Why is story such a significant way to teach? It may be that we all enjoy stories because they engage us in the very personal aspects of our lives or the lives of others and convey a level of meaning in a way that facts cannot begin to imitate. Stories engage us because of the expression of emotion, passion, and commitment – thereby engaging both our heart and our head. Subsequent actions that flow from our hearts to our hands have been formed by the lessons and ideals of stories heard and experienced. Smith and Short state it this way: “The stories that surround us help to make us what we become. They shape our attitudes to life, form our ideals, and supply our visions.” (The Bible and the Task of Teaching)
In our postmodern world there is a lack of buy-in to the larger story and an overvaluing of personal experience/story as most significant. However as Christians we believe the ‘Big Story’ we see in the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Len Sweet (The Hardest Three Words in the World to Get Right) believes that with our current culture’s focus on personal spirituality and the rejection of the Big Story, the two dominant stories that have emerged are “the marriage of money and pleasure” and “fundamentalist idealism” (“stop the world I want to get off – clinging to the past.”) He believes that our Big Story tells us “not only who we are, but also who everyone else is – helping us understand and live well in relationship with the ‘other’…it is the story of ‘I love you’ like no other story.”
As a teaching method, Jesus used story a great deal – yet as Brian McLaren points out (The Secret Message of Jesus) he (Jesus) resists being clear or direct in his stories. Instead Jesus’ stories were full of metaphor and usually raised more questions. I wonder why we so often, as teachers, take the mystery out of stories for our listeners by moralizing or “driving the nail through the wood?” Do we lack confidence in the hearer or the power of the story?
I have been personally inspired by the stories of those who have been public heroes of faith such as William Wilberforce (whose life story is told in the new critically acclaimed movie, Amazing Grace) but even more by the “home-grown” stories of those who are not famous. One of the most powerful assignments I have seen recently has been the interviewing of parents and grandparents about their faith journey, captured on video by students. These are true stories of inspiration and a powerful witness for students to hear first-hand accounts of God’s faithfulness and leading.
“The stories which frame the knowledge purveyed through schooling are not innocent; they are grounded in wider beliefs and priorities, and they offer to learners a certain way of seeing the world and our own future role in it.” – David I. Smith and John Shortt, The Bible and the Task of Teaching.
How are we using the Big Story and faith stories to encourage faith? What are ideas for further progress in this area?
*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.