This past Sunday I was at Springfield Maplewood Church. I cannot describe how happy I am to see and feel what is happening there. During lunch Pastor Vickie Case told me a story about when she first counseled at one of our district’s children’s camps 20-plus years ago. One of the girls she had been assigned had tried to set a building on fire not long before, and that when they checked her suitcase they had found (and removed) a can of lighter fluid and matches.
At night Vickie could not sleep for fear of that child going outside and doing who knows what. After two nights of no sleep, Vickie devised a plan. She took a pair of hose (those were the days when everyone still dressed up for chapel) and waited until the girl went to sleep. Then Vickie tied one end of the hose to the girl’s ankle. Vickie then tied the other end around her own wrist. Because it was so hot in those old metal barracks dorms (we don’t miss those, do we?), Vickie had decided to open the doors on both sides. Now in bed with hose tied around her wrist, she watched as a family of raccoons marched single-file in one doorway, then between the beds of those sleeping girls … and out the other door.
Isn’t that a great story?!! I laughed and laughed. Some stories do that. Others cause us to cry. Others make us think. Others motivate us to act. Recently I shared with our pastors at BIG DAY the research findings of the most effective and watched TED Talks. Nine characteristics were noted. Passion for the subject by the speaker is the No.1 factor, and conveying it in a story is No.2. Research has proven the most effective means of people remembering (and being persuaded) is via stories.
When I was in sixth grade our family moved 300 miles. That meant a new church. We had a “lively” boys Sunday School class. Two men teachers quit on us. We knew why and didn’t blame them. So the Sunday School superintendent sent us a woman. Betty Myers. She was a meat-cutter, always with a few bandaged fingers to prove it. What we liked best about Mrs. Myers was how she started with the lesson, but always got “off track” with a story. It worked. We boys were “suckers” for her stories (which leads me now to believe that getting “off track” was intentional).
More than once, and with genuine feeling, she told “her story” of agonizing over giving her life to Christ, because her husband had vowed if she became a Christian he was leaving. But she decided she had to have Jesus. (And her husband didn’t leave … he “got saved” the same day.) Then she would challenge us to “decide to follow Jesus,” whether anyone else did or not. I still remember her story. I wiped away tears while typing this tonight, 46 years later.
Some people think preachers and teachers who tell stories aren’t as “smart” or “deep” as those who do not. Don’t worry about it. None other than “The Teacher” Himself storied, “a certain man had two sons …” and “a man was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho …” There has never been better theology taught … or remembered.
“And the common people heard him gladly.” (Mark 12:37)