Storytelling is a universal phenomenon playing a significant and revered role in all cultures before our modern western age. Through the passing on of stories, history was learned and remembered, children were educated, truths were passed on, and hope was given. Listeners learned about good and evil, about perseverance in the face of all kinds of trials, and that ultimately good wins over evil. Many stories portrayed a simple dichotomy of good versus evil, but more complex stories showed that most of the world had a propensity for either, and it was up to us to choose to do right.
’tis pleasant to repeat
each time I tell it,
more wonderfully sweet.
—Arabella Katherine Hankey, 1866
The scientific revolution brought an end to the prominent place of story in culture and instead instilled a reverence for facts and figures, for utilitarianism, with time equaling money and with value tied to productivity. Storytelling was seen as frivolous entertainment relegated to children, and societies no longer saved a place of prominence for the local bards, the gifted storytellers in their midst. Eventually stories fell victim to capitalism as the entertainment industry cashed in on our unfed need. Now we can find stories to meet our every whim.
But have you noticed in recent years that the art of storytelling and stories themselves are growing in importance? There is an increasing amount of literature that shows how the ability to tell stories is a needed skill for leaders. Marketers have realized that the best ad campaigns include stories. Doctors know that facts alone won’t change behavior; people are better motivated by a story they can relate to. So once again people are encouraged to develop the skill of storytelling.
The church, too, is beginning to pay more attention to stories and storytelling. We have noted just how few Christians know the entirety of God’s big story. The loss of that shared narrative and history has resulted in a loss of identity. Not knowing the stories in Scripture means we no longer have an understanding of a God who is at work in this world. We have lost our understanding of how God works through imperfect people to bring about God’s justice, mercy, and blessing. Most importantly, we have forgotten how God’s story ends and the hope that it brings. This story and the Spirit who works through it are so powerful that lives are changed.
It struck me while I was editing this issue just how many of the articles talk in some way about telling God’s story while many of the resources do the actual storytelling. Whether or not you use these resources, my prayer is that all of us might see our role as tellers of God’s story as a great honor and privilege that needs to be nurtured. May all of us find God’s story “more wonderfully sweet” each time we tell it.