Stories Worth Telling, Stories Worth Hearing

[Anne Bogel wrote today’s guest post. I’m so excited about this that I can hardly see straight!]


I signed up for an exercise class and was told to wear loose-fitting clothing. If I HAD any loose-fitting clothing I wouldn’t have signed up in the first place!

I’ve sat through enough sermons in my life to hear this particular joke 5 different times from 3 different pulpits. And as it so often goes, I can remember the joke years later, but I have no idea what the point was.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too: pastors, preachers, and teachers trying to “warm up” the crowd with a joke or interesting story to get their listeners’ attention. And when the lesson is over, the crowd can remember the joke, but not the message.

I wish they’d just let their message stand on its own.

I’m happy to yuck it up at a bad joke, but I’m troubled by the subtext. When a teacher begs for our attention, they communicate that their core message might not be accessible, or interesting, or worth listening to. Without meaning to, they apologize for their ultimate message and deprive it of its power.

We need to have faith that our message has power. We need to have the confidence to let our stories stand on their own. When we tell them well, our hearers remember the story and its point.

Recently at a Sunday service, my rector told a haunting story about the time he served at the 21st century’s Pool of Bethesda: the Mayo Clinic waiting room. He spoke of sickness and elusive health, of mystery illnesses and miracles, of the angels that came to stir the waters–thousands of years ago and even now in that waiting room.

He let his story stand on its own. He trusted in the power of his story, and the power of the gospel message. He didn’t beg for our attention. He didn’t have to, and he knew it.

His story could stand on its own.

(He mentioned that he’d thought of turning that story into a book. It would be a good one. I pray that he does, and I promise I’ll send Tim a copy so he can share it with you.)

We all have stories that deserve to be told: stories that are accessible, interesting, and worth listening to.

We need to tell them, without apology. Our stories have power, and they can stand on their own.

Anne Bogel, looking right at you

Look! It’s Anne!

[Anne Bogel loves strong coffee, long books, and big ideas. She puts a timely spin on timeless women’s issues at her blog Modern Mrs Darcy, and writes about the intersection of faith and life at Anne With An E, but sometimes she gets them mixed up, because it’s hard for her to divide life into discreet categories like that. Clearly, she’s also an INFP.]

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28 Responses to Stories Worth Telling, Stories Worth Hearing

  1. Jeannie says:

    I think you make a great point here: “When we tell them well, our hearers remember the story and its point.” My former pastor was great at using examples from his own life that did stick in the mind. Once he told how a friend gave him a motorcycle; for the transfer of ownership to be official, Pastor Doug had to pay $1. The friend didn’t want to take it, but Pastor Doug insisted on giving it to him. Then afterward he thought, “Doug — you’re an idiot. You don’t understand grace.” He used this story to show how the idea that we have to pay for our salvation is so ingrained. I have never forgotten that and often think, “Am I trying to force God to take my dollar?” Stories like that seem so much more memorable than gimmicky jokes where you wait for the ba-dump-bump at the end and then immediately forget the point. Thanks for sharing this reminder of the value of everyone’s story.

  2. Robert Martin says:

    For little ole non-liturgical Mennonite me, the light-heartedness at the beginning of the message is less about grabbing the attention and more about setting folks at ease. “Hey, here’s a normal guy, wrestling with life and spiritual stuff and he has something he’s learned that he wants to share.” I don’t tell canned jokes (although I have a whole book of them at home given to me as a “pastoral resource” by an outgoing pastor), I simply am goofy, nerdy, geeky Rob standing in front of a crowd of my friends and family, attempting to make some sense of what God has to say to us. *shrug* But that’s just me….

  3. Adriana says:

    My heart hurts over this.
    A young woman in our congregation has been missing for six days. On Sunday the congregation was broken. One of our elders shared a message from the family, then did something a bit out of the ordinary for a Sun morn service: he asked us to gather in small groups to pray.

    A quiet older lady in my group was a visitor. I wondered if she would feel uncomfortable praying aloud before strangers. Her humble, pleading prayer is still in my ears.

