Inspiration for Writing a Paper

You’re welcome for that smile you’re wearing….

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A New World and Its Story

 Another paper I wrote for school…

            Every week churches around the world are full of people who participate in a service that includes a sermon.  Unfortunately, many people seem to have a hard time remembering what the sermon was about, apart from it being ‘good’.  It is a sad thing for a preacher to put hours and hours of preparation into a message that few people can even remember.  For this reason, storyteller John Walsh wrote The Art of Storytelling.  He hopes to help preachers develop the skill of storytelling in order that their message might be better communicated.

            Walsh begins chapter one of his book with an illustration of how many conversations could go on at the lunch table after church.  He shows how children can often remember their lessons better than the adults remember the service.  According to Walsh, this is not because they are younger nor have better memories, it is because of the method of communication used in each in case (14).  For many people, stories are what make information meaningful enough to remember.  Furthermore, Walsh points to a cultural change that seems to be requiring a new method of communication in western society.  He claims that the way people receive and remember information has changed (15), and, for those born after the Boomer generation, information is best received and remembered when communicated in the context of story.  Therefore, according to Walsh, “we should always present God’s Word in a way that is consistent with how people think” (17).  Finally, the first chapter concludes with a short description of how story telling better communicates with men because men have a tendency to think in picture form.

            Walsh creates a compelling case for the use of stories in communicating the gospel.  In churches that utilize a children’s story before sending the children to their age-appropriate lessons many adults can be seen straining to see and hear what is going on.  This is evidence that story telling draws the interest of people and helps them to stay with the points that are being communicated.  I can’t help but agree with Walsh’s suggestions that preachers become more and more like storytellers in today’s culture.  There is no reason to try to keep propping up an old system of linear reasoning when people simply cannot connect to it in a meaningful way.  Sermons are to communicate truth to people where they are and storytelling works in exactly this way.

            The second major point that Walsh brings up in chapter one is that storytelling is a more effective means of communicating the gospel to post-Boomer generations.  As a youth pastor I couldn’t agree more.  I spend a great deal of my time with people who are post-Boomer and they consistently seek out ways of finding meaning in life that involve story.  This is true all the way from gospel presentations to popular television shows.  Gospel presentations in youth ministry training used to contain information and methods from Evangelism Explosion and the 4 Spiritual Laws.  Today’s evangelism methods among younger generations almost always contain some element of story.  Popular culture also has seen a shift from professionalism to the authenticity that is found in a story.  On a night when American Idol (an amateur singing contest) is on television opposite the Grammy Awards (for professional musicians), American Idol has nearly twice the viewership.  There is no denying that the younger culture is leaving the ways and thinking patterns of the Boomers en masse.

            To further this shift in culture, we must observe the rise in popularity of narrative theology.  Younger generations of Christians are no longer interested in hearing sermons that are proof texted with random verses.  This is seen as a haphazard treatment of God’s Word.  Instead, younger Christians want to know where a particular sermon fits in the overall story of God’s redemptive work.  To take that even further, many want to know where and how they (and their community) fit into God’s story of redemption.

            Walsh finishes the first chapter by showing how men generally communicate more effectively through stories.  This seems to be true in western culture.  One must wonder if the avoidance of stories in modern pulpits, at least in part, has led to the feminization of the church (Campbell).  Many studies observe that women outnumber men in the American church at a rate of about 3:2.  Many single women attend church, but very few single men do so.  If the church is to have any kind of an effect on men in western culture it must communicate in ways that make the most sense to men.  If a church has godly men, godly families are not too far behind and if a church has godly families, godly leadership will be readily available for the church.  Although the western church struggles to minister in masculine settings, storytelling is an easy way to increase effectiveness in this ministry.

            The task of the preacher is to be faithful in communicating the gospel to his audience.  The hope is that the message of life and salvation will stick in the hearts and minds of one’s hearers.  If the audience will become more receptive through the use of stories then the wise preacher will utilizes stories.  As much as possible, the message remains the same, yet the method changes constantly as the preachers apply the gospel to people and society.

