I’m captivated by a good story. A few months ago our church dramatic arts team performed the musical production of Beauty & the Beast. The unexpected plot twists and the soaring lyrics and music expressed the human quest and longing for true love, sacrificial love. Plus, it was a wonderful “bridging event” for inviting spiritually curious friends!
We live in a storytelling culture! Plays, movies, fiction and many non-fiction books, and numerous songs all tell stories. They capture our imagination as we identify with characters and plots and tension points in the storyline. Will it resolve? If so, how?
We post our personal stories on social media, even through pictures posted on Pinterest to show we have a “Pinteresting” life! Why? Because we long to share our meaningful (and sometime less meaningful!) life stories with our friends, and friends are interested in another friend’s life stories.
That’s why sharing our faith stories with people not yet pursuing Jesus is such a powerful way to communicate how Jesus has become real in our lives! Stories tap into our emotions and memories, connecting us with each other through common challenges and longings. They convey powerful messages by impacting the whole person – mind, heart, and will.
Over half of the Bible is in narrative form. Jesus himself taught profound truths through parables, or stories with a purpose. In fact, one passage says he taught in parables all day (Mt. 13:34-35). The Apostle Paul shared his own story three times in the book of Acts (Acts 9:1-30; 22; 26:24-29).
In his recently-released outstanding book, (im)possible: Discover the Joy of a Prayer, Care, Share Life (New Hope Publishers, 2017), Lon Allison describes two types of stories we can share with spiritually-interested people:
1. “Journey with Jesus” Stories: These are “God sightings” -- places where you have experienced God at work in your life, recently or years ago.
Sometimes they are simple, joyful moments, like holding your first child or a beautiful sunset or even the birds in the backyard. Other times they are moments of profound struggle, doubting God, fear, or brokenness needing healing where God met you (guilt, shame, broken relationships). How did you experience God making a difference when facing the death of a friend or family member, loss of a job, anxiety or depression, a major illness, financial pressures, parenting, marriage challenges, betrayal, divorce, racism, or injustice?
You’ve probably thanked God for these moments or told a Christian friend about them. Simply adapt them so a less-religious person would understand them clearly.
2. “Converting” Stories: Can you tell how you came to know Jesus personally or reaffirm your childhood faith?
As Lon Allison says, some of us have a “Point-in-Time” story, a clear moment of surrender to following Jesus. For others, our “Converting Story” is a “Period-of-Time” story, without a specific moment, but a more gradual process of my love for Jesus growing over time. Many who grew up in a Christian home have a “period-of-time” story. Even then, usually 1-2 key defining moments were critical, where our faith came alive. Either way, for clarity you can structure your story in 3 parts: before, how, and now.
A “Point-in-Time” story could describe:
- Before: What was I trusting in before Jesus and how did it not satisfy?
- How: Specifically how did I learn about Jesus and commit to him?
- Now: How has my life been different since trusting Jesus?
A “Period-of-Time” story may describe:
- Before: My early life with Jesus, the church, or a Christian home
- How: A deeper encounter with Jesus. Sometimes a crisis of faith or going to college led to being fully devoted to God’s desires rather than our own.
- Now: My life since my faith awakened
We don’t need a slick, rehearsed story. However, writing out our stories can help us communicate them more briefly, without confusing words, and with more impact.
Here are some Helpful Hints for writing and telling your stories:
- Be Brief: 2 minutes or 300 written words maximum. You can always expand it! (People won’t usually listen longer than 2 minutes in conversation.)
- Clear Language: Imagine an unchurched friend hearing it.
- Jesus Centered: Keep the focus on Jesus, not our past, the church, or us!
- A “Deeper Longing” Theme: Examples include going from performing to grace, materialism to generosity, outer image/beauty/fitness to inner beauty and being others-focused, hatred and anxiety to radical love and peace. Our stories are like a diamond – one rock with many facets. Connect a facet of your story with your friend’s longings and needs. We all long for meaning, love, freedom, and hope.
- Be Believable And Real: Often we tell our stories all “polished up” and with fully resolved endings. The gospel’s power is even more evident when we admit our ongoing struggles and challenges, and how God empowers us through the confusion!
Be encouraged…. You have spiritual stories to tell which people want to hear!
So here’s a challenge! Take time to reflect on your own “Journey with Jesus” and “Converting” stories. Write them out. Get feedback from someone, ideally an unbelieving friend! And then pray for God to give you an opportunity to share a story with someone this week… and watch what God does!
Mark Slaughter (@markaslaughter) has served 27 years as an evangelistic communicator with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, communicating the gospel on college campuses, at conferences, and in churches across the country and abroad. Currently, he is also serving as the National Facilitator of Emerging Generations with the Mission America Coalition (US Lausanne Committee), collaborating with various national ministries and denominational leaders to mentor and empower a new generation of evangelists and leaders.
Mark is a graduate of Taylor University (B.A. in Religion and Bible) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M. Div. in Evangelism). He is also a graduate of Leighton Ford’s Arrow Leadership Program. Mark and his wife, Dawn, live near Indianapolis. They have two adult children, and two grandchildren.