when a friend’s name pops up on your phone, have a bit of fun! (Unless you need to tell them how you are really feeling. But that can be a story too!)
- The task is to spot as many of the parts of the storytelling process in the exchange regardless of the order they occur. [facts] … [thoughts/ feelings/ sensations] … [meaning/ consequences/ so what?] … [story listener responses/ reactions] … [storylistener choice: “So what? What’s next?]
- [Story listener choice] is not necessarily indicated in the examples above. What would you do?
Bible listener … Bible story teller
When it comes to being a Bible storyteller, the task begins with the need to gather a team of people prepared to engage the tasks of being the best Bible story listener they can be. There are three tasks that can be sumbolised in 3 images …
- A detective,
- A ministry clown, and
- An Olympic wrestler.
It is uncommon that all three tasks can be performed by one person, so a team of two or three people would be better.
The Detective’s Task: Story listening
Who do you think of when it comes to famous detectives? Sherlock Holmes? … or, more recently, Enola Holmes? >> … are you old enough to remember Columbo? … and then there’s Veronica Mars. Who’s your favourite?
The images evoke all sorts of things, like old fashioned pipes, clothes, and quirky characters. These quirks don’t relate to the task of Bible listening, but these are worth mentioning because hopefully this metaphor will help us remember the aspects of story listening that are important. Firstly, ignore any scriptwriters’ additions of luck and predetermined outcomes. The metaphor fails at this point.
A detective’s qualities and abilities related to being a Bible story listening detective include: … being insightful, intuitive, and persistent … piecing together the background to a Bible story from multiple sources (what actually happened) … determine what would the characters be culturally thinking, feeling, sensing? … what was motivating these characters to think, feel, or sense things these ways? … work to keep the story uncontaminated from personal biases/prejudices … ask, “Why is this story in the Bible?” … wonder, “What did this all mean for the original story listeners who these stories were first told and written down for.” Further wonder, “If this is what it meant then, what would the original hearers think/ feel/ sense? … and how would they respond/ react?”… be a Jnr Partner in the Holy Spirit detective agency … wonder how this story helps us to be Jesus/The Church today?
The Olympic Wrestler’s task: Story preparation
The image that comes to mind is a powerful person, committed to the task of doing their very best in attaining a gold medal. It will mean using their qualities of strength, control, endurance, skills, and commitment related to Bible story preparation. This will mean taking responsibility for preparing the story elements for an audience in a current context. To wrestle the preparation of a story to the ground, it will require the balance between protecting the original story integrity while working out to communicate the story with integrity to today’s audiences. It will mean finding the hooks that will hold the interest of today’s audience, making it relevant. It will mean developing a list of ‘I wonder … ” questions to choose one or two for a more engaging story. It will mean plenty of training and experience in this task to keep the truth of the story from not being diluted with storytelling approaches that would actually distract hearers from the Bible story’s message.
The Ministry Clown’s Task: Storytelling
Keeping away from the more recent sinister images of ‘clown’, the more traditional images of clowns have a lot to offer here. Memories of ‘clown’ include memories of laughter, engaging skits, fun antics, friendly to audiences, and relatable messages. Adding in the idea of ‘ministry’ here, a clown minister will ALWAYS act in very appropriate ways, not put anyone down, and be sensitive to the context they find themselves in. The task of the clown minister is to draw people into the world of stories with grace and humility. They will find appropriately EXCESSIVE ways to express emotions (feelings), verbs (tactile/facts), reflective (thoughts), senses (awareness/vibe/sensations) into the role of storyteller.
Clown ministry is a lot larger topic for another space in Midst. It is important to stress here this section DOES NOT propose we should always dress up as a clown to tell a story. That is only one of the dozens of ways to approach storytelling.
Rather, this section highlights two simple clown ministry principles applicable to drama, public readings, puppets, and other ministry arts.
- Be appropriately excessive in expressing thoughts/ emotions/ actions/ sensations.