2 Seven Steps for Presenting an Unforgettable Story

            In his book, The Art of Storytelling, John Walsh presents storytelling as an artistic skill.  In order to excel in any art form, one must master certain fundamental skill sets.  For a musician, notes must be learned.  For a painter, the different brushes must be used again and again.  For a storyteller, Walsh gives seven steps which are fundamental in the presentation of an unforgettable story.  In this essay, we will summarize and discuss all seven steps, noting where I agree or disagree with Walsh.

            To begin with, Walsh gives the first step of imagination.  Imagination is where the story is infused with creativity.  Walsh suggests imagination as the first step in great storytelling because, “to properly tell a story, you must see it in your mind (Walsh 88).  For some Christian storytellers this is a hard step because they have been taught that creativity is inherently sinful.  Fortunately, this is not the case and people can be very creative and honor God at the same time.

The second step is facial expressions.  Certain things are best communicated with an expression, sometimes even without words.  Walsh points out that many beginning story tellers feel like they are overdoing their facial expressions, but that is exactly the feeling one has when using facial expressions effectively (97).  Also, the storyteller’s clothing choices can make a positive or negative contribution to the audience’s experience of the story.

Walsh’s third step is body movements.  Intentional and purposeful body actions will compliment a story, making it even more effective.  On the other hand, body movements can include nervous habits that greatly distract from anything the storyteller is trying to communicate.  In order to maximize hand actions, Walsh recommends keeping hands generally between the waist and the shoulders (99).

Step four is the use of voice.  Voice use includes tempo, quality and volume.  The voice is the primary instrument of the storyteller and should be cared for accordingly.  Before speaking, it is appropriate to warm up and not strain one’s voice so as to avoid permanently affecting one’s ability to speak.  Many times, a simple tone, pitch or other voice change be be used very effectively to denote changes in character in a story.  Voice changes can even be used to denote sections of stories so that the audience unconsciously knows when moving from one chapter to another.  Walsh also includes word choice in this section.

The fifth step is the pause.  Although many beginner storytellers avoid silence at all costs, the pause is a priceless tool for a great story.  By pausing, the storyteller allows the audience mental space to create images in minds and builds anticipation for what may be coming up next.  The pause allows the audience to use their imaginations and when listeners use their imaginations they begin to be able to see the stories in their minds.

Walsh’s sixth step is the nervousness of the speaker.  Walsh proposes that nervousness actually helps the storyteller to prepare better.  Nervousness also can help to energize the storyteller as they cannot know for sure what will happen once the story begins.  Even when a master storyteller gets in front of an audience, a certain amount of nervousness should be present if they are putting their whole selves into the story.

Finally, the seventh step in creating an unforgettable story is confidence.  Even though confidence seems to be the opposite of nervousness, a storyteller can have both.  Confidence, according to Walsh, comes from practice and nervousness is a primary motivator to practice.  So a nervous storyteller can have confidence in their story if they have practiced enough to feel secure.

            I really appreciate that Walsh began the steps with the imagination.  Imagination brings so many stories to life in personal ways for people.  Even Jesus told stories from the imagination to best communicate truth with those listening around Him.  From a biblical stand point there is always the challenge of being faithful to the text while filling in details with one’s imagination.  This is possible, however, by following sound hermeneutical principles and not drawing attention away from the overall story of the biblical narrative.

            The second step about facial expressions is also a valid step for me.  Many times a speaker can communicate well but lacks the facial expressions to make the communication believable.  Expression is the best advantage of speaking over writing.  When we read Jesus’ teachings in the gospel accounts, we get very little direction as far as what His facial expressions were.  When telling stories, facial expressions give the speaker a huge advantage over the written word.

            Body movement is the next step that Walsh gives to create an unforgettable story.  I fully agree with Walsh that body language can communicate louder than words.  Many times I have seen speakers who have distracting mannerisms and audiences who end up fixated on the nervous habit instead of what is being communicated.  I would even propose rehearsing intentional hand actions and positioning in order to look more natural when performing.  Perhaps a story could even include a bit of pantomime, using imaginary objects, or pretending to walk in a particular way to further draw the audience in.  Furthermore, positioning on stage can also be a means of communicating, by delivering chapters or points from different sides of the stage.

