I was asked to be on a brainstorming team for a new approach to explaining the Adventist faith to visitors to the website of the Adventist Schools Australia website. Many of the visitors are considering our schools for their children and need a clear and concise statement of what Adventists believe. How are we different to other Christians? How are we the same? Are we a cult? What are Adventists, really?
Our first meeting focused on bouncing some key ideas around. Here are some thoughts which resulted from my storytelling background.
1. Teach positives. In storytelling training sessions I challenge tellers to "know the value" you are teaching and build your story around that value. It is easy to tell fear-based stories because they are shocking, captivating and compelling. They seem to be working - because people are listening.
But, the true work of a story is in it's long term power - it will be remembered. Therefore, the value which will be remembered is the one organically embedded in the story - not the positive spin you put on the story at the end. So, it is extremely important to tell a story which exudes the positive attitude, value or viewpoint rather than the negative one. While developing a story which teaches the positive is more time consuming and telling it takes more artistic flair, your message will be remembered alongside the story in years to come.
One of the perceived needs for the website is to "dispel myths" of what an Adventist is or is not. The natural way to approach this would be to have a "Myth-busting" approach. But, because of the way the mind remembers information, putting the myth in bold print, before busting it, means you have to put the negative myth in bold print. This image in print will reinforce the story the viewer has already heard about that myth - giving it credence - even if it is proved false in the next sentence. I challenged the team, from my understanding of values in story, to research the myths. Make a list of them. And then develop positive ways to tell the "truth" about Adventists without reintroducing the myth. Yes, it's more work. But it will also be more effective as showing us to be a positive and trustworthy people!
2. Ask Questions. Jesus was a master storyteller. He presented far more questions than answers. Why? Because, as songwriter Michael Card sang in Could it Be: "questions tell us more than answers ever do" — questions empower us on our search for meaning.
A great storyteller spends time presenting questions to the audience and then exploring the answers with them. The old preaching strategy of "I'll tell you what I'm going to say. I'll say it. Then I'll tell you what I said" has seen it's day — if it truly ever had one... We spend far to much time giving answers before anyone is asking the question. This leads to work-a-holic preachers and bored listeners. When someone asks a question, they are ready (and hoping) for an answer. We should be about answering the questions we hear as we listen carefully to the world around us.
In the presentation of the 28 fundamentals of the Adventist Church, I suggested the website should have three core questions. Then, nested under those questions should be a simple answer to each and a few more questions that arise from that answer. Thus leading the viewer deeper in understanding, but following their own chosen thought path.
I hope you have found these bits of storytelling advice helpful. I'm sure there are a myriad of ways in which you can practice "teaching positives" and "asking questions" in your conversations, workplace, parenting and lifestyle today!