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Why all Christians should know how to tell a story

CHRISTIAN LIVING | Kaley Payne

Friday 24 May 2013

Eternity writer Kaley Payne went along to a storytelling workshop run by popular Christian author Naomi Reed. There were tears. Find out why…

Turning away from her audience, Naomi Reed shrouds herself in a purple scarf. Head down, her shoulders drop. Her body expands slightly, growing as she takes a deep breath and turns back to us. But she’s not Naomi anymore. She’s the woman at the well, telling us about her encounter with Jesus, described in John 4.

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Naomi Reed telling the story of the woman at the well from John 4. Source: http://naomireed.info

You can’t fake a passion for the Bible. A love of the biblical stories and a hunger for God’s word seeps out of a person. You can tell it in the way they read the Bible aloud. And that’s a scary thought for some of us.- a challenge, even. But it’s clear God’s given that passion to Naomi Reed.

“You will be my witnesses.” Naomi reads from Acts 1:8 at the beginning of her oneday storytelling workshop in Sydney last weekend. Called Master the Art of Storytelling, the bestselling Christian author (who penned The Seventh Monsoon amongst other books) is travelling Australia this year teaching Christians the “power of story” to engage an audience with the gospel message.

“Jesus doesn’t say ‘you should be my witnesses’, or ‘you may be’. But ‘you will be’,” she tells her audience. “You just will be.”

The workshops start out with the basics of Bible storytelling—choosing a story from the Bible and turning it into an oral presentation. We’re encouraged to think about the universality of story, the elements that make a good story and the place of story in the Bible.

“I heard someone say once that Jesus wasn’t a theologian,” says Naomi. “He was God who told stories. Jesus, in answer to many theological questions, started out by saying, ‘Well, there was a man…’”

In groups, we craft a third person Bible story, then a first person story, from different characters’ perspectives: a person in the crowd when Jesus heals the bleeding woman, or Mary meeting Jesus at the well. We talk about character, setting, the use of emotion, and using space and movement to bring the audience along in your story. The audience—made up of majority children and youth ministry workers—takes it all in.

But it’s when we come to the afternoon sessions about telling our personal stories of faith that the focus is less on form and structure and more on encouraging Christians to embrace story as a way to “speak into each other’s lives” and tap into their own emotions in order to connect with others.

Naomi knows how to tell a story. It appears instinctive; she can’t help but tell a story. If you ever meet Naomi in person and hear her tell those stories, you’ll know it to be true—a story is powerful when “we’re honest, and when we share them.”

“It’s all about being real and vulnerable,” Naomi says. She points to the rise of social media as indicative of the increasing desire for self-expression. “People don’t just want to be told the facts—they want relationship.”

“We’ve grown up thinking that sharing our faith or our testimony is about getting out a list of doctrinal elements,” she says. “We don’t think too much about how God has impacted us, and how those stories can be really powerful.”

Powerful enough to have half the conference audience crying as we went through the process of identifying the ‘real’ part of our personal testimonies and attempting to find our “faith stories”, the ways we have seen God working in our lives.

It’s clear that many of us in the audience have never thought much about sharing with others—Christians or otherwise—about how we’ve felt God changing us. Sure, we’ve thought about our testimony. But for many of us it starts with “I grew up in a Christian family”, which doesn’t grab anyone’s attention.

Not unlike a group therapy session in some respects, Naomi encourages us to start noticing potential stories as we go. “Something that God showed you this week that you could tell someone else maybe,” she suggests, stressing the importance of understanding and distilling the ways we see God in our everyday lives, and the value in sharing them.

“The value of story in the Christian life transforms into the value of sharing in the Christian life.”

Leaving the workshop late on Saturday afternoon, I’d learnt what could only be described as intimate details about people in the room I hadn’t met until that morning. And yet, throughout the day, as we shared our own stories and listened to others, we cried, we laughed and we witnessed firsthand the power of story to genuinely connect with others.

One-day Master the Art of Storytelling workshops with Naomi Reed are coming to

  • Launceston – Saturday 8th June
  • Gosford, NSW – Friday 2nd August
  • Melbourne – Saturday 19th October
  • Tamworth NSW – Saturday 9th November

Visit http://naomireed.info/storytelling-conferences/ for more information.

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