            The fourth step in Walsh’s suggested story toolbox deals with the use of voice.  Walsh is accurate in describing the voice as the instrument of the storyteller.  It must be taken care of very well in order to be maintained and developed.  Voice variations are an easy way for speakers to create creativity within the story.  I whole heartedly agree with Walsh when he writes, “unless you are willing to put the effort into it, you should leave accents alone (107).  He follows this guideline with a great piece of advice to change voices only slightly for different characters to maximize the effectiveness of the overall story.

            Walsh’s fifth step is the use of the pause.  When a speaker pauses it causes a strong change in what is happening to the listener.  If the listener has lost focus a pause will be a sharp enough contrast to snap them back to the story.  Other times the pause is an excellent way to create and keep tension between the storyteller and the audience.  In a very real way the storyteller holds the entire story inside themselves and they are giving it over to the audience.  If the audience is fully engaged and hooked into the story, then they will beg for the pause to end.  An audience that is fully into the story can be fully controlled with an effective pause.  This is an excellent tool for Walsh to highlight.  At the same time, when the pause is used poorly it can be horrible.  Speakers who pause too frequently give their audience open mental space that will be filled with whatever random thoughts pop into the listener’s mind, usually a hope that the story will soon be over.  The pause must be used intentionally and not be the result of any nervousness in order to make sure it is as effective as possible.

            This brings up the sixth step in Walsh’s progression, nervousness.  Walsh is absolutely right on in his estimation of the effects of nervousness on a storyteller.  The deep thrill of live speaking is the risk that accompanies getting up in front of a group of people.  Inside every storyteller there is a little voice of fear that can think of hundreds of ways that this whole performance could go extremely bad.  The best part of Walsh’s treatment of nervousness is the ways that he suggests the speaker turn nervousness into a positive for the performance.  He goes so far as to say that nervousness is a gift from God that causes focus and an increased desire to prepare (114).  One of the best things that Walsh provides in the chapter on nervousness is some practical direction for dealing with nervousness (116-117).  Without a plan to deal with nervousness, a storyteller may be surprised if it gets the best of him, so having some strategies for emotional control in place is an excellent suggestion.

            The final step for creating an unforgettable story is confidence.  Without confidence a speaker can quickly end up lost and ineffective as a storyteller.  An audience always comes into the performance with a certain amount of nervousness also, since they don’t know if it’s going to be enjoyable or not, and the best way to quickly put them at ease is for the speaker to display confidence.  Unfortunately, confidence when speaking in front of groups of people seems to forever elude some people.  Walsh recommends plenty of practice to beginners, but I am not sure that will work in every case.

            Overall, the seven steps that Walsh suggests to create and unforgettable story are great tools in the hand of an effective storyteller.  In order to become a master of the craft, beginners can put them into practice and see improvements in their performances right away.

ROTFL

text manA recent study  found that one in ten people can’t text and walk. One street in particular called Brick Lane in London was found to have the highest number of ‘walking and texting’ injuries in the Englad, so a charity called Living Streets (go ahead…you know you want to click that link) is launching a padded lamppost program.The program would wrap-up the nation’s lamppost to protect inattentive pedestrians from hurting themselves when they’re too busy texting on their phone. Brick Lane will be the first to launch a pilot program, and if successful, the padded lamppost concept will be launched in Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool.  Hey, you never know, it might even migrate over to the United States.

Innovation at its best.

Possibilities

I’m going to a wedding rehersal in a couple hours.  It’s for Lacy and Patrick.  They are a young couple who serve in the Driven youth ministry and do an excellent job of it.  It’s going to be my first wedding that I do for a student who “grew up” in my youth ministry.  My third or fourth wedding overall – depending on how you count.

Generally I don’t do weddings for people I don’t know.  I do weddings for my family, and I did Melissa and Evan Johnson’s because I saw something in them that I really liked – it was refreshing for me to do their wedding.  However, if I don’t know the people, and there’s a good chance they just need a pastor – I’d rather do something else with my weekend.  Weddings are beautiful because of the people involved, not just because they are a wedding.

