Storytelling

"Why were human beings created?" goes a traditional Jewish saying. "Because God loves stories." God fashioned us to enjoy stories and to tell stories. As God revealed himself in history, he created many stories to tell; thus, the Bible is one story composed of many stories.
Storytelling, Bible Storying and Storying

In the mid-1980s Christian missionaries developed a renewed appreciation for the Grand Narrative of the Bible and with it the value of Bible storytelling in Christian ministry. Not surprisingly, these missionaries used Bible stories in different ways depending on their context and aims. Several missionaries working in the Philippines developed a distinctive method of using Bible stories in chronologically-arranged instruction. They needed a name that would distinguish it from other uses of Bible storytelling. They chose the seldom-used term "storying" and created the name "Chronological Bible Storying." In practice that cumbersome label was frequently shortened to "CBS" or "Bible storying" or simply "storying." The context in which "storying" is used has to indicate whether "storying" is shorthand for Chronological Bible Storying or refers to a similar storytelling-based teaching method that is used with individual Bible stories.

Chronological Bible Storying

Chronological Bible Storying (CBS) is the process of encountering God by telling the stories of the Bible in the order they happened. Each story is told without interruption or comment. After each story, the participants discuss the significance of the narrative and how it affects their lives. Each story builds on those that came before; as a result, the overarching message of the Bible becomes clear and they discover their own place in God's story.

The basic components of CBS are ancient. As long as people have existed, they have told various kinds of stories. Whenever curious listeners have asked, 'What happened next?' it has been natural for the storyteller to narrate the events chronologically.   The stories in the Bible have also been told from ancient times. The events of the Bible took place in an era in which storytelling was as natural as breathing. It is not surprising that people passed the stories along, linking them in sequence. The Bible is essentially a single long story composed of many individual stories. It begins with creation and ends with the final judgment. In between, it tells hundreds of stories about the patriarchs, the Israelites and their neighbors, the life of Jesus, and Jesus´ early followers.

A careful study of history shows that there have been scattered instances in which people have used Bible storytelling in various ways to communicate effectively. Some of them have told the stories chronologically. Usually, this practice came about as Christians tried different approaches in light of people’s responses to their presentations.  In most cases, Christian leaders simply recognized that people took more interest in stories, remembered them better, and were more likely to be influenced by them. In some cases, they found that stories were less likely to provoke argument or hostile responses. The stories were less likely to be perceived as an attack on the religious beliefs and practices of the hearers. Other Christians recognized that ethnic and cultural groups conveyed much of their identity and beliefs through stories and turned to biblical stories as an ancient, time-tested way of transmitting Christian identity and beliefs.

Since the early 1980s, there has been an effort to refine this ancient practice into a purposeful approach so that people in every culture can understand the message of the Bible by hearing the stories of the Bible. Several people have developed training materials to introduce their approaches to Bible storytelling. We are grateful to the various authors and creators for letting us make these materials available online.

Topical Bible Storying

Once people discover how effective Bible stories can be in teaching the Bible, it's a natural step to use multiple Bible stories that speak to a particular topic. Stories of Sorrow and Grief for Women, for instance encourages women. The stories show that God knows their pain and he responds to them with compassion and power when they trust him. The "Forgiveness" stories were selected for use with an ethnic group who seemingly had no word for "forgive" because they had no practice of forgiving. Getting revenge was all they knew. Topically-arranged sets of Bible stories can provide the basis for discipleship, leadership training, and theological education. A seminary professor compiled a set of Bible stories containing references to angels and demons. Following Jesus is an oral approach to discipleship and leadership training that consists largely of topical story sets. It includes about 240 different Bible stories that teach on topics like salvation, prayer, abiding in Christ, stewardship, witness, functions of the church, family life, and dealing with the temptations of money, sex, and power.

Although the Bible stories that comprise a topical set are often told chronologically, that is not essential. In a topical set, the chronological connections are less important. What is more important is whether the stories that are used do justice to the biblical teaching on the topic and speak effectively to the intended audience.

Understanding Story Sets

A well-prepared story set works collectively as a unit. It is more than just one Bible story told after another like individual beads on a string. Well-prepared story sets are like a carefully-executed tapestry. A good story set is Scriptural, contextualized, relationally sensitive, purposeful, and cohesive.

Creating Story Sets

Tell the Story is a workbook that walks the reader through the process of preparing a set of stories for an audience and purpose of the reader's choosing. Tell the Story is available for free in PDF format. The same planning process is used, whether creating story sets for evangelism, discipleship, leadership training, church formation, or other purposes.

The process begins with identifying the precise biblical matter to be taught and describing in detail the audience for whom the story set is being prepared. With that information clearly in mind, it is possible to identify biblical stories that could be used to teach the desired biblical truth to the intended audience, taking into consideration their demographic characteristics, spiritual understanding, attitude toward Christianity, and many other factors. From a larger list of possible stories, a smaller group of stories is selected. Each story should convey specific aspects of the biblical teaching on the topic. Most individual stories will also speak to felt needs of the audience, gaps in their understanding, or barriers to their acceptance of and obedience to biblical teaching. Other considerations may also affect the selection of stories: time limitations, length of listeners' attention span, the need to include stories that reassure and not just have a series of stories that hammers the listeners story after story.

Once the tentative story list has been chosen, the work of storycrafting begins. The StoryTogether process is a sophisticated and effective method of cross-language storycrafting. The best story sets manage to tell each biblical story in a way that is faithful to the Bible and simultaneously contextualized to the situation. They are understandable and orally repeatable. They use the same terminology consistently from one story to the next. Internal connections among stories, such bringing in an OT prophecy that is mentioned in a NT story, are provided for.

The best way to determine whether the stories have reached this level is to test them among people who are representative of the intended audience. The results of the testing often lead to revising the wording in the story, making the sequence of action clearer, highlighting why events turned out as they did, eliminating minor details that were distracting or needlessly offensive, and so forth. The StoryTogether page says more about this subject. Once the stories have been successfully crafted, then it is time to determine how to link the stories together, how to introduce each individual story, what discussion questions to use, and more.