For all the interest and enthusiasm about storytelling in the church lately, there’s still a lot of fear involved in sharing our stories in front of God and everybody. And it's understandable. Think about it. We're all social creatures. From an early age, we have a tendency to scan our environments to observe what people are wearing, how they’re talking and what they’re saying. This is one of many survival techniques we perfect as we get older. We need to belong, and we want to make sure our words and actions don’t put that in jeopardy.
I love to film people’s stories. But whenever we wrap up filming, the first question people usually ask me is, “Was that ok?” What they’re really asking us is, “Can you use that? Did I say what you wanted?” And they’re probably feeling something closer to “Crap, why did I just say all that on camera?” All of a sudden, it’s out there now for the world to see, outside their control.
When we ask people to share their stories, it’s important to remember that we’re asking a lot. Even if someone's pain or grieving is in the rear view mirror, it’s still hard to talk about, especially with the entire church. In some cases, we may be asking people to be more vulnerable than we’re used to being ourselves. If we begin to see people’s stories simply as good content, we’ll ignore the reasons most people don’t want to open up.
I May End Up Feeling Stupid
Ever felt embarrassed and wished you could hide? For some people, this feeling doesn’t just keep them hidden. It completely incapacitates them. It’s shame, and it’s very, very real. Removing shame is is at the very heart of church storytelling. Otherwise we just stick to the script, because it’s too big a risk to share who we really are.
Shame has a way of keeping us walled-off and hidden. It acts against our best interests, keeping us from what we need most - to be seen, heard and loved. If you can help someone move past shame and into a place of trust and vulnerability, the story they share will have the power and potential to change lives.
My Story’s Not Very Good
In over a decade of church storytelling, I’ve never met someone who was convinced that they had a great story. Most of us don’t think so. And especially if your church tells heroic stories of faith and mission and miracles, people are likely to feel that their story doesn’t have what it takes. Part of your ministry as a storyteller is to hold up a mirror to someone’s story, to recognize the truth and beauty in that story, and to name it.
It’s true, some stories are impressive, and they will wow people. And there’s definitely a place for inspirational stories. But the most memorable, most meaningful stories we share usually have to do with doubt, struggle and real life. People need to see the value in their own stories, and they need you to show it to them.
What If No One Wants to Hear It?
If sharing your story is an act of faith, believing that it could actually impact or help someone is a leap of faith. But it’s a leap of faith that God tends to reward. I fundamentally believe that everyone has something in their story that someone else needs to hear. Today probably. That’s how the Kingdom works. We’re all on a journey, but there’s something in your own journey that’s not just for you, it’s for other people too.
One of my absolute favorite things is to watch how people respond to the stories we tell, especially how they gravitate toward the person who shared. If we show someone's story on film, we’ll often recognize them in our worship services. Afterwards, people flock to that person. The Holy Spirit was working overtime and a deep connection was made.
If you’re a storyteller, I encourage you to create an environment of trust with the people who share with you. This is a ministry of soul care, to remove fear, guilt and shame. Once people know they can be real and vulnerable, you’re likely to find some powerful stories.
I believe that storytelling is an invitation to move our churches into a deeper experience of truth and beauty. But it will only happen if we stop hiding our stories.