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Good stories move people. A well told story draws us in, drags us through the mud, puts us through the fire and takes us to higher places. Jesus told stories with classic storytelling techniques that included:
1. We are hooked by struggle.
We are engaged when we see struggle and when we get engaged in it, we find the solution. Jim Krueger, one of our keynote speakers for this year’s Istoria Conference, once said that “If you are going to tell stories that move our world, it is because you are going to write stories about suffering, and you’re going to write stories about how suffering is not in vain.” Jesus knew that by telling stories that contained struggle, people’s hearts and imaginations would be stirred and will lead them to know the truth.
2. Emotions helps the mind hold the truth.
When we look at Jesus’ stories we can easily get emotionally involved in the struggles He shares. Emotions make stories memorable. They lead to action more than reason, therefore they drive behaviour.
3. Jesus makes it clear who the good guys and bad guys are.
In every story we know who or what the opposing forces are, whether is man versus nature or good versus evil. The thing about Jesus is that He doesn’t confuse us.
4. Jesus knew how to capture people’s attention by telling them stories they could relate to.
An example of this is found in Luke 10:25-37. Here Jesus shares with his disciples The Parable of the Good Samaritan, where “a Jewish man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho”. His audience would have known that road. When Jesus told that story, His disciples were emotionally plugged into it, because they could relate, they too have been violated. We too could relate: we have had our bike stolen or we have got beaten up at school; we too had a bully attack us. Maybe you are in the position where you are tired of religious people talking their talk, but not helping, not getting involved in their community. Jesus was telling this to people who were cringing when He said it, because He was speaking about a Samaritan who comes along, not even part of the community, there were cultural barriers, there was ethnic tension between them and he is the one who stops and helps this Jewish man. From that story we learn the truth, we should love our neighbour, we should do something for those who are hurting, struggling. The story produces a change in us.
5. Jesus’ stories had an element of tension.
In a study published by Harvard Business Review, on “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling” Paul J. Zak shares that “in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters.”
In Luke 15:8-10 Jesus told The Parable of the Lost Coin. We have all lost something that was precious and felt the tension of being separated from something valuable.
Lastly, in Luke 14:15-24 Jesus told The Parable of the Great Feast. We have all felt the disappointment of putting on an event and no one showing up or not having the outcome we had hoped for. It is this kind of tension that gets our attention.