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Learning To Tell The Story

“My father is a pastor…you know, like, of a church.” I explained sheepishly.

“Oh, so you’re a pastor’s kid?” My co-worker asked.

I nodded.

“I dated a pastor’s kid once,” She continued, barely noticing my assent.”For four years.”

I apologized, and she smiled and continued. “No, he was a good kid. But I had to call it off when I realized I liked his parents more than I liked him. They were really nice people. Lutherans — really nice people. I could sit through his father’s sermons too. You know? I could listen to him. He didn’t talk down to people. He was just really wise and would just teach, not have to ‘preach’, you know what I mean? He was a smart guy, had a PhD or something, but you never could tell, he was just so humble and simple.”

Interesting. This co-worker of mine had exhibited allergy-like symptoms when topics of faith were in the air, particularly Christianity, but she spoke fondly of this pastor and his ability to communicate. She even went as far as to say that she missed him. She made me think about how the ability to speak into people’s lives without that self-righteous air can go a long way.

And it’s not easy. Many sermons tend to have more in common with a geometrical proof than the parables of Jesus. In a recent conversation, someone shared that especially in Presbyterian circles, the pastor was viewed as a teaching elder with the particular equipping (through seminary) to be the theological expert, a lecturer of a particular sort.

But wasn’t Jesus a storyteller and a teacher? Do we know how to tell and re-tell the story?

Partly out of my line of work and partly out of my growing interest, I’ve grown to admire communicators like Garr Reynolds, who is a master of presentation, and Garrison Keillor. I was incredibly impressed that Al Gore won an Oscar for doing a polished presentation on global warming. The powerful tools he uses to deliver his message are at our very fingertips and yet most teachers in the church haven’t done a single thing to improve the ways in which they communicate for as long as they’ve ever done it.

I think that while thousands and thousands of pastors across the nation speak to their congregations on Sunday mornings (and then some), I wonder if we capture the imagination and deliver the “story” of who Christ was and is and will be, how we fit into that beautiful and twisting story, and what is at stake for that story to be told well. To paraphrase what Rob Bell subtitled one of his seminars, are we speakers who continually “have to say something” as opposed to “having something to say”.

I think about this a great deal, but as an Asian born in America worshipping a Jewish Messiah, there is a lot of explaining to do–that is a big story. I want I need to hear that story in an Asian American church. I know doctrine is incredibly important, I know, but the fuel for seeking out doctrine and theology is set ablaze by my hearing of the story. No other church can tell me that story as well as an Asian American church and yet, so many are silent on the narrative.

I wonder if many of us are challenged with how different the composition of a story is from a thesis paper or an argument. A story is something else altogether… below, a brilliant primer in storytelling from Ira Glass. Learn to tell the story…


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

2 responses to “Learning To Tell The Story

  1. elderj

    And yet here you are off to seminary to be schooled in the academics of ministry

  2. daniel so

    maybe i need to repent a little bit, because i find myself looking forward to the next episode of “this american life” more than hearing sermons during our early morning prayer meetings 😉

    seriously, though, thank you for the link to this ira glass piece. as someone with a presbyterian seminary background who has been in presby circles for most of my life, i agree (with a big grin) when you say, “Many sermons tend to have more in common with a geometrical proof than the parables of Jesus.”

    i wonder if it is not some kind of need to “prove” ourselves that we would rather preach doctrine and theology, rather than following a more narrative approach. it strange, though — several years ago, when i was making a transition from youth ministry to em, i tried to leave behind anecdotes and humor — mistakenly assuming that adults just wanted the “meat.” needless to say, for several weeks, our services felt more like training seminars than worship (and i could just see the congregation checking their watches, waiting for it all to end).

    i suppose it is safer — and, ultimately, easier — to draft a three-point sermon/lecture (perhaps forming a clever acronym!) than to craft sermons that plug us into the meta-narrative of God’s story. after all, who can question your orthodoxy or theological competence if your sermon is basically just a doctrinal presentation? i suppose the trick is telling stories the way jesus did — deceptively simple, completely captivating, yet packed with incredible spiritual truths.

    i think ira glass would agree that jesus told incredible anecdotes that paid off with huge moments of reflection 🙂

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