Teaching Through The Art Of Storytelling by Jon Huckins was not at all what I expected. It was better! I have read many books and articles on preaching and communication, but this book provided something that was both refreshing and thought-provoking–it provided a biblical rationale for storytelling.
Growing up Baptist with the stereotypical “three points and a poem” paradigm of preaching, this book provides a solid understanding of the place of storytelling as a vital and invaluable tool in a communicators repertoire. Does that mean that I will be switching to teaching in this way as the only technique I will utilize? No. But, I have reconsidered my tendency to give my listeners “just the facts” about the biblical text.
There were three ideas that caused me to pause and think. They were
- The historical context of Jesus own upbringing
- The teaching style of Jesus himself and,
- The application of this method of teaching given our modern context.
I will touch on each of these points and the impressions that Huckins book left.
1. The Historical Context of Jesus Own Upbringing
It is so easy to forget that Jesus was a kid and that he went to school like the rest of us. Now the context of that education was very different because of the 1st century’s cultural realities. But, this does not change the fact that there were teachers, schools and methods and principles of instruction, commonly called pedagogy. What Huckins points out is that Jesus would have been familiar with these practices and that he would have, more than likely, used these methods with his own disciples.
It is so easy at times to forget that Jesus was a human being. A special human being, there is no denying this, but he was a human being nonetheless. And, just because we do not have a complete account if his upbringing, there is no reason to think that Jesus’ educational experiences were that much different from that of his contemporaries. That being said we turn to the second idea that Huckins describes and extols.
2. The teaching style of Jesus himself
The first question that we have to answer is, “What was Jesus teaching style?” What do the Gospels tell us about how Jesus taught and shaped the understanding of his disciples? If we can, at the very least, approach how Jesus went about the process of teaching we to can learn, glean and practice these same principles in our own teaching.
Huckins points out that the majority of what Jesus did was to tell stories or parables. This was not an uncommon practice for rabbis to make up stories that would help their pupils to grasp the concepts and ideas that they were learning. By focusing on one or maybe two key ideas in each story made it easier to address and understand the point being made. Jesus would have been following the educational norms of the day by doing the same. While for some this might make them uncomfortable to think of Jesus using fictional stories, it really is not outside the realm of possibility or probability. Culturally it wold have made sense for Jesus to use a method that the people were accustomed to. Jesus primary concern was the teaching, preaching and spreading of truth.
3. The application of this method of teaching given our modern context.
As I see it there are two issues. They are related because they represent the two extremes. The first extreme is to try and be too creative for the sake of being compelling. The second, is that we are afraid of telling a story or multiple stories because we do not want people to find Truth through a fictional (i.e., false) story.
In response to the first extreme we have to be careful about the reason we tell the story. Does the story actually convey or capture the truth that you are trying to communicate? The way that Huckins’ talks about the story, the purpose is to tell the truth. What this means is that the truth IS being told in the story. It is obvious in that sense. The story causes the hearer to think, but direction and ultimate conclusion can be understood when the full story is revealed.
The second extreme is not better than the first. Out of fear of “deceiving” or “misleading” others we shy away from a helpful tool. If you enjoy reading a good book or watching a new movie or television sitcom is evidence that stories are a part of our experience. To not tap into the imaginations of those who listen to us teach the life changing truths of the Bible would be foolish.
This was a very good book. I enjoyed reading the history of the use of storytelling during the first century. If you are interested in improving your storytelling ability this is a wonderful introduction.