    It pains me to relate what happened next: We had a guest speaker — a traveling evangelist. He opened his sermon with a joke. The sermon was about marriage. I’m sure the points were good, but it was hard to pay attention because I felt so angry. He interspersed his ill-timed humor throughout the entire message. He even told all the married couples to stand and hold hands and say things to each other! (blah!) I’ve heard thousands of sermons in my life and I’ve never walked out on one in anger, but it took all the self-control I could muster to stay in my seat.

    I love to laugh as much as anyone, but there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” This is a post that needed to be written, friend. Thank you.

    P.S. Here is the link to the “Help Find Grace” Facebook page:

    • Robert Martin says:

      As an occasional guest speaker, I find what that guest speaker did to be… problematic at the most generous. You don’t just go in with a canned message, ready to do what you want to do. There are humans in the congregation dealing with human things. If the people you are speaking to are obviously in a different place than your message assumes, perhaps you need to change your message. Being able to improvise, improv, and adjust is an important part of that.

      • Adriana says:

        This is a good point, Robert. It seems like it would be prudent for a guest speaker to call ahead and feel things out instead of barging in like a bull in a china shop!

        I hope I’m not coming across as disrespectful to ministers of the Gospel. In many cases I’m sure the lack discernment is a blind spot which could be remedied through a humble appeal.

        • Robert Martin says:

          Perhaps it comes from my training. A minister is someone who builds a bridge from where people are to where God wants them to be. Those two parts (where people are and where God wants them to be) are parts that need to be addressed in a relational way. If nothing else, at least contact the regular minister or leader where you will be speaking and spend some time with those who know the congregation so you can make sure that you’re message is not just your own personal agenda but is something that is actually going to have some meaningful way of building that bridge.

        • Adriana says:

          Yes, Amen, friend. That’s good.

    • Tim says:

      “I’ve never walked out on one in anger”

      I have, Adriana. Or perhaps it was in disgust. Either way I didn’t stay, although that may be more an indictment of me and my attitude than it is of the speaker and the message.

    • Jeannie says:

      I looked at the FB notice Adriana — what a lovely young girl, so sad that she’s missing. Will pray for her & her family & community. And how insensitive of the visiting speaker. He might want to consider another line of work. 😦

      • Adriana says:

        Thank you Jeannie. Her parents asked that we pray in the following way: 1. For her safety. 2.That she will choose to come home. 3. For her family (esp. her young siblings who are confused.) The night before she ran away, she hugged every person in her family and told everyone she loved them. It is believed she ran away with an older man who had been wooing her at her first job.

  4. Tim says:

    Anne, thanks so much for coming along here, and for opening up this discussion so well. Story obviously has its place, but as you say it needs to be our story and not some gimmick. When Jesus told parables, they spoke to the people around him in their surroundings and their daily lives. As speakers and writers, I think what we say needs to be coming from and going to people the same way if possible, and all of it given over to God for him to use to his glory in building his kingdom for his purposes.

  5. bobcomeans says:

    I traveled across the country to spend time in Mayo Clinic with my oldest son. It’s a special place and I loved seeing it mentioned.

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    I think that pastors are under a lot of pressure these days to be a certain way, especially as they have to compete against the whole celebrity pastor culture in evangelicalism. It is probably good for them to hear something like this from a congregant, encouraging to stick with the text.

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  8. nmcdonal says:

    I think you make a good and wise point here, Anne, and judging by your follow-up discussions it sounds well-balanced. I’ll never forget Kevin DeYoung’s opening story when he came to speak at GCTS. He talked about being ashamed in front of his basketball team, and we were all in tears. Then he went on to talk about the shame of the cross, and we were all in tears. His opening was funny, but purposeful; I remembered the intro and the message. It sounds like that’s what you’re getting at.

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  10. Sarah Tun says:

    “We need to have the confidence to let our stories stand on their own.”
    Personally, your message is timely. In the last 24 hours I have been thinking about this confidence factor and do find it annoying when I – or others – lack confidence in our message that Christ saves, redeems. It needs no spin and no hype. Just simple, earnest sharing.

    Also so sorry for Adrianna and congregation over the girl’s disappearance. Am praying for her safe return!

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