A hundred and fifty years ago people felt compelled to follow the truth when they were shown it. It doesn’t work that way any more, does it?  Here is the key to keep in mind: People will only care about your explanations when they covet your experiences.Yeshua said he would make us fishers of people. The bait is not explanations: it is experience with God. 

For those of us who have experienced surprising intimacy with God and spiritual breakthroughs through our encounters with the More Jewish Jesus, the best way for us to relate these matters to others is to tell them a story from our own life which gives them reason to think, “Maybe he/she has encountered God in a way that I haven’t!  What we need to do then is to share with them a slice of life with God. I know I have such slices, occasions when it really seems that God showed up. Our job then is to give others a taste of one or more of those slices so they might themselves “taste and see that the LORD is good!”[1]

Tell Me a Story

We are talking then about story telling. It’s gotten trendy nowadays, so that even advertisers are using this approach. But his potent way of conveying truth is ancient. For millennia it has been seen as the best way to convey heartfelt core experiences and convictions. To prove this to yourself, just consider how deeply American culture has been penetrated by cinema as the arena for considering and debating values and choices, both personal and cultural. Movies are just a way of telling a story, and the stories stick! No wonder then that the Bible itself is a book of stories, not a book of explanations.

In telling our spiritual stories we have a different goal than story-tellers in the world of commerce. While their goal is to make a sale, to get the client to “Yes,” our goal is to get our friend to “Maybe.” If we’ve got “Yes” on our mind, we may just get manipulative and insistent, and in matters of the spirit, this is a deal-breaker. Instead, our approach is to cause the person to think, “Just maybe my friend has encountered God in a way, or to a degree, that I need to investigate further.”  Get them to maybe. Make maybe your goal. And in the back of your mind remember this: no one ever got to “Yes” unless they first got to “Maybe.” And don’t just tell any old story: tell one that highlights an encounter and experience with God. That’s because people will only care about your explanations when they covet your experiences.

So how can we tell a story that sings—that penetrates the mind and the imagination. What might it take to tell a good spiritual heart story?  Here are seven keys.

Seven Keys to Telling a Good Story

The first key is this: Assess who you are talking to. Who are they? What makes them tick? What turns them on and what turns them off? Where are they at, and what do they seem to be ripe for at this time in their life. In other words, tune in to who they are and what matters to them. Then find some story in your life that as closely as possible touches on those issues. Sharing your faith-life must never be about making a canned pitch. If you are always telling your story the same way, something is wrong. You are not keying into the diversity of your audience. Instead, assess who you are talking to and tailor your presentation to them.

The second key is: Passion. Tell a story that matters to you.  The only kind of story that will move your friends is one that moves you. Being interesting comes easy once you are excited about something. So choose a story that matters to you, because only stories that matter to you will matter to others.  Trying to move people through a story that does not really matter to you will end up feeling phony: phony to you and phony to your friend. It ends up being an exercise in manipulation.

The third key is make sure you are a relatable protagonist. In a story as in a movie, the protagonist is the person who leads us through the story and allows us to see it through his or her eyes. The protagonist is the person with whom we identify. In this case you are the protagonist, because it is your story. But you need to be a protagonist your listener can relate to. This means you can’t present your experience as weird and unrelatable: “I came to believe in Yeshua and for four days straight I had visions of heaven!” How nice for you. But you just lost your listener. “Before I believed in Yeshua I was a convicted sex offender!” By this time your listener is calling 911. Make yourself relatable! Tell your story in a manner such that your friend will say, “I can relate!  That could be me too!” When your listener is a close friend, all of this territory is already taken care of.

The fourth key that makes for a compelling, engrossing story is make sure you have a well-defined antagonist. The antagonist is the obstacle or negative situation that you were faced with as the context for God’s intervention. You must do what you can to make the listener feel the weight of the problem or obstacle and to feel its oppression. The more they feel the reality of the antagonist the more they will experience the release of the rescue You can be sure that if they don’t care about the problem, they will not care about the solution.

Our fifth key is identify a turning point.  In many such stories there is a turning point at which things changed for the better, had a breakthrough insight, or in which one experienced a new reality in a transforming manner—a clear pivot between before and after. What was it?  Can you describe it in a way that makes this come alive for your listener[s]? This always makes for a gripping story.

The sixth key is portray the right hero. The hero of the story is not you advertising yourself as gloriously transformed.  In the slice of life with God model, the hero is always the same: it is God.  How did God show up in your situation, how did who God is and what He does begin to make a difference in your life and situation. And how was your encounter with the More Jewish Jesus a catalyst for your pivotal encounter and for the step that follows this?

The seventh and final key is give people a taste of transformation. Assuming that you are the protagonist in the story, how is life different now, if at all, because of the pivotal encounter you chronicle in your story?  Don’t overstate it, but on the other hand if there is no taste of transformation, your listener(s) will no occasion to hunger for what you have. Remember, people will only care about your explanations when they covet your experiences. But always, be honest: there is more credibility in hesitancy than hype.

Some Final Words About Telling Your Story

In our Western culture, “It’s only a story” is a way of saying that what is being conveyed is not to be taken too seriously. However, in most of the world, and in the Bible itself, story-telling, and not lecturing, is the preferred manner of conveying spiritual truth, of conveying the meaning of life, and of motivating transformative action.  In most of the world, stories are taken very seriously. And in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, communications guru Carmine Gallo reminds us of this relevant insight:

According to molecular biologist John Medina of the University of Washington School of Medicine, the human brain craves meaning before details. When a listener doesn’t understand the overarching idea being presented in a pitch, they have a hard time digesting the information.[2]

And the way they will understand the overarching idea, life transformation through encounter with the living God, is through your slice of life with God.

And be sure to remember: don’t feel pressured to “close the deal,” or to tell your friend everything you know in this one conversation. The advice is sound: less is more. Take your time. It is always good to remember Paul’s wise words to the community in Corinth: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”[3]  It is always God who does the heavy lifting. Always.

 

[1] Ps. 34:8, ESV
[2] Carmine Gallo, “The Art of the Elevator Pitch,” Harvard Business Review, found on line at https://hbr.org/2018/10/the-art-of-the-elevator-pitch, October 10, 2018.

 

[3] 1 Co 3:6, ESV

This material is adapted from a forthcoming book by Rabbi Dauermann. It will be a discipleship manual for millennials.