Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling

Book Giveaway Trifecta

Ok, so we’ve heard it over and over and over…”tis” the season for giving.  Welp, with that in mind, I’m giving away one of each of my books: Thin Places (I’ll be giving the book & 6 session DVD edition!), Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling and Good News in the Neighborhood.  Click on the BOOKS links above to watch video trailers, read descriptions and endorsements for each.  

Wikipedia defines a trifecta as “a parimutuel bet in which the bettor must predict which horses will finish first, second, and third in exact order.”

Er, umm, that really has nothing to do with this give away, so I’m redefining!

A trifecta “is the opportunity to win one of three LIFE CHANGING (ok, maybe an exaggeration) books with THREE different ways to win.”

Choose one of these three ways to throw your hat in the ring:

1. Follow the link to any of these three book pages and click “like”(right next to the reviews under the title). Thin Places OR Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling OR  Good News in the Neighborhood. Then paste a link to your facebook page in the comments (so I know who to give the book to if you win!).  

2. “Like” my Jon Huckins Writing Facebook page (and post link of your facebook page in Comments below) OR follow me on Twitter and Tweet, “Jump in to win one of @jonhuckins books! http://wp.me/p2vhWw-n7 #BookGiveawayTrifecta”  

3. Write a TRIFECTA Haiku (a Haiku is three phrases -- 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern) in the comments describing your love of egg nog.

I’ll be randomly picking winners on Monday!  Three, Two, One…TRIFECTA!!

The Science of Storytelling and Listening

This article was originally posted on Fuller Youth Institute’s website.  For full list of statistic sources, click here. 

Although I’ve spent one semester as a seventh and eighth grade science teacher, I don’t claim to be a scientist.

In fact, in high school and college, it was the subject I avoided the most.  Years later, I started to take seriously my role as a communicator and discovered the significance of science in relation to my understanding of how best to engage listeners with the Story of God.

It turns out that learning more about the science of listening can actually change the way you and I teach kids in our ministries.

Neurologically-Friendly Teaching

Listening is central to the growth and development of everyone who can hear. Studies show that 53% of class time for a U.S. college student is spent listening.1  For the same demographic, nearly 12 hours out of a 24-hour day are spent in some form of listening activity.2  The often unspoken reality is that listening does not necessarily constitute learning, content retention or a willingness to believe information.  In contrast, some studies show that we remember a mere 25% of the content we are presented.3

Why so little? Students tend to listen for facts, but get easily distracted.  Their listening is sidetracked by noise, daydreaming, or chasing another topic altogether.  And often, students listen without being interested in the subject at hand in the first place.4

With all this being said, the task of an effective communicator is not to be taken lightly.  Some argue that offering convincing statistics engages the listener and creates lasting impact, but experts also tell us that people quickly dismiss statistics that are inconsistent with their beliefs.5

On the other hand, fictional stories—which often can be processed very efficiently with minimal effort and high recall—engage a phenomenon called “suspension of disbelief,” which can lead to tangible change.6  Employing the art of storytelling, I once wrote and told a story to my teenagers whose main character, Chloe, dealt with depression, loneliness and cutting.  I shared it over the course of a few weeks at our mid-week gathering, but I could see that one teenager was especially impacted.  During my second week of telling the story, this teenager stood up and quickly walked out of the room in distress.  One of our youth workers followed close behind and found out that this teenager also struggled with cutting and could no longer walk alone in the struggle.

This student suspended disbelief and chose to be engaged by story. This ancient form of storytelling—Jewish Agada (Rabbinical Storytelling)—had become so real to her that she began wrestling with some of the biggest issues she’d ever faced in her young life. She heard Chloe’s story and realized that it was her story.  For this reason, some in the medical field have implemented storytelling as a mode of healthcare communication, bringing attention to issues ranging from suicide to AIDS prevention.

Communication expert Dr. Brian Leggett says, “A story is a narrative which actively engages the listener’s sense-making faculties. It helps the listener to make sense of what is being said and to make the right associations. It helps the listener to think widely by stimulating his or her imagination.”7

We’ve discovered that storytelling can break down walls of cynicism and mental distraction and lead listeners toward engagement. The art, then, is in assimilating fiction into belief. In order to practice that art of assimilation, we need to create intentional dialog and discussion.

Less Preaching, More Conversation

As youth workers who are passionate about inviting our students into the Story of God, it is important that we follow in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus.  Jesus was the master storyteller, and true to Rabbinic tradition, one-third of his teaching was done through the art of storytelling.  Similar to Jesus’ parables, modern day storytelling is a method that might provoke more questions than answers. The story becomes a conversation starter, not a conversation finisher. This isn’t always true, of course. As youth listen and engage in the story, they can process some of the answers because the story meets every teenager in a different spot of their faith experience.

