“Once upon a time,” I always began, “there was a little girl named Pesty…”
The bright blue eyes of my sister and brother would grow wide with anticipation as I wove yet another bedtime tale about a reckless heroine who got into all kinds of trouble but always bounced back to save the day. I was about 10 years old, and shared a bedroom in our small suburban house with a sister, just a year younger than me, and my brother, three years younger.
Most nights when my parents turned out the lights, my siblings would look at me and beg, “Tell us another Pesty story.” I made these stories up, and I suspect that the character was wacky and wild to compensate for how safely I lived my own life – never coloring much outside the lines. Pesty was the brave and crazy girl I wish I could be. I made up the stories on the spot, and none of them were not very good – yet my brother and sister were captivated and I learned the wonder of those four magical words … once upon a time.
Many decades later, I treasure great stories told in books, movies, television, theater, and ... church. I believe we don’t tell enough stories in church. And every local community of faith contains a multitude of magnificent stories owned by people in the seats. Stories of courage and failure, of loss and victory, stories of unexpected grace when light penetrates the darkness.
What if we uncovered more of these stories and chose a variety of ways to tell them? First we need to discover the stories, by hunting and listening and networking. The stories are there – trust me, they are. But they must be found. Then we discern how to communicate the tale most effectively.
This can range from simply working with the person who lived the story to tell it live, scripted, skillfully edited, with a little gentle coaching on delivery. I have learned that the person does not have to be a charismatic speaker. A powerful story can inspire us even when told by someone with a quivering voice and shaky knees.
We have all seen powerful stories captured on video. And some stories are best told in a live dramatic scene or in a spoken word piece marked by precise language and striking imagery. Each story can be developed and intentionally prepared for the listeners in the optimal form. I urge you to consider a Story Team who will lead the hunt and then the shaping and design of each story moment.
Our Savior Jesus modeled masterful story telling using everyday moments and images to connect with his listeners. I challenge all of us to follow his example and engage our communities with the undeniable power of those magical words, “Once upon a time... ”
Nancy Beach is one of the founding leaders of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. For over 20 years, she served as Programming Director, influencing the creative direction of churches around the world. The author of "An Hour on Sunday: Creating Moments of Transformation and Wonder”, Nancy coaches creative leaders across the country. Visit her website or follow Nancy on Twitter.