So, I’m excited for this wedding this weekend because of my friendship with both Lacy and Patrick!

Theology of Worship

Here’s a little paper I had to write for PESM on theology of worship.

A Theology of Worship

Worship and theology are so intertwined that it is impossible to fully separate the two.  Our most honest theology is expressed in our worship, yet our tradition of worship does much to shape our theological views.  Therefore, God will be most honored when one’s theology of worship is biblically sound.  An honest theology of worship, then, must develop a theology which fully gives itself to worship and a worship that gives voice to theology.  We must worship God; it is the proper theological response to His glory.  By better understanding Him, our worship will become more abundant.

            In the beginning man and woman interacted with God and walked with Him in the garden (Genesis 2&3) without inhibition.  There was no sin to get in the way of any communication with God.  Everything was perfect.  However, sin did enter the world and now worshippers must worship God in a fallen condition.  This condition creates difficulties as worshippers attempt to glorify God in the ways that He desires to be glorified, while fighting the sinful nature, which seeks to glorify self.  The earliest challenge that we find in Scripture is the challenge of form and function.  In Genesis 4 there is an example of this struggle as Cain offers a sacrifice, which is worship, yet it is in a different form that the sacrifice of his brother, Abel.  The Lord looked favorably upon Abel’s worship and unfavorably upon Cain’s efforts.  Cain desired a particular outcome from his worship, the approval and blessing of God.  Yet he used a different form than Abel and a different outcome resulted.  Even in today’s culture there is this same challenge valuing a variety of forms and functions.  It is difficult to evaluate different styles, or forms, of worship because they are all attempting to function as glorifying God.  A liturgy and a free-flowing service are vastly different forms, but each seeks to glorify God.  What Cain’s story seems to show is that God seeks not only to be glorified, but that forms affect this function.  God is not just seeking worship (John 4:23), but a particular kind of worship.  How God looks upon them cannot be discerned by simple observation of the worshippers because worship’s visible demonstrations must come from spiritual motivations.

            When Jesus was questioned in John chapter 4, it was a challenging question about worship.  The discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman reveals the theological progression of worship that comes through Christ.  The Samaritans thought worship in one place was proper while the Jews preferred another.  Jesus refuses to settle this ancient argument, even though this was what the woman who asked the question had hoped for.  Instead Jesus lets the woman know that “the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:23a).  Jesus welcomes the challenge and takes it to a whole other level; worship should not be just about a place or a style, there must be more to it.  Unfortunately, worshippers tend to lean into either spirit or truth.  It seems very exciting to worship in spirit but it can lead to untruth.  On the other hand, it seems very proper to worship in truth but is can destroy any excitement.  Jesus calls people into a worship relationship with God that holds both spirit and truth as core theological tenets.

            Perhaps even more shocking is Jesus’ next statement: “for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (4:23b).  God is revealed as a seeker of worship.  While much of human worship is an attempt to find or please God, God is actively looking for people who are worshipping purely in spirit and truth.  God isn’t just sitting around hoping that someone worships him in spirit and truth, he is looking for it and even demands it when Jesus says “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (4:24).  There is no option but to embrace worship in spirit and truth and to worship God with one’s whole self as this is the most glorifying worship possible.

            When people worship God they are living as close as possible to their natural intended purpose.  God’s highest purpose is to bring glory to Himself (Piper 6), so when we worship we join in God’s mission.  Furthermore, God honors Himself in the community of the Trinity, so when we worship with a gathering of others, we reflect God’s own attributes in a beautiful way.  Sin tries to teach us that worship is unnatural, contrived even.  A strong theology of worship helps us to overcome sin’s influence on our understanding of worship’s role in our relationship with God.  Purity in worship is not automatic, but it will be when we are again walking with God in a perfect garden; an eternal paradise where we will worship Him forever.  May Jesus continue to help us dive into that relationship with Him and cultivate pure and God-honoring worship.

Stand Up, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

Without a doubt, this is hillarious. I absolutely need to figure out how to use this.

I want to like write down all the funny lines in it, but the whole stupid thing just makes me laugh !!