Storytelling for Preachers and Sermons, Social Sharing Image

How to Become A Better Storyteller In Your Preaching

Where were you when you saw The Passion of the Christ for the first time? Can you remember where you sat? Who you were with? What it was like at the end of the film? The conversations that you had with others in the days that followed? You could have heard the crucifixion story hundreds of times, and even seen multiple Jesus movies — but there was something about Mel Gibson’s storytelling that made the scene come to life in a new and emotional way.

Pastors want their sermons to have a deep and lasting impact in the lives of listeners, much like The Passion of the Christ movie has had on viewers over the years since its release. Preachers hope for the same type of connection with their congregation through the weekly sermon. The Passion of the Christ was a compelling story told in an efficient and climactic way. You may not be making a movie, but the power of this type of storytelling is available to you every time you step into the pulpit. 

Hollywood is full of great storytellers. Preachers need to be good storytellers, too.

But telling anyone to ‘tell stories better’ is like telling someone to ‘be funny’… if you try too hard, it doesn’t work.

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Luckily, there are lots of prompts and strategies available to modern day preachers that will make storytelling a more accessible skill. Even if you’re not a great storyteller by nature, using certain timeless communication truths (and avoiding other communication mistakes) you can continually improve your storytelling ability, eventually developing a rhythm that works for you and works for your people.

In this episode of Hello Church! Podcast we share how to elevate your storytelling through 7 different types of storytelling as well as a list of storytelling fails you will want to avoid. The last thing you want when telling a story, whether it’s yours or one from Scripture, is to get in the way of the core message and miss out on the impact it could and should have on listeners.

Pastors Want to Tell Good Stories

Some pastors are naturally great storytellers. Give them one truth to communicate and they can construct a great story, on the spot, to convey the message. Other pastors might be able to do great research all day long, but it is just hard to turn the information into inspirational stories. Pastors who think in principles typically have a harder time telling stories, while pastors who think in pictures are able to bring a moment to life with words. 

No matter what your storytelling ability is today, there is the desire to tell go stories throughout your sermons and sermon series. 

Why?

Because you know that if you can pair a strong principle with a vivid picture, there is a greater chance the principle will stick.

If you find yourself struggling with the storytelling in your sermons, is to begin analyzing what works in the stories you love the most. Look back at some of your favorite movies, especially ones with great storylines, and rewatch them, but this time study the structure of the story in each film. In fact, you might be able to identify the 7 different types of story structures found in films. 

Desiring to be a better storyteller, knowing the base structure of how stories are formed, and then discovering those story structures in the films you already love is a great training ground for becoming a better storyteller.

Why Stories Are Important

Stories allow you to walk through a passage in a cinematic way. You think about the Garden of Gethsemane and the parting of the Red Sea, and as you read each story, the scenes play out exactly as you would image they would in a movie. 

Not only are stories cinematic, but they also make content accessible to more people. Jesus know this and it’s why he chose to speak in parables to anyone who would listen. In one passage you’ll find Jesus speaking to common tradesman and in another passage you’ll see Jesus speaking to the highly educated and authorities. In every setting he used stories to communicate large and complex truths.

The good Samaritan, the prodigal son, Zacchaeus, the talents, and the lost sheep all represent stories that Jesus used to communicate complex ideas in ways that were simple to comprehend and easy to understand. Every story had a purpose and hit home the core idea he was trying to communicate, offering something for everyone in the process.

Stories allow elements of our sermons to come alive in a way that stating a principle won’t. A passage that has been preached dozens of times before will convey new value and meaning when accompanied by a good story.

The Hero of the Story

In a good story, every character plays a specific role and the storyteller is careful to make sure no character sabatoge’s the role of another character. However, there is one character that emerges as the one humans most often identify with… the hero.

The natural instinct of every human is to stay alive and that naturally means the person we are most interested in and concerned with is ourselves. In many of the stories we tell, we find ourselves at the center of that story, playing the role of ‘hero’ in some way shape or form. Hollywood capitalizes on this self-focus by telling stories and creating characters that everyone can identify with and see part of themselves in. Essentially, we see ourselves as the hero of the story.

Christianity offers a better hero than Hollywood, or anyone else for that matter, could dream up. Jesus is the ultimate hero who lays down his life to die so that others might gain eternal life that rightfully belonged to him. Jesus is the hero of the story. 

When we tell stories in our sermons, the greatest impact from those stories will come by continuing to vividly paint Jesus as the hero he is while reminding listeners what this great hero has done on their behalf. 

Do not make yourself the hero. Do not make the listener the hero. Point to Jesus as the hero of the story and then make the connection that Jesus, the ultimate hero, has made a way for us to be in fellowship with him.

Storytelling Fails

As promised, we have a few storytelling fails that you should be sure to avoid in order to get the most out of the stories you do tell and to become a better storyteller over time.

  1. Do not tell stories about your spouse (or anyone else for that matter) without their permission to share the story.
  2. Don’t spoil Christmas. Listen or watch the episode around the 9:40 minute marker for this one.
  3. Practice the punchline or climax of the story.
  4. Don’t make the story about yourself. You can share stories about yourself, but make sure that Jesus is the hero.

Obviously, there are lots of ways good stories go bad, but crosschecking your stories against these four fails will give you a stronger foundation to build on as you build out the type of story you want to tell.

7 Types of Stories You Can Use

You can very easily do a search for types of stories and you’ll find lots of material, lots of thoughts, lots of opinions on storytelling but there is one source that rises above the others and that is the book Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. We are going to summarize his larger points.

There are 7 types of stories you can use in your preaching to help bring your stories to life and inject a greater connection between the story and the listener.

  • A Comedy Story (Balaam’s ‘donkey’, the multitude of fish)
  • The Underdog Story (David & Goliath, Stetson Bennett, Kurt Warner, Christ’s birth)
  • The Quest (Nehemiah, the Children of Israel, Lord of the Rings)
  • The Return (Prodigal son, Return of the King, Return of the Jedi, The Dark Knight Rises)
  • Tragedy (Lazarus, Romeo & Juliet, A Beautiful Mind, Awakenings)
  • Rags to Riches (Joseph, Kurt Warner, The Greatest Showman)
  • Rebirth (Saul to Paul, Iron Man, personal testimony / salvation stories)

Some stories may find themselves in more than one particular story type and that’s okay! Just be intentional about the angle from which you will be telling the story so you can gain the end result you’re hoping for.

Final Thoughts On Storytelling for Preachers

Scripture informs the message, your big idea drives the delivery, and storytelling connects it all together. The best stories will be the ones that are connected to the greater message as a whole because it will help to sum up the bigger truth in a simple picture. 

If you want to tell great stories in your sermon, you need to prepare a great sermon! Season 2 of Hello Church! Podcast is dedicated to helping pastors preach compelling sermons. In order to get the most out of this episode you’ll want to listen through the companion episodes.

The art of storytelling isn’t limited to showing up in the delivery of an illustration, but rather, it is a strategy you can use throughout your entire message to help deliver timeless truths of familiar passages so that listeners can connect from a new angle or in a new way.

Resources Mentioned

Sermonary
– https://mnstry.co/3yb
Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker
– https://mnstry.co/riy

Chapter Markers

0:19 Welcome to Hello Church!
1:12 Sponsored by Sermonary 2.0
2:30 Introduction to Storytelling for Preachers
3:48 Why Stories Are Important
7:50 Who Is the Hero?
9:09 Storytelling Fails
13:49 7 Types of Stories You Can Use
24:08 Previous Episodes & Upcoming Episodes
24:30 Recap of Storytelling for Preachers

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