Why Use Stories to Teach?
God’s work in the world unfolds to us in the big story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, and in the individual stories told in Scripture. From the Garden to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to the promise of the Messiah to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the church to the New Creation, we are so often given God’s truths in narrative, not only in didactic lessons or abstract categories.
In the same way, we should consider how storytelling can convey biblical truths and other core contents in the training and curriculum tools we use in our poverty alleviation and community development ministries. Learning material built around lists of principles and outlines often communicates inadequately, especially among people whose lives are lived out in oral settings.
Using a Storying Approach to Learning
Chalmers seeks to use a storying approach to learning design—reading narratives aloud, often incorporating roleplay, small group discussion, or songs—in all our curriculums. Look at this example from our RESTORE curriculum that our church and ministry partners around the world use to help facilitate savings groups for household and community economic development.
Isaac and Mary had saved money for their daughter’s wedding for a long time. Unfortunately, their house was robbed last year and they lost all the money! This year, they were invited to join a savings group in their church. Although Isaac and Mary believed a curse had fallen upon them, they saw in the group how Jesus is more powerful than any other being. Each week the group members bring their savings, and the money is carefully counted. The group prayed for Isaac and Mary and encouraged them to save, and the couple saved more than they ever thought possible! Now, just 12 months after the robbery, Isaac and Mary have just enough savings to pay for their daughter’s wedding.
Reflect on this story. What can you learn from it that wouldn’t be possible from a list of bullet points, word studies, or key principles?
As theologian N.T. Wright reminds us, stories constitute the core of every culture’s deepest beliefs. Whether conscious or unconscious, every culture holds a fundamental narrative about life that reveals its most sacred values and convictions. He writes:
“Stories….are peculiarly good at changing or subverting other stories and their worldviews. Where head-on attack would certainly fail, the parable hides the wisdom of the serpent behind the innocence of the dove, gaining entrance and favour which can then be used to change assumptions which the hearer would otherwise keep hidden away for safety.”1
By using story and other narrative forms, we invite listeners to hear and identify with core concepts of any curriculum and imagine how they can make these ideas, habits, patterns, or skills their own.
To see an example of how Chalmers incorporates storying into our training tools, see Task 5 from our Equipping Allies curriculum.