As many of you know I have been involved in biblical storytelling for many years. Whereas this has not been a major component of my work for Albany Presbytery, I like to take a moment to make a case for it. Here are, from my point of view, the top ten reasons to consider learning stories by heart and telling them in the context of worship:
1. Stories are Engaging
If we had a device to measure a congregation’s attention level we would notice that during the reading of scripture the registered energy level would flat line. Telling that same story of the Bible, however, has been shown to be one of the most engaging parts of worship.
2. Increases Understanding of the Story
Not only is storytelling the scripture more engaging than hearing it read, but embodying and re-membering the story greatly increases the listeners understanding of what the story is about in all its dynamics.
3. People Look Forward to the Scripture
When people know Scripture is going to be shared as part of worship they sit up in their seats. When was the last time this happened for a reading?
4. “Here and Now” versus “There and Then”
When we read scripture in worship in contributes to the “there and then” feeling of the Bible, meaning it refers to a time long ago and faraway. When scripture is told people feel like it matters now, if not being re-created before them.
5. A Told Story Makes the Sermon Easier.
Those who preach on read scripture spend a fair amount of their time retelling the passage in their sermon. Why? Because they know very few people were not paying close attention to it. Sermons following told stories don’t have to do that. In fact, they spend their energy on the more nuanced aspects of scripture like the emotions of the characters or their position to one another.
6. Storytelling is Relational and Communal
Unlike a play there is no “fourth wall” in storytelling. A storyteller engages with his or her audience. We don’t hide behind a lectern or pulpit or bury our eyes in a book. Instead we stand before the audience and look them in the eye. We tell the story to them. The audience reacts, which thereby impacts the teller.
7. Storytelling Time is Feels Shorter
Telling a story takes more time than reading it, but the “felt” time is actually shorter, because people are more engaged in it. This enables us to tell those longer lectionary passages and hold people’s attention. Believe it or not, sometimes people want the teller to continue.
8. Storytelling Helps Us Remember Who We Are
We tell family stories around the dinner table because they are enjoyable and they reconnect us with who we are. We may have heard these stories dozens of times, but we tell them again and again. When we tell biblical stories they help reinforce our connections to our faith community, which extend back to biblical times.
9. People Remember Stories
Two worship experiences; in one the story was read, the other it was told. It’s now Sunday evening. Which service will worshippers be able to tell you what the scripture was about, if not retell it in their own words?
10. It’s Fun.
The highlight of worship leadership for me is telling the biblical story for the day. It is an enjoyable, loving, creative, and spiritually alive moment of my worship experience.