A storytelling approach to sharing faith

It was the worst of times. It was the best of times. Years ago I tried to tell a non-Christian friend, Derek about my Christian faith. I was walking along a road in Bishopston, Bristol talking football and suddenly I blurted out: ‘Derek, you need Jesus.’

Derek said nothing. He just gave me a withering look. We went back to our conversation about Bristol Rovers and their bitter rivalry with Bristol City.

I’ve spent a lot of time since then pondering my abject failure to communicate my faith to my friend. How could I witness in such a way that the conversation would flow naturally and engagingly? Without evoking that cold contempt.

Fast forward to last November. I am at a family do, scoffing sandwiches, sipping tea and I am talking to an old friend, Elke from Sweden and I have never talked to her about Jesus before. I told her a parable that I had crafted for anyone who enjoys talking about the royal family. Elke loves chatting about the Windsors so I said: ‘Did you know that there are people on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific Ocean who worship the Duke of Edinburgh as a god?’

Elke looked intrigued and her body language encouraged me to continue: ‘The islanders used to be committed cannibals and they ate the first two missionaries who came to their island. More missionaries arrived, told them about Jesus and many of the locals became Christians and stopped eating each other.

‘But now they have exchanged the Prince of Peace for Prince Philip. What do you make of that?’

Elke started to giggle. ‘That’s a fascinating story. It can’t be true?’

‘It is true’, I replied. ‘There are four ways of looking at the Prince Philip religion.’

‘Go on, tell me more’, she said as she nibbled on her cupcake.

‘Well, atheists would say that both faith in Jesus and faith in Prince Philip is superstitious nonsense. Only physical things exist!

‘Others say that there are no right or wrong answers; just go with whatever works for you. Prince Philip worshippers would proclaim – “Worship the Duke of Edinburgh. He answers our prayers and when he returns to Tanna, the fish in the sea will dance with joy.”

‘The Christian faith has a different take on the story: Christians believe that Jesus is Lord! He can forgive sins because He is the Son of God and He died on the cross for us. Prince Philip cannot forgive sins, nor can his wife.’

Elke smiled warmly and before you knew it, she, her husband and I were sitting in an Indian restaurant chatting about the royal family, Frank Sinatra, Mafia hit-men and the Christian faith for several hours as we munched on the poppadoms. At the end of the evening they both thanked me for a great time together. I felt joyful and thankful as I took the train home. I had sowed gospel seeds in their lives.

It’s helpful to compare and contrast these two encounters. With Derek it was awful. There was nothing natural or inviting about my God-talk; it was clumsy and inappropriate. I didn’t engage with Derek at all.

In my conversation with Elke I had adopted a storytelling approach to sharing faith; something I had learned from Jesus. First I asked her a question about the Duke of Edinburgh; something that she already knew about and found interesting. Then I told her a story which she enjoyed. I then invited her to look at the story from four different angles.

The tone and style of this approach is invitational and non-threatening. I was comparing and contrasting different ways of understanding the Prince Philip religion. To do this it’s vital to understand two very popular secular mindsets. Secular people live as if there is no God. Some are materialists and others are relativists.

Materialists believe that physical stuff is all there is. There is no immaterial realm beyond physical detection (no spirit, soul, angels, God). There is no intelligence, design or purpose behind, or at work in the universe. American professor Marvin Minsky put it like this: ‘A human-being is a computer made of meat.’

Relativists believe that there is no absolute truth. There are only individual preferences that are subjective. Individual choice is sacred. American artist Tom Friedman hired a witch in 1992 to curse a space above a white block. His comments were relativist: ‘If you believed it, it exists. If you didn’t, it didn’t exist.’

I helped Elke and her husband to understand these secular mindsets before unpacking faith in Prince Philip and contrasting it with faith in Jesus. Traditional evangelism often ignores secular mindsets and that is one reason why it fails to engage. The storytelling compare and contrast method allowed me to spend two hours talking to Elke and her husband about repentance, the cross and resurrection hope. There was no disdain. No withering looks.

In conclusion I believe that this storytelling way of communication is exactly what Jesus did 2000 years ago. He got a crowd around him and told parables and asked questions about God’s kingdom. Why aren’t we doing this today?

Story: Mark Roques

Mark preaches in Cragg Hill Baptist Church in Horsforth. He is the director of RealityBites which is part of the Thinking Faith Network based in Leeds. If you would like to know more about this creative, storytelling approach to evangelism read his new book The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith.

This article was first published in the Baptist Times, the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission.