The article says, “storytelling drives emotional engagement” leads to “enhanced business performance”. In other words, stories change people’s behaviour.
If Forbes think this is cutting edge stuff, they might be humbled if they took time to read the Gospels, written almost 2,000 years ago, and ask: “Why did the greatest communicator who ever lived tell stories?” In fact, Jesus told so many that Matthew said, “He did not speak to them without [using] a parable” (Matthew 13:34, NASB).
Jesus told stories because they got people’s attention. A brilliant communicator told me that public speakers lose people for one of two reasons: firstly, because they are boring, and secondly because they are interesting. Now boring I could understand, but why would you lose your listeners’ attention if you are interesting? He explained, “You say something that really grabs their notice and their mind goes off on that thought. That’s not a bad thing, but if you want to hold them throughout the whole of your talk, every so often you need to bring them back to you – change your pace, alter the volume a little, or tell a story.”
Jesus also told stories because they reach people of all levels of intellect and understanding: “The large crowd listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:37). His listeners were enthralled with the tales of everyday things that affected their lives – harvests, bad builders, crooked finance directors, foolish property developers, dodgy judges and wayward children.
Stories also allow us to put ourselves in the picture – and it’s not always good news for the listener!
One of the deepest criticisms of Jesus by the religious leaders was that he ate with sinners. Although, at times, he answered his critics using a more theological method, in Luke 15, Jesus simply told them three stories. One was of a sheep lost away from home, the second about a coin lost at home, and the last about two boys – one lost away from home and one lost at home. It was a wonderful tale of redemption and love, but there was a dreadful sting in the tail. The religious leaders suddenly knew that they were in the story – they were the elder brother.
There are periods in my life when I identify with the father and also when I realise I am the elder brother. And then there have been times when it’s as if I am watching the dirty, tear-stained face trudging towards the house and know in my heart that it is me: I am the prodigal.
I was always taught that good practice in preaching is to begin with scripture and then find illustrations to illuminate the text. I believe that’s a sound principle, but it’s not always how Jesus taught. He watched life around him, looking for everyday events he could use to teach people about God. Sometimes he began with the story.
We, too, like Jesus, would do well to watch for situations in life that we can use to help people understand spiritual truth, and in whatever setting we are communicating – pulpit, house group or just sharing our faith with someone over a cup of coffee – occasionally hear ourselves say: “Let me tell you a story.”
Rob Parsons is founder and chairman of Care for the Family
His new book Let Me Tell You a Story (Hodder & Stoughton) will be published on 31 November.