One of the most popular parts of the Baptist magazine throughout its existence has been the stories about churches and individuals in the Baptist family. And yet it has also been one of the toughest to source. Linda Grigg busts some of the myths about storytelling, in the hopes it will persuade more to share their stories. 

About five months into my role as editor of the Baptist magazine, I received a couple of emails from different people, thanking us for the latest issue. One reader praised it for being “full of real stories about real people being real about kingdom values in our community”. Another said they appreciated the wide‑ranging “stories and reports from round the country that tie us together as a family”.

This confirmed for me what I already instinctively knew: people are interested in people, and stories are one of the most powerful communication tools known to us. Narrative connects us to one another in a way that facts and theories never will. As the saying goes, “the shortest distance between two people is a story”.

Yet for something so valued and natural, it was surprisingly difficult to prise stories out of people! A good number of story leads during my time as editor came through me trawling churches’ social media pages or from setting up a Google alert for the word ‘Baptist’. 

It seems we love stories but for some reason don’t think to share our own with a wider audience. I hope that the following myth busters will convince you that your stories are important, and that you are the ones perfectly suited to tell them.

Myth #1: I am not a storyteller

When some people hear the words ‘story’ or ‘storytelling’ they associate it with something akin to children’s fairy tales. It’s true, children almost universally love listening to stories—what child ever asked their parent to read them a list of facts at bedtime?

One of the reasons children enjoy stories so much is that they fire up their imagination. As adults, we never lose interest in hearing other people’s yarns or our ability to imagine. Yet probably few of us consider ourselves as storytellers. 

But think about it—we relate stories to family and friends all the time, about what has happened to us during the day or what we have observed taking place around us. So, all of us are natural storytellers; it’s just that some are more practised than others. 

Don’t let a lack of confidence in technique, style or grammar hold you back from sharing your story. It’s what lies at the heart of your story that is important and we’re happy to help you ‘tidy it up’ for publication, if required.

Myth #2: We/I don’t have a story to tell 

Many years ago I read about an American freelance journalist who used to travel across the states in his hunt for potential interviewees. This was in the days before the internet, meaning he could not just search online for interesting leads. So, when he got to a new town, he’d pick up the local phone directory and call people at random. His theory? Absolutely everyone has a story to tell. The proof that this premise is true is that he made his living from it!  

Taking stock

I remember at one Baptist Hui I got chatting to a woman and asked her what was happening at her church at the time. Her response was along the lines of “nothing much”. But as we continued talking, she started listing more and more items of interest. By the end of the conversation she had considerably brightened as she realised, actually, they were doing quite a lot.

The thing is we all get our heads buried, busy in the mahi. Sometimes it requires us to lift our eyes to the horizon, take a breath and survey the landscape. Then we can truly appreciate all that is going on and being achieved. That’s when we need to document and share those stories with each other.

There are several reasons why this is important. This list is by no means exhaustive:

  • People learn from stories. 
  • Story gathering enriches our historical record.
  • Stories inspire (and sometimes caution).
  • Stories are proof that what we claim is happening actually is taking place. For example, as someone once said, if you have a list of values you claim to live by but cannot tell any true‑life stories that reflect those values, you’re just kidding yourself.
Inspiration

For the June/July 2018 issue of the Baptist magazine, I interviewed a couple of women who, along with a large team of volunteers, ran alternating community events in their church. One year it would be a seniors’ expo. The next year it would be a men’s health event. 

I was personally so inspired by their story (probably also prompted by my husband’s fresh diagnosis of prostate cancer) that I approached the trust at my own church with a copy of the article. “Could we replicate this?” I asked.

We did end up holding a men’s health event in our small town, with free medical checks and information from a variety of health providers. It was well-attended and hugely successful, in more ways than one. 

For instance, one young man was prompted by attending the event to get a worrying condition checked out by his GP. He was diagnosed with early stage cancer, for which he was later successfully operated on. Also, the diabetes mobile testing service was so inundated with requests for checks on the day of the event that they returned to our site twice more, offering free testing. It considerably extended their reach into our community. 

The two women I interviewed for the story had been involved in these events for four years. In their practical way they probably did not think their efforts were anything particularly special. However, look at the impact their story made—and that was just with the one church I know of that replicated the event. There may well have been others.

In short, what you consider unremarkable actually may be incredibly helpful to others. Share your stories! You never know what influence they may have. 

Myth #3: People will think we are boasting

Larger churches seem particularly susceptible to this myth. Partly this is a hangover from the tall poppy syndrome that New Zealanders seem to suffer from. No one likes to stick their heads up too high, for fear of them being lopped off by those with a lesser profile and a suspected grudge. 

Sometimes there is also misplaced guilt over being exceptionally blessed with resources, opportunities or talent, or a fear that “pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18, NIV).

My riposte to this is that if God has blessed you, then turn the praise to him. We are instructed to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15, NIV). How can we do that if we don’t hear your praiseworthy stories? (The same Scripture calls us to mourn with those who mourn; so, by the same token, I believe that stories of loss and failure can also be shared, especially where there are salutary lessons to be learned.)

Please don’t let others’ jealousy, real or imagined, hold you back from declaring the mighty things God is doing in your midst. If you do, we all miss out on a blessing. And if someone really does have a problem with envy, well, the problem is theirs, not yours!

Who do we tell our stories to now?

As a movement, we continue to be committed to storytelling. This is a huge priority for us and is one of the key reasons for the change in structure to the magazine. Our commitment is to tell our people’s stories and to reach our communities with these stories. 

So, although this could well be the last bi-monthly print issue for the Baptist magazine in this format, you can still send your stories or story ideas to the magazine’s website. You can do this in two different ways:

  • Use the online submission form on the website. You can copy and paste your text directly into the form.
  • Email Kathryn Heslop – Kathryn has been the magazine production manager and is the contact person until the new communications director is appointed. 

We also urge you to sign up to receive the magazine e-newsletter, which will alert you to news, articles and stories that have recently been added to the website. Sign up on the magazine home page (scroll down and it is located in the right-hand column).

I hope I have encouraged you to share your news with the wider Baptist family. Be it milestones, events, new initiatives, breakthroughs, or hard lessons learned, your stories have the power to inspire, teach and enrich our lives.

Contributor: Linda Grigg

Linda was editor of the Baptist magazine from September 2017 till the end of January 2021. She has a background in administration, fundraising and communications for Christian not-for-profit organisations concentrating on overseas aid and development, social housing and social services. She is currently an administrator for a South Auckland community centre.