The Discipline of Storytelling

As a leader, one of your most important and unexpected roles, is you are Chief Storyteller. You are the carrier of the tale of what God is up to in your midst. A story will captivate the imagination of your team like nothing else. It will remind them of why you are doing what you are doing. You need to constantly seek out, collect up, and winsomely relay stories that capture your movement.

This is a very biblical practice. I think of Joshua and the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan River and into the promised land. God commanded them to take 12 stones from the bottom of the river as they crossed. Why? So, they could build an altar with those 12 stones and whenever the next generation or the generation after that wondered about God’s faithfulness, they could tell the story.

You’re the keeper of stories. Tell them consistently and creatively and invite people to become part of legend. When a few members of my team visited the Dream Center in Los Angeles a few years ago, we were so impressed that everyone we talked to at every level of the organization knew the story. The founder, Tommy Barnett, had done a masterful job as chief storyteller. Everyone knew that the reason they exist is to, “find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it.”

There are two particular kinds of stories that are important to tell. First are the stories of “why.” These days it seems every church or business or organization is experiencing unprecedented turnover in their workforce. Think about how many of your team members have never heard the why behind the things you do. Almost every decision, program, or product trace back to a genesis moment.

I was In Phoenix some years ago sitting across from a Vietnamese pastor. I asked him why he became a pastor. He told me a story about the late 70’s in Vietnam when he was growing up. It was illegal to be a Christian. Bibles cost an equivalent of over $1000. All of the Christians in his village pulled their resources over a period of years to purchase an illegal copy of a bible. They ripped out the pages and handed each section out to different families from the village. That family’s job was to memorize the pages. When the underground church would meet, the family who had that section memorized for the reading of the day, was responsible to recite the scripture. They also worshipped without making any sound. They would agree on a song, tap out the beat of the song on a table and move their mouths and their bodies with great expressiveness, but just not make any noise. Seeing the devotion of these people to their God, he had no choice but to become a pastor and tell everyone he could about this loving God who was worth risking his life for.

The second kind of stories that are important to tell are stories of life change. People can argue with a sermon, and they can even argue with the bible, but it’s really hard to argue a changed life. Whenever you hear a story of a life that has been changed, you need to figure out who needs to hear that story. But it must be told. Not only do stories help your team members, but stories bolster your own morale. They are like a shot in the arm, a visible reminder that what you are doing is working. If we don’t adopt a discipline of storytelling, you and your whole organization will fall victim to certain discouragement.

Jesus was the greatest storyteller of all-time. If you had been in one of those crowds and heard his stories once, you would remember them forever! When we consider how to become more like Christ, maybe his storytelling is an area we should concentrate on a bit more.

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