Storytelling: Lessons from the parables
By Kate Nicholas
Storytelling has become a bit of a business buzzword over the last few years, but what exactly do we mean by storytelling and how can the Bible help us to do this well?
Storytelling is about much more than telling a good tale – it’s about engendering strong emotional connections with your supporters, partners and staff. In this complex and competitive world, capturing attention is tough – and keeping it even tougher. But if there is truly a global lingua franca, a universal currency that crosses every country and culture, it is the story. I once heard it said that humankind could well be labelled Homo Narran – the creature that loves narrative.
Make it memorable
Stories are so powerful; they help to shape our identity and culture; they are the building blocks of our lives, providing a valuable reference point so that our brains can process information. In fact, our brains are hardwired to process thoughts through stories. Unless the left side of your brain (facts) and the right side (creative) connect, you cannot create memory. We are 22 times more likely to remember a story than a factual statement, which is probably why storytelling is so central to God’s communication – the Bible.
The Old and New Testaments contain some of the greatest stories ever told, which have helped to shape much of the world’s culture. From the creation and fall narrative to the story of Noah and the flood, the call of Abraham and the story of Joseph the dreamer, the birth of Moses to the exodus, Samson and Delilah and David and Goliath in the Old Testament to the greatest story of all – that of the life of Jesus Christ – told in the New Testament. And Jesus chose stories as one of his primary means of communicating; around a third of his teachings came in the form of stories or parables.
Bring it near
Paraballo means literally para (near) ballo (bringers). Parables are near-bringers. Christ connected distant concepts such as truth and justice with something concrete and familiar in people’s lives. He brought them near for them. He used the global lingua franca of stories – stories that resonated with the listeners’ lives. Vivid and familiar images of vineyards, shepherds, the drawing in of nets and the challenge of sowing on less than fertile ground.
All too often, not-for-profits get caught up in jargon, talking about core competencies, shifting paradigms, buy-in, empowerment – just a few in Forbes magazine’s most hated business jargon list. But Jesus never let anything float around in the abstract. For example, rather than talking in abstract terms about loving our neighbour, he told the story of the Good Samaritan who defied social expectations and reached out across cultural barriers to help someone in need (Luke 10: 25-37).
To help us understand the true nature of God’s forgiveness and our own need to forgive, Jesus told the unedifying tale of the ungrateful servant whose enormous debts are forgiven by his master, and the retribution he faces when he in turn refuses to forgive the much smaller debt of one beholden to him (Matthew 18:21-35).
One of the great characteristics of Christ’s communication was that it always sought connection. The words ‘communication’, ‘community’, ‘compassion’ and ‘communion’ all come from the common Latin root com, which means ‘together’. And the Latin communicare means ‘to share together’ and ‘to make common’. Very often when we talk of great leaders or communicators we say they have the common touch. Jesus constantly sought to make that connection. He didn’t speak in terms of abstract concepts but painted pictures that could be touched, tasted and smelled.
Christ clothed truth, justice and love in story to help us understand. He never pushed for the hard sell or shortcut people’s discovery process. His stories don’t just convey information but offer a compelling framework for meaning that allows people to discover for themselves how this truth can be integrated into their lives.
Wrap it up
I once heard about an old Jewish parable which describes Truth arriving in a remote village on a stormy night, shivering and bare. She knocks on every door begging to be let in, but not one door is opened up. Her nakedness and destitution are too much for people and they turn away. But then an old shepherd called Parable finds her huddled against the cold and, feeling sorry for her, Parable takes Truth in, cares for her and clothes her in a story. And the next day, dressed in story, she returns to the village. And this time every door is opened to her and Truth, clothed in story, is welcomed in.
This kind of storytelling, that creates a link between your goals and your listeners’ emotional framework, can work on so many levels for an organisation, whether you are seeking to engage your staff, your customers, partners or those who can influence. And it is this kind of storytelling that will be heard above the noise.
ABOUT KATE NICHOLAS
Kate Nicholas is a best-selling Christian author, preacher and consultant with Action Planning and, in her latest book, Soul’s Scribe, Kate looks at how to understand and share your “soul story” or faith journey. Find out more about her books, TV show and online courses at https://www.katenicholas.co.uk
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