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Bible Storying Troubles Some Pastors

Auteur: Grant Lovejoy
Date: 09.06.2010
Category: Oralité, Écritures, Formation de dirigeants

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L'original est en anglais

When I taught Chronological Bible Storying at an African seminary a few years ago, I asked the students to use Bible storying in ministry and write a report about how it went. Many students said it had worked well for them and their group. But several of the students who were also pastors noted in their reports that using Bible storying had or would create problems for them and their churches. Here’s how I remember their reports:

"When I used the CBS method at the church where I have been pastor for nearly three years, I also allowed time for discussion. During the discussion I discovered that the church members are much more intelligent than I had thought. Though the people are not educated, they asked questions about the Bible story that I could not answer. I have learnt that I must prepare more carefully if I am going to continue using this method."

"I used the CBS method during the Sunday School hour because our lesson books have not yet arrived from the publishing house. When I told the Bible story, the people listened intently. Even the older men who usually sleep through the SS class listened very well. When I began asking the discussion questions, though, the members answered eagerly, many trying to talk at the same time. They were so enthusiastic that the discussion ran even into the time for the worship service. I think that this CBS method will create a problem for our church because it makes people not enter into the worship service on time."

"I decided to tell my church the Bible story of how God created the spirit beings, and how some of them rebelled and were put under his judgment. During the discussion about the story, I discovered that several of my members were previously in a cult group who worships angels. I discoverd that they are still worshiping angels. They seem to have learnt almost nothing from the topical sermons I have been preaching for the last two-and-a-half years."

Bible storying can be disruptive to a church and its pastor. You have been duly warned!

Mots-clés: Bible story, storying, pastoral training, Bible study

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Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas ahinton2 (1)

Chronological Bible Storying seems to have hit a spiritual nerve in these churches mentioned in what I perceive to be a very positive way. It is very interesting to note that pastors were able to evoke deeper discussion, better attentiveness, and probing questioning just by changing the approach to the same scriptures they had been teaching for years. I would be interested to see if they continued to use the CBS method or if it caused them to at least incorporate it into what they were currently doing. It is amazing how a change in delivery can illuminate the text in new ways, even to those who have “heard.” Thank you for sharing these testimonials.

Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas ChristineDillon (12)  
Taïwan (RDC)

Sam, is a medical doctor and theological lecturer at Sydney Missionary and Bible College (Australia) with a PhD in the theology of preaching. He lectures in Preaching, Theology, Evangelism and Ethics. At his local church he leads a Bible study group with professionals who have been part of groups for years. He found that many of these group members in their 30’s and 40’s were bored, although trying not to admit it. Sam had a storying Bible study approach modeled to him and decided it was worth a try. He knew that stories appealed to post-modern thinkers. He tackled a seldom studied narrative portion in the middle of Isaiah (chapters 36-39) about King Hezekiah and Sennacherib of Babylon. He is currently using five questions which they first discuss in pairs before sharing their thoughts with the whole group.

What impresses you most in this story?

What don’t you understand in this story?

What do you learn about people?

What do you learn about God?

How will this change your life this week?

Sam reports that the change in the group was immediately obvious. They loved the story and the place was buzzing with discussion. In the past, people often immediately forgot what they’d discussed. Now they are not only remembering longer but are noticeably more alert and participating. Group members demonstrated an avid interest in reading Isaiah for themselves.


The next question Sam asked himself was whether this approach only worked with that particular group. As part of the Bible College program, all lecturers lead a mission team to churches around the state, interstate or overseas. Sam’s team were sent to a town in another state, one hour from the state capital. He selected a group of 40 to 60 year olds to experiment with . How would they respond to such a different style of Bible study? Never one to choose the easy option, Sam chose to try non-narrative in Isaiah 55. It’s a prophetic oracle. Sam first told the whole section twice. Everyone was given one verse to prepare. They had to ’story board’ it (use cartoons/drawings as memory prompts). Then they told it to each other in pairs. Then the whole group told the chapter in sequence from verse 1. Discussion followed the five basic questions. They discussed animatedly for 90 minutes and Sam had to remind them to go home because they wanted to keep talking. Many reported understanding that portion of Isaiah for the first time.


I find doing storying with those who’ve been in the church a long time a real struggle because I doubt they’ll want to listen. I was once asked to lead a ladies group in Australia. I decided to do Genesis 1-3 with them in order to allow them to catch a glimpse of my work in Taiwan, as well as teach the Bible. Just before I opened my mouth and for the first few minutes of the story my mind was bombarded with the thoughts, “These people have grown up in the church. This is a story they’ve been hearing for 40-80 years. It’s too simple. How ridiculous you’ll sound…!” I knew I must immediately “take these thoughts captive” (2 Cor 10:5) or I’d be immobilized by my fear of seeming ridiculous. Concurrently with telling the story I was reminding myself of specific scriptural verses and principles. For example, all the Bible is “God breathed …and useful…” (2 Tim 3:16). The mental battle must be fought immediately.


