You might think that the indispensable tool in ministry is the Bible. It is certainly indispensable. But I would argue that the Bible is more than a tool. It is a foundation, a weapon, and God’s very Word to us.
I see tools as skills that we learn along the way that aid in reaching the end goal of spreading God’s Kingdom in the context of family ministry. And there is one tool that I think no pastor or leader should go without: storytelling.
Anyone who has ever heard the radio program Adventures in Odyssey knows about the Imagination Station. This was an enormous machine – in the shape and size of a telephone booth – that would transport kids to other places and times. These everyday American kids (such as Connie, Eugene, and Jimmy) would travel to 1st Century Jerusalem, Ancient Persia, or the American South during the Civil War. Listeners to this broadcast could travel with these kids in their imaginations to these worlds of wonder. And by the end of radio show, you usually forgot that the kids had ever set foot in the Imagination Station in the first place. But even when it was over, there was always next time. And the Imagination Station would be ready and waiting for you to travel to another world.
One day, the Imagination Station was broken. Two depressed girls sat down at a booth in Whit’s End, the small-town-Illinois corner restaurant. They were looking forward to a journey in the machine, but their hopes were dashed with news of its malfunction. Whit, the caretaker of the Imagination Station, assured that work was in progress to get it up and going again.
Then the trusty handy-man of Whit’s End, Bernard, approached the two young ladies. He discovered their plight and thought of a solution. He asked the girls if anyone had ever told them a good story. They scoffed at his question, thinking they were too old for children’s stories (they were adolescents). They also felt that “story time” might not be as exciting as the Imagination Station. He pressed on with his idea and convinced them to listen to his storytelling. They conceded – with the condition that he tell a tale where the protagonist was a female.
Bernard went on to tell the captivating story of Hadassah, a Hebrew woman better known by her Persian name, Esther. Of course, the two girls loved the story. The episode transported the listeners (along with the girls) to Ancient Persia in hearing the story. Only this time, the transport was made possible by a good storyteller (think the movie, “The Princess Bride”) rather than the Imagination Station. The girls gave storytelling a chance over and above the technological mediums of thrill in their world. And the chord of true imagination was struck. Where else can you find a better thriller? The story of Esther has kings, queens, a beauty pageant, an assassination attempt on the king, a wicked pro-counsel, a poor gatekeeper-turned-dignitary, hangings, surprising twists, and a quiet woman who patiently saves a race of people from destruction.
Humans are people of imagination. Children are the most poised to let their imaginations roam. Susan Shaw says, “Although stories are without a doubt a wonderful form of entertainment, their close connection with the human psyche gives them a much more significant role in human life than entertainment alone” (Shaw, Susan M. Storytelling in Religious Education. Birmingham: Religious Education Press, 1999, xi).
This higher role is the ability to speak to the spiritual level of understanding. The great irony of the universe is that the True Reality of existence can seem so unreal on a human level of understanding. Stories are a connecting point between the “sub-reality” of this world and the True Reality of God’s world.
If you lecture kids about ideas and sermon points, you will lose them in about 3 seconds (I’m not exaggerating). Tell them a good story and you’ve got them hooked.