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.