Valuing Storytelling over the Story

October 9th, 2009


I couldn’t believe my ears. In fact, I’m still not sure I heard it right. “Your churches need to be doing high-tech youth ministry,” said the traveling youth speaker to a room full of parents. I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair and wondered, “What about smaller churches? Some churches don’t have the resources to do that kind of high-tech youth ministry.” He seemed to suggest that high-tech youth ministry was not an option, that if you weren’t high-tech you weren’t in tune with this generation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we have a video projector with PowerPoint, a Web site, a digital camera, and a sound system. I agree with the speaker’s basic premise that we should take advantage of media to communicate the gospel to this generation. However, it made me reflect on whether I spend far more energy thinking about how to tell the Story than I spend thinking about the Story itself and what kind of people storytellers must be. I’m sometimes too quick to bow to what Os Guinness in Prophetic Untimelinesscalled the “idol of relevance.” In all of our excitement about story telling and our efforts to perfect the craft, are youth workers in danger of valuing story telling over telling the story?

I confess I’ve planned an entire lesson around a funny story I just had to tell even though I could barely find a Bible verse to go with it. I have been known to spend more time perfecting my PowerPoint presentation than meditating on the passage I was preparing to teach. I’ve slighted prayer in order to set up the projector. I’ve secretly wondered how I could be effective without a building, a budget, or a band. In fact, working in a larger church only lends itself to wanting a still bigger building, budget, and I still don’t have a band. All of these struggles are symptoms of a deeper problem in me. I’m more concerned about having the right storytelling tools, toys, and talent than I am about the Story I’m called to tell.

As youth workers, we must recapture the cross of the Story. Students need the power of the Gospel more than they need my flashy PowerPoint presentations. The method of story telling will have no power to transform the next generation unless they hear and believe the message of the Story in the stories we tell them (Galatians 3:1-5).

While I was in seminary studying youth ministry, the Gospel lost its flavor on my desk over time and I found myself looking elsewhere to taste something I thought was fresh and alive. It’d be easy to blame seminary, theology, or the study of Greek and Hebrew for my loss of appetite for the story, but that wouldn’t be fair or accurate. The truth is I let my heart get so bogged down in the details and disconnected from real cross-centered community that I lost the wonder of the story and the joy of being part of it.

I didn’t stay there, thankfully, but it took several years and a few key relationships to begin to recover. In fact, I’m still recovering. I’m still tempted to live life and minister through my own strength rather than depending on the power of the Gospel. God has given me relationships with Gospel-driven men and women who share with me not only the Gospel, but their lives as well. Their lives and their love were the perfect context in which I could taste and see how good the Gospel really is.

My story is this: I’ve fallen in love again with the hero of the story, and I’ll never be the same. Sometimes though, I must confess, I still love the story telling more than I love the story itself.


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