The Power of Story

July 19th, 2017

The theme of “story” has been a popular one as of late. Multiple camps have used it. I’ve seen it as a sermon series at youth groups. There’s been different takes on it. Some have emphasized the idea of “God’s Story, My Story, Your Story” or “Sharing Your Story” and I’ve watched as a youth group went full-on-T-Swift and talked about our “Love Stories.” Donald Miller does a conference called “Storyline” (and published a book by the same name). There are countless other examples.

There’s also been a tagline that has been used in many of these camps/conferences/books/series/etc. “The Power of Story.” But it’s occurred to me that while most of us believe in the power of story, there are levels of how much power we think it has.

Many of us might begin our lessons with a story. Depending on the length of your message, you may use multiple stories as illustrations. But how many of us would get up to give a sermon and ONLY tell a story? No commentary. No “three points.” No points at all. Just stand in front of our youth group, tell a story, and then sit down.

Does story have enough power to stand on its own?

I find it challenging when I read the Bible and notice how much of it is story that doesn’t have commentary attached to it (save for all the commentaries we’ve written on them since). Jesus pretty much only explains one of his parables in any detail. The bulk of the Old Testament is stories of the History of God’s people. God inspired most of the authors of the scriptures to write stories… and yet it seems in modern times, God only inspires us to write… commentaries.

I’ve done a few projects where I’ve asked youth pastors from around the country to give me stories about specific topics. These have always been real-life stories about experiences they’ve had. Each time I’ve been pretty fascinated by how many of the stories handed in need MAJOR editing to be useful. Translation – I’m SHOCKED by how many youth pastors seem to be bad storytellers!

Bad Storytellers

Back in high school, I overheard a girl telling a friend, “I’m a big believer in the idea that there are no ‘bad stories,’ just bad storytellers.” Twenty years later I’m not sure I can sign off on that idea 100%, but I know there’s a ton of truth to it. I’ve watched movies that were great, even though the premise was odd and the story was iffy (at best). But the storytelling of the directors and writers and producers was so strong that it was a fantastic movie. (A great example of this is “The Descendants” with George Clooney.) I’ve also seen great source material turned into terrible movies. (Pretty much 90% of the books that are turned into movies.)

Have Christians neglected the art of storytelling? Have we lost our belief in the Power of Story? If so, then is it any wonder that the bulk of Christian movies produced are of such poor quality?

Youth ministry needs better storytellers. Heck, Christianity as a whole needs better storytellers. We need to not just talk about the power of story but actually believe in it.

JONATHAN HOBBS is the Director of Youth Ministries at the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, Pennsylvania. He has worked in youth ministry for almost 20 years, including churches in New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. He has spoken and/or led worship for multiple camps, retreats, and events around the country and has written multiple articles for blogs, newspapers, and magazines.  He also co-wrote/edited a book called “Don’t Do This” which is full of stories about failures in youth ministry. (Something he knows a lot about).  He is the founder of J3 Youth Ministry (WWW.J3YOUTHMINISTRY.COM) and is one of the hosts of the J3 Youth Ministry Podcast. He took karate in high school because he thought it would help make him cool. He was wrong. Jonathan and his wife, Carolyn, have two beautiful daughters, Kaylin and Julia. He loves golf, can juggle two balls skillfully and does a halfway decent impression of Kermit the Frog. He’s also a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @JONHOBBSTWEETS.


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