Where the story is the conversation starter, the follow-up discussion and dialogue is the conversation continuer. (I would say “finisher,” but most often that’s not the case.) It’s paramount that we communicators open up times of honest dialogue and questioning. Just like a rousing conversation after a good movie, most of the impact and application will occur after we tell the story. It’s like spending a large amount of time setting the table and displaying a beautiful meal, and now it’s time to call our guests to sit around the table and take it all in. We communicators become not simply the primary medium for communication but hosts of a feast of questions and conversation.

Does this mean we simply offer up our opinions and spiritual insights through our stories and then let them all be cast out into a sea of subjectivity? Absolutely not. It’s very important that we keep the group centered on the topic while still leaving room for honest conversation and questions.8

However, we must keep in mind that our teenagers are told conflicting stories and “truths” all the time, whether they’re at school, on the sports field, at home, or in some form of relationship. Let’s allow our teaching to give way to guided, thoughtful, and Spirit-led conversation in the hopes of inspiring them to begin the process of entering into a living, active, and very real relationship with Jesus.

If Only I Had a Guitar in My Hands

I have a friend named Robbie. He’s been a part of our high school community for the last three years or so. For the most part, he attends our gatherings and is well liked and respected by his peers and adult leaders.

Robbie is a guitar freak. He plays it, listens to others play it, and flat-out lives it. And I have no doubt that he’d be proud of that description. He has the long curly locks of most “good” rockers, a penchant for tie-dyed shirts, and an endless supply of Converse shoes. When I ask Robbie what his favorite activity is at any given point in the day, he puts his index finger over his closed mouth and ponders his response. Fitting to his character, he responds, “I would have to say either listening to guitar riffs of my favorite artists on CD or playing my guitar without distraction.” This kid would eat his guitar if such a feat wouldn’t scratch it.

Robbie also is a very intellectual and thoughtful student of the Christian life. He’s not afraid to ask hard questions, and he’s a model to many regarding how to live a life of honest transparency and openness to accountability. I respect him very much. That said, Robbie has a hard time focusing during any kind of teaching because he self-admittedly drifts off into guitar world within about two minutes of the start of the talk. He recently told me (during a time when I was not teaching through story, incidentally) that he was really interested in what I had to say and would like to know more. But he just couldn’t pull himself away from pondering how to “play that A-minor with a harmonic that the Allman Brothers nail every time” in one of his favorite two hundred songs of theirs. (I felt so affirmed and self-assured in regard to my teaching abilities after hearing that—defeated by an A-minor with a harmonic. Awesome!)

As a result, while Robbie would often come to our weekly gatherings on Thursday nights, during the talk he’d either play his guitar (outside) or do his best to listen for at least a few minutes.

Then we started a new story.

I don’t remember the topic exactly, but there was something about it that caught Robbie’s attention. And not the two-minute span I was used to seeing, but twenty minutes of attention followed by thirty minutes of dialogue attention. At this point I began wrestling with some of the ideas articulated above. Scientifically, what was it about storytelling that allowed an otherwise hard-to-capture mind like Robbie’s to actively participate in what I was saying? There had to be something to it.

And apparently there is.

I’m not proposing you scratch all your future teaching and permanently teach through story.  I don’t!  But teaching through the art of storytelling is a great communication tool to add to our communication toolbox as we seek to engage and invite our teenagers into the dynamic Story of God.

Action Points

 

  • Consider teaching your next topic series through story (i.e. sex & dating, forgiveness, etc…)
  • Instead of preparing a three point propositional teaching, begin to build an outline of your story as a modern day parable, while taking into close consideration your audience and context.  As a 1st century Rabbi in the Roman Empire, Jesus was exceptional at this.
  • Create characters, a setting and plot that integrate Scripture and illuminates your topic.  Try to develop characters and setting that your teenagers can relate to and have fun with it!
  • Prepare follow-up discussion questions that unpack your story, which ground it in the everyday realities of your teenagers.
  • Tell your story with confidence and conviction!  You can tell your whole story in one night or you can tell it over the course of a few weeks and build momentum by ending each session on a cliffhanger.  Your teenagers will hardly be able to wait to come back and hear the rest of the story!
  • Follow up with group conversation, questions and dialog that allow the main points of your story to take root in the hearts and minds of your teenagers.

Book Giveaway: The One Sentence Story Showdown!

Ruby with book

So here is the deal…

 

I’m looking to give away some copies of my book, Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling and in order to pass around the love, we are going to write a shared story one sentence at a time.

How it works:

  • I will start by writing the first sentence of the story in the comments (I may jump in and write another sentence every once in a while!)
  • At that point we ALL become storytellers by writing the NEXT sentence in the story in the comment box. 
  • Let the creative juices flow freely and let’s see where this thing goes!

Rules:

  • You can write as many sentences as you want, BUT they can’t be back to back. 
  • Your sentence MUST feed off the previous sentence.
  • Sentences can be stupid, ridiculous and random, but they can’t be offensive (use your own judgment on that). 
  • Story will conclude at 8am (Pacific Time) on Friday morning. 