As a Bible reader in a pulpit, DO NOT put on a red nose! However, after doing the work of detective and wrestler, it is possible to bring appropriate levels of vocal, facial and body expression to the public reading of a Bible story.
- Focus storytelling on God
Another way to say this is to avoid the idea of storytelling as a performance to evoke applause. While storytelling can be viewed as ‘performance art’, it can also be viewed as ‘ministry art’ … this has more to do with leading a celebration of worship: E.g. song leader, preacher, drummer. The storyteller’s attitude is to be focussed on leading hearers of the story to focus on the Truth of God’s Big Story rather than on themselves as the storyteller.
Note: We can’t stop applause, especially if it is spontaneous. However, there are ways to start and finish storytellings that help the focus to remain on the story’s meaning or learning point. Concluding a story by saying, “Let’s pause and quietly sit with this story for a moment or two.” is one of these ways. Use appropriately.
Learning to be a Bible Story listener
Mark 9:33-37 … Who Is the Greatest?
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
- your responses/reactions
- Holy Spirit nudges
- list any responses you have heard offered by others (e.g.learning point/theme words: • Jesus sorts out his disciples’ ambitions with a child • Humility can replace huge egos • Fame is not the boss
Story listener choice … What now? Your choice!
- ask for another story … where was that other story about Jesus and children in Mark’s Gospel?
- Smile at your own stories of being a child; Smile (awks!!) at your own stories about who was better at this or that.
- “So what?” for your personally as a follower of Jesus.
- Do the further work required to share this story with others.
Find the mini stories … suggested as:
- Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”
- But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
- He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
- Then he took a little child and put it among them [in their midst];
- and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Deconstruct each mini story
This takes some time and some choice regarding how you use:
- detective work to uncover context, why this story is in the Bible, what did it mean to the original story listeners
- biblical imagination & Holy Spirit discernment to place yourself in the story to ‘fill in’ what is implied
Practising to be a Bible story listener.
Here is an exercise on Padlet for you to contribute in the preparation stage for storytelling.
Follow the link then read the instructions in the left hand column of the Padlet. Doing this will make it easier for you to add your contribution to the discussion.
Connecting to your storytelling context
Key here is to consider where and to whom you will be sharing a Bible story.
Scripture Union (in Victoria, Australia at least) have a 5C approach that is helpful here. It’s another reminder that connecting with those we are serving is part of the storytelling process.
Another helpful reminder here for you, as a story listener, is to be fully present in the moment … listening and responding to those who are sharing there stories with you.
So, where and to whom will you be sharing God’s Big Story, your story, and your team’s story? What prayers will you be saying in order to be fully present in each moment? What will you need to consider in the words you use and the style of storytelling you choose in being a Bible storyteller?
Different ways to share God’s Big Story
The various considerations that influence choice of the storytelling mode include:
- the skill level to effectively operate in a particular mode
- the demographic of the listeners who are gathered
- the ability of the listeners to participate in and be engaged by story
- the desired outcomes
The following list will provide only a small idea of the scope of existing options for telling Bible stories. They include:
Reading the text of the Bible passage from the Bible
- Reading the text of the Bible passage from the Bible (analogue or digital?)
- Read with facial, voice and whole body expression;
- Read the text while an image is being displayed >>
- Read the text while drama images is being acted/displayed.
- Act and speak out the story using full on drama;
- Act and speak out the story using using puppets;
- Tell the story using images prepared before hand >>
Use of drama.
- Reading the text of the Bible passage with drama being presented alongside.
What are some of the other ways you tried, seen, or heard about?
Storytelling Consultancies & Training
There are a number of options to help get the direction right for you in this area
- A phone or coffee conversation with Phil on this topic.
- A review of your program and training against these keys to affirm and encourage those areas you are doing well and suggestions for improvement where and if required.
- A presentation of an overview of these areas with discussion. (20 minutes or up to 1hr)
- A 4hr workshop exploring one or more of these themes in a interactive discussion.