Tapping into the Power of Story

by Terry Wilhite

The most powerful way you'll ever find to bring  "high voltage" to your presentations is through the use of "story." At this time of the year, we're telling the Christmas story. A few months from now, we'll recount the Easter story. At these times of the year, more people come into our sanctuaries than at any other. Why? Is it tradition that draws them? Or could it be that they especially like how we present the message at these times through story?

I just returned from Injoy's Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. Every year leadership author and pastor-mentor John Maxwell assembles, in my opinion, the best lineup of thinkers and leaders who are enabling Christian communicators to be even more relevant and effective.

This year's conference theme was "Epic" and one of the featured speakers was pastor and teacher John Eldredge, author of the best-selling volume, Wild at Heart. Eldredge has written a new book called Epic: the Story God Is Telling and the Role That Is Yours to Play (Nelson Books, 2004). It's a small volume that would make a great Christmas gift for those on your list and for yourself. Why? It will show you in a fresh way that we're never more like our Creator as Communicator than when we employ the use of story.

"Christianity," Eldredge says, "in it's true form, tells us that there is an Author and that He is good, the essence of all that is good and beautiful and true, for He is the source of all these things. It tells us that He has set our hearts' longings within us, for He has made us to live in an Epic. It warns that the truth is always in danger of being twisted and corrupted and stolen from us because there is a villain in the Story who hates and wants to destroy us. It calls us up into a Story that is truer and deeper than any other, and assures us that there we will find the meaning of our lives."

At Catalyst, Eldredge used several movie clips to show how over and over Hollywood employs the essentials of God's story. He masterfully conveyed how movie makers begin their tales in "Eden," where all is well. Then conflict and a villain enter the picture. Later there is the "guy in the white hat" who rides into the scene to save the day. The script progresses toward resolution. Finally, everybody "lives happily ever after." Why do they use this formula, Eldredge asks. "Because God has set eternity in our hearts. Every story we tell is our attempt to put into words and images what God has written there, on our hearts."

It's easy for me, as an instrumentalist on stage in church, to get a "read" on the congregation as a sermon progresses. When story is employed, it is enormously evident that the interest barometer skyrockets! We still all have, deep down, a little kid in us, longing to hear "…and everyone lived happily ever after." I've asked myself this question many times: Is the reason we're not more effective in sharing the gospel because we've missed the formula? As communicators, we've put all of our study on the "what" (and believe me, I understand that is crucial), but we're also holding in our hands the secret to how to share the  "what."

Just think:  our Creator took on human form and what did He do? He came to tell stories, to live out the Story of  stories. What's most amazing and humbling, He's written me (and you) into the script. I fully agree with Eldredge that if we could only get our hands around the utterly simplistic tool of story, we could connect with those around us and help them embrace the gospel.

Several years ago I began a quiet, personal study and introspection about how story is used to communicate. I've read volumes on the subject and I've tried to learn from the works of master storytellers. I had even made the connection that the gospel we hold in our hands is the perfect story, and that our Lord is the best communicator, by telling stories. But I've never seen the connection made as clearly and simply as Eldredge makes it in Epic.

I encourage you to get a copy and to attend Catalyst 2005 in Atlanta, Oct. 6-7, 2005, in Atlanta. You can find information at www.injoy.com or by calling 678-225-3100. John Maxwell goes to great extremes to empower those who attend with fast, relevant, and effective communication concepts and tools. Thanks, John for having me.

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Terry Wilhite is a communications and multimedia specialist. He welcomes your e-mail at: pulpithelps@terrywilhite.com.

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