How to Win:

  • I will randomly pick a sentence in the story and send a signed copy of Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling to the sentence author!
  • ALSO, I will pick an additional winner for every 50 comments/sentences that are submitted, so make sure to PASS THE WORD by sharing through social media!
  • Or you can guarantee to win/receive a signed copy of the book by ordering it here!! :) 

Ready, set, let’s write a brilliant story!  

Constantine, Conversion and the Sales Pitch

This is an excerpt from my book, Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling, which releases in paperback today!

As a direct result of these historical events, the teaching of the religious Christians took a turn in a whole new direction. In response to the clinical baptism that had become so common starting with Constantine, preachers and theologians developed a new genre of sermon that contained threat and appeal. Much had to do with not delaying their salvation and was communicated through solemn monologue and increased theatrics. In reference to the awesome‖ and hair-raising writers of the day, it was said, “A powerful emotional and psychological impression [was put] upon the candidates in the hope of bringing about their conversion” (The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship, 219).

I believe many of us teachers and communicators are prime candidates to fall victim to this arrogance within our teaching. For those of us who‘ve taught for extended periods, it may be easy to assume we can just put it on cruise control. We believe we can fall back into the lap of teaching that was once considered effective and expect our beautiful deliveries filled with humor, irony, and drama to clearly communicate the message of Jesus. Or we may believe that since we‘ve been with these teenagers for such a long time, we know what they need—it‘s simply our role as communicators to feed them their needed spiritual meals.

Or how about those of us who just graduated from college or seminary and believe we‘re arguably the best communicators or theologians since Billy Graham? It all seemed so clear in school, and we got lots of A‘s. So now it‘s time for the easy work of harvesting souls, right? Everyone will be blown away by our superior knowledge and charisma and—BOOM! The masses may now come forward.

Gregory of Nazianzus, who was in Asia Minor during the era of Constantine, once offered himself as “the director of your soul.” We must take our roles as pastors, shepherds, teachers, and communicators seriously, but we must never take ourselves too seriously. It‘s not that we can‘t be confident; it‘s that we can‘t be arrogant. Only then can we be fully dependent on the Spirit. May our teaching never take the form of calling our teenagers to an immediate‖ conversion out of our arrogance based on a personal misinterpretation of who we are and how we view our roles.

Further, I believe this “speed it up” mentality in our teaching can be a direct result of our inability to trust in a God who‘s sovereign over every situation and every heart. Again, we begin to take ourselves too seriously. We avoid story because such a method of communication often prevents us from experiencing the satisfaction of spiritedly pounding home our profound points. But so what? Sometimes that intentional focus on a point may be necessary, but it‘s often more powerful and pointed when attained through conversation.

Don‘t get me wrong—this art of storytelling stuff can be hard on our modern, Western mindsets. Slow. Deliberate. Time consuming. Patience trying. It takes humility and willingness to evaluate our own motives and habits as teachers. I hope we‘ll always leave far more room for the Spirit‘s direction than for our own.


Parables and Hidden Messages

Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling releases in paperback this week!  You can pick up the paperback copy here or the Kindle version here.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 2, which explores Jesus’ use of parables (Jewish Agada) as a first century Rabbi.

It‘s important to remember that Jesus‘ parables sometimes contain hidden messages. And the messages aren‘t always clear. Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus tells a story and doesn‘t explain it, leaving the disciples to scratch their heads. Sometimes the messages are packed deep in cultural understanding, and other times they play out through characters and scenes that could be viewed from many different angles. Yet Jesus left a lot of room for conversation and interpretation.

The parables functioned the way all (good) stories function, by inviting hearers into the world of the story. They were designed to break open worldviews and to create new ones, encouraging listeners to identify themselves in terms of the narrative.” Pg. 181 – Jesus and the Victory of God, N.T. Wright

My Hebrew professor at Fuller Theological Seminary once told my class that he‘d heard parable defined as a puzzle, which he originally sourced from his language professor. I was intrigued by this understanding.

Puzzle Piece

As we know, a puzzle consists of many different pieces that come together to make one whole and comprehensive picture. Without all the pieces there‘s at best a fractured semblance of the intended image—since each piece is unique, necessary, and often beautiful in its own right.

When you get only a fleeting glimpse of a piece of fine art, it‘s impossible to fully appreciate its beauty; if you take time to study its complexities, however, you attain deeper levels of understanding. The same is true for the parable as a puzzle. The parable story gradually offers small glances at a work in progress that‘s building on itself. With each piece that drops in place, the story exposes formerly hidden truths. What‘s interesting is that the pieces of the parable puzzle may not create the same image for each listener, who assembles them in unique ways specific to his or her life experience and worldview.

In the same way our artfully created stories may affect one teenager in a completely different way than another. Therefore the most important variable is that the story is meeting them in some way, whether it inspires some listeners to give away all they own to the poor or develop a better relationship with a close friend. Only remember that as with a puzzle, our created stories have pieces, too—characters, plot, and setting—and listeners may relate to one piece more than another.

 

1 2 3  Scroll to top