That day the power of storying was again revealed. Those women were hanging on every word and buzzing with excitement as we discussed it afterwards. No special audio visual was used, it was just the biblical story.


3) Adapting for use with preaching

Once Sam had used storying in Bible study groups he began to think how the approach could be applied to preaching. He had followed the expository method that had been modeled to him. To most people he was ’successful’ as he did lots of guest preaching in churches and conferences. His style was interesting to listen to and each point was well-illustrated. However he felt that the models he’d received didn’t work so well with narrative. He also wasn’t convinced that he was really connecting with teenagers, non-native English speakers and those without a university background. But could a storying style make people engage with the biblical text and apply it better in to their lives rather than simply saying, “Good sermon” and then being vague about what they liked about it and what difference it made to their lives?


He tried this approach. He spent most of the preparation time learning the story and meditating on it. At the same time he was thinking about his audience and pondering what questions they might have when they heard the story. He chose the most relevant of these questions and arranged them as his sermon points. His sermon became a retelling of the story and then a discussion answering the questions he’d thought they’d be curious about.


So for example, his sermon on the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) had this outline:

a) Why is the rich man in hell?

b) Why is there suffering in hell?

c) How do I avoid going to hell?


An evangelistic youth talk on the Parable of the Workers (Mt 20:1-16) asked,

a) Why isn’t this unfair?

b) Why does everyone get the same pay?

c) What is God trying to teach me?


Some of the Bible study questions could also form the basic of sermon points. That is, you could use these three.

a) What do we learn about people?

b) What do we learn about God?

c) How does this apply to our lives this week? Then think of all the different groups listening and ask, “How would this story apply to retirees, business people, housewives, children, university students, the discouraged …?”


Sam has mentioned that before he spent most of his 20 hour sermon preparation time shared between understanding the Bible (great) and how to present it. Afterwards people might say, "Great sermon" (i.e. praised him but could seldom really tell him what they’d learned ...

Now with his new approach he spends most of his time (and it takes much less time than previously but he learns the text much more thoroughly) learning the story, meditating on it, praying and the organizing how he’ll share it is relatively easy. Almost no one compliments him on his sermon but they are talking about the Bible and puzzling over it and applying it in their lives. Over the next weeks they come back to it over and over again. What is remembered is the story not how good the preacher is!


Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas ChristineDillon (12)  
Taïwan (RDC)

Isn’t it amazing how people’s traditions mean that they block the work of God? A mature pastor would be delighted that people are so engaged with the word of God that they don’t want to attend the normal service (which often is in a form that people go to sleep or aren’t really changed by).

It does indeed take huge courage to dare something different. I received a lot of pressure when I attempted to do storying in a Bible study group in a large traditional church in Taiwan.

2 1/2 years later the small number of people who stuck with it have been transformed. I suspect at least 2 have become Christians through it (including a deacon). When the group started they were mostly 2-3 generation Christian families but they couldn’t pray in front of other people, didn’t know much about the Bible, didn’t read the Bible much for themselves they not only have matured so much it is amazing but finally they are out every second week telling Bible stories in the community. I’m hoping that 4 new groups will start in the next few months and I can go on to other things.

I’ll upload a section of a soon to be released book (July 2012, IVP-US) in a separate email with some comments about ’using storying in Bible study groups and preaching.)

Delighted that Lausanne has led to sharing of resources and people learning more about storying ...

In His Service,


Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas MzBoom (5)

I actually disagree with the pastor who claimed there were problems with the CBS method. I believe that God would have preferred that the people learned more about Him and worshipped a little later. Actually I feel that learning about God can be a form of worship. By timing everything to a split second may harm the worship more than going over the time allotted once in a while.

The point at the end of the post that people were still worshipping angels and had not listen to the sermons, proves my pont even more. When people are engaged in the oral story and lesson, they tend to listen more and it affects their lives more productively.

Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas weinzierl_diomedes (0)
@ MzBoom:

I agree, MzBoom.  The first scenario wasn’t a problem of CBS, it was a problem of the leadership assuming too much about the people.  The second problem wasn’t a problem at all!  As long as people are talking, learning, discerning, and building knowledge TOGETHER, good things are happening.  The worship service will be there, but the people can capitalize on their excitement! This last problem is strange, and I’m not sure what to do with it.  I do know that a lot of what I thought about God has been changed since I’ve been in the Church.

Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas abenfield (0)

I suppose this shows that not every tool will function everywhere in the same way. The comment about how storytelling creates problems because it tended to make people late for the worship service is a little sad because I would think pastors would be excited that people were enthusiastic about discussing God.

Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas storyer (0)  

Pastors write me asking about preaching narrative sermons. Some have already tried it and were finding success in the response of their congregations. Others tried making the jump from traditional preaching into narrative sermons and faced several dilemmas. There were a few of the older people who felt that only traditional sermons were a real sermon. So they were put out off by the pastor’s change. Other pastors ran into difficulty when they tried to use a small group approach with a larger congregation and found that leading a pre or post-sermon dialog did not work well or at all with the larger group. Some who wrote admitted that they only tried a story sermon a few times and then switched back to their traditional preaching format. So they were not at all sure if their people liked the story sermons or not.

While still working in the Asia-Pacific Region I found a few pastors who did jealously guard their knowledge and were fearful of allowing their congregations to know too much. Their preaching was less informative than it was instructive from the pastor’s point of view. In one country where I worked pastors used mostly proof-texting in their preaching that composed their argument for what the congregation “ought” to be doing or “out not” to be doing.

But a common question from many is how to transition from expositional preaching to story sermons. And I suspect these who ask this question will be the more successful in making a change. One suggested solution that has been used by a few pastors I’ve heard about is to preach the traditional expositional sermon, say in a morning service, and then a more narrative sermon in the evening. Another suggestion where worship services were only in the morning was to offer two services. This appears to work well where there is not an adult Sunday school. One pastor said that he did the more narrative sermon first and then preached on some aspect or text drawn from it in the regular worship hour. His people liked both approaches.

Another suggestion for making a transition is to combine both forms in one extended message in which the background story or main storyline is told as an uninterrupted story and then followed by a commentary or sermon based on a text found in the story. There are various formats for doing this in which the order of story and preaching can be varied.

Another has been to use the narrative sermon approach on those stories that benefit from the storyline and outcome. This could be a continuing series, say for a month or so. Then revert to the traditional expositional sermon. In any case this will allow the pastor to test the water for interest in the narrative approach and for their congregation to develop a preference for it.

What has been wonderful are the reports from those pastors who have made this change to the delight of their congregations. I recall a report about a pastor in the U.S. who practiced story sermons on his congregation on Sunday evenings for a time as preparation for an outreach project he was planning. At the conclusion of his practice, when he informed the congregation that he was ending the narrative sermons and returning to his regular preaching, some of the congregation asked the pastor to continue what he was doing as they were finally able to understand what he was preaching about!

In my early years I greatly enjoyed the story sermon of Dr. R. G. Lee who preached in my church the story of King Ahab and Jezebel. The sermon, Payday Someday, was 108 minutes long and was gripping. It was not pure story as there was commentary, but it was done in such a manner that the storyline was never lost in the commentary. A man I later had the good fortune to work under in the media ministry, Dr. Paul Stevens, also preached at my home church. His sermon was about God’s judgment and provision for salvation through obedience in the Flood Story. It, too, was gripping as we all experienced the story as he told the story and preached, again without losing sight of the story. Another favorite was a later pastor in my home church who always illustrated or ended his sermons with one of the stories he heard from his father who worked on the railroad. These were intense stories that embodied the gist of the sermon in such a memorable way. One such story that ended a sermon on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man was about a man mortally injured in a railroad accident who begged someone to kill him to put him out of his terrible pain. That sermon was titled “A Cry From Hell.” I’ll leave the reader to imagine how that story might have gone.

Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas TStout (1)
@ storyer:

Thanks for your ideas on how to incorporate narrative preaching into existing traditional church situations.  This is the kind of life experience stuff that is really helpful and inspirational.

Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas storyer (0)  
@ TStout:

There are more resources at


Répondre Signaler 0 J'aime Je n'aime pas E_Prendi (0)
@ storyer:

There is no doubt in the success of the CBS as a method that carefully embraces and deals with both Fundamental Biblical Truths and worldviews (bridges and barriers). I agree that the challenge is how to incorporate it in our churches in an acceptable way.

The discomfort among the pastors is understandable as it requires stepping out of the comfort zone. In the end it comes down to change, and no one accepts it easily. I believe it is required a lot of wisdom from us in finding the right approach and strategy to engage to the traditional methods of preaching.

In post-communist Albania were the church is only 20 years old, there is a large number of pastors without a proper seminary degree. Many believers struggle to enjoy a proper expository or a topical preaching, partly because it requires a minimum knowledge in theology to grasp proper exegeses, and partly because the exegeses itself is poorly done.

Several other countries in South and South-East Europe are in the same situation as Albania.

I believe the easiest strategy for making a transition in this case is to combine both forms in one single message. I believe the natural transition will lean toward the best deliverer of the message —the storytelling.

From my 10 years of experience in Christian Radio I have observed that our series of Radio dramas have been the only among many other genres to receive an immediate feedback from our listeners. There is definitely something personal, easy, relational, and human in Bible Storying.

"Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart." Deuteronomy 6:6-7



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