Telling stories in a competitive market

I like stories, in fact I love them. I love the stories I was brought up on as a child. I feed on the stories of faith, courage and devotion which I read in the lives of those whom I am privileged to serve as Pastor. I love the solemn moment in Richard Curtis’ script for the Vicar of Dibley where Geraldine interrupts the ribald rehearsals for the nativity play by reminding them that this is in fact, the greatest story in the history of the world.  As a preacher who came late to the narrative party, I have become ever more convinced of the power of story in communication. It is the stealth weapon in the preacher’s armoury – sneaking under the cautious radar of scepticism before unleashing  its true power in the heart.

And then Richard Lischer has to ruin it all. There I was, reading an innocent looking article on preaching on the train today when I read this phrase: “the Christian lives waist-deep in competing narratives”. The trouble is – he’s right. If the Christian preacher or communicator is to be a storyteller – he or she will find that the marketplace is full of troubadours touting their tales already. All that stuff we were told by the gurus of post-modernity about the meta-narrative going out of fashion was exaggerated. Whether the meta-narrative is the war on terror, the big society, the threat of environmental vandalism or simply that ‘love makes the world go round’ -ours is not the only story being told.

So what are to do about it? Not stamp our feet and insist on a hush in the market place of ideas because our story is best, surely? Rather this is a call to know the story better, feel it deeper and tell it more colourfully than ever before.  Would it be terribly old-fashioned of me to call for a return to the roots of oratory and Plato’s call for the orator to “win the soul by discourse”?

Our story deserves to be heard – but we must be winsome and clever as well as passionate if it is to gain a hearing

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