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for the curious about life and leading others

Teaching Through Story

Jared Kirkwood

Captivating teaching is not as hard as you may think.

I often get asked how I prepare messages and what method I tend to use. What follows is the flow that I have found works well with almost any message.

Start with your main idea. Can you communicate your message in one sentence? The challenge is for this to be biblically founded from a passage, not something that you want to communicate and then attach a passage to it.

Once that sentence is written, I put it through this story arc:

  • Ordinary World: paint an accurate picture of the current world of your audience.  Highlight well-known things about our world.  Show your audience that you know where they are coming from.  This can be done through story, images, or examples.  Set up the starting location for the journey we are embarking on together.
  • Call to Adventure: this is the "what if" moment.  What if there was a life out there that was countercultural to the ordinary world we all live in?  You are about to take us into unchartered waters, leaving the safety of ordinary, make sure you are trustworthy with this kind of power.
  • Teaching of the Primary Text:  work hard to show how the life Jesus calls us to live is the truest adventure we could ever imagine.  Compel your audience to join you in living differently than the common story of our culture.  This accounts for roughly half the message time.
  • Refusal of Call: the passage will come with certain temptation to deny that kind of life.  When Jesus offered a new life to the rich young ruler, he had a difficult choice.  A call to adventure is only powerful if its difficult and demands ALL of us.  Normalize this refusal, everyone feels this way.
  • Threshold: the decision point for you audience.  You have shown your understanding of our world, established what a new adventure/world could look like, and now its time to decide.  From this point forward there is no turning back.  A true adventure takes you so deep into the unknown that you simply could not return because you are already being transformed into a different person.
  • Road or Trials: it is not a coincidence that conflict is the most interesting and action-oriented part of any story.  Why do we expect life to be any different?  This will probably change the way your boss treats you, the way you drive, react in difficult situations, how you spend your money, what you do when you leave the office.  Never promise an easy life.
  • Boon: in a story the boon is the moment when the protagonist sees the payoff for the choices made.  It is the moment of clarity bringing everything together.  I use this section to surprise or reveal something to my audience.  Like a good joke, when we spend time setting up an audience to think they know what we will say, the punchline throws a curveball.  I call this the "punch in the face" moment.  All you expected to happen suddenly changes.  The ordinary world, call to a new adventure, and the biblical truth come crashing together in a moment of surprise.  This is my favorite moment of any message.  It is difficult to do well, but when it happens light bulbs illuminate in your audience's minds.
  • Rescue/flight: now that you have brought it together, its time to take them home.  The brilliance of story is that the protagonist almost always returns back to their ordinary world transformed.  The world hasn't changed, but they have.  How will they change the world around them with this new knowledge or experience with God?

The beauty of a story is the way it draws in your audience and glues them to their seats.  Emotion and passion are the fuel that keeps the adventure going.  Now go back and make sure your "one sentence" fits perfectly.

I'd love to hear how you teach?  Do you have a format or method that you follow?