Are You Telling the Story?

I’m doing a presentation on Thursday for some aspiring professional speakers, part of the candidate program of the Oregon chapter of the National Speakers Association, which I belong to. So I’ve been thinking about storytelling and speaking, something all church leaders do. But storytelling is a key part of leadership, too, not simply the craft of public speaking. Church leaders need to tell at least three kinds of stories:

1) Tell the biblical story. It amazes me that I can come to a text I’ve read dozens of times and see something new. The biblical story as a whole and the individual stories within it are endlessly deep and rich. And many of the people we lead don’t know it very well. Important stories shape our lives. And no story is more important for us than this one.

2) Tell this church’s story. Your own community has a history, whether long or short, with both successes and failures. Some churches only remember the successes, some only remember the failures. It’s important to be honest about both, and use the whole fabric of the past as a resource for the future.

3) Tell your own story. Share who you are. For one thing, no one else has your story. The pulpit is not the place to navel-gaze, but strategically use your story to define yourself as a leader.

Think about it. What stories are you going to tell this week: in meetings, in conversation, in the pulpit?

8 Responses to Are You Telling the Story?

  1. Thanks, John. Reframing the story to position people to move into the future both individually and corporately is a key part of pastoral ministry and leadership.

  2. John Rosenberg says:

    I just reread this post after spending Monday morning with a group of colleagues talking with Diana Butler Bass as part of a project we’re working on. One of the qualities she talks about that characterize “vital congregations” is “narrative leadership” defined as listening for individual and congregational stories, giving them voice if necessary, but also assisting individuals and congregations to “reframe” their story by asking good questions and looking for signs of strength and hope.

  3. Thanks, Cheryl. I’ll look forward to reading the book and doing the exercise.

  4. Hi Margaret! I am a McAdams fan and highly recommend doing the life story exercise.

  5. I did read the McKee book, which I do highly recommend. I read it thinking more about writing than using stories strategically in leadership. I’ll have to go back to it, and look for the McAdams book. Thanks.

  6. Two good books on understanding narrative are: McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting; and McAdams, The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self.

    Ironically, both use the term “story” in the title, yet both are, in fact, about the nature, function, and power of narrative. While McKee’s book is specific to the craft of screenwriting its worth is in its treatment of how narrative works as the dynamic behind “storytelling.”

  7. I don’t know that I have a deep understanding of the nature of narrative, exactly. The way I tell stories may be more instinctive (my dad is a great storyteller–I thought I’d heard all his stories until this year when he’s surprised me with some new ones). Further thoughts, Israel, or anyone?

  8. Hope your presentation goes well, Margaret, I’m sure it will. Story is important, as are stories. But to understand WHY they are both important and powerful we must appreciate the nature of “narrative.” The reason stories are powerful is that they are a form of narrative. It’s not so much coming up with interesting stories that is important, it’s understanding the nature of narrative and how to use it.

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