Paradigm Shift

[dropcap style=”dropcap3″ color=”black”]L[/dropcap] ast week myself and two of our assistant pastors attended a seminar on “storying” the Bible. For 5 days we we considered both the process and the purpose of such an approach. The interest in such a course is the result of much reading and a growing conviction (especially as a result of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course) that, because of high rates of illiteracy, the unreached and unengaged of the world require alternate methods, or means whereby they can discover and harness the truths of scripture. In the process of walking this path, I’ve discovered several things that are potentially paradigm shifting.

Stepping out-of-the-box is difficult.

While not a groundbreaking statement, it does need to be recognized that we have a certain Christian culture that we prefer, and like any cross-cultural experience, this brought a significant level of culture-shock. Within the western evangelical church, we value inductive, expositional Bible study; especially in our Calvary Chapel stream. We’re most comfortable with an open Bible, a pen and a notebook or journal. When the leader of this seminar required that we close our Bibles and put our pens and papers away, I knew I wasn’t at a Calvary event. During our hour+ drive home each of the first three days we found ourselves talking much of our [initial] dislike for this process.

Westerns can benefit too.

It’s a striking statistic, 87% of Americans are preferred oral learners. While only 14% are illiterate (which is higher than many might imagine), it’s the smallest segment of our society (13%) that are highly-literate. This means that a very small demographic of Americans are able to engage in any meaningful self-study of the Bible. I know, it’s difficult for us to believe this, but because most of our church services are geared toward the highly-literate, we have a much larger demographic of the 13% represented on the typical Sunday morning. Is it possible that we’re neglecting a large segment of our society?

Western culture places high value on literacy. In many ways it is considered the key to success. This is certainly seen in the money that developed nations give toward literacy programs, like that which UNESCO has focused on for decades. All such things are definitely good, but the fact remains “The illiterate you will have with you always.” I’m not advocating for any removal of literacy training, but I am thankful that God inspired Paul to write, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

For the last several years our church has partnered with a ministry that records and distributes audio scriptures for people-groups in highly illiterate nations. They have an ambitious goal of bringing the Word of God in recorded form to the 30 nations of the world with 50% or higher illiteracy rates. As one called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, I have found myself wondering, “How do we disciple those that are receiving our audio Bibles?” Discipleship is key; Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and apart from it many groups will fall into syncretism. I’m more and more convinced that the answer to my above question is a narrative discipleship method. The reality is, this is not exclusive to third-world developing nations.

While I think that our methods for discipleship are good and should not be discarded, another tool in the toolbox is certainly beneficial. As I mentioned several weeks ago in a previous article, our success as equippers should not only be based on having good Bible students. In considering this method and the fruit of it, I think it has great potential for enabling our congregation to discover and digest significant Biblical truth in a way that they can retain and apply it.

Narrative bible discovery is not emergent

Now I know, “Narrative Theology” and “Bible Storying” are code for Emergent. Be that as it may, Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren will not be guest bloggers on CrossConnection any time soon. Perhaps the most enlightening revelation in all of last week’s course was the recognition that, when done correctly this method is actually more textually correct than not. While it may be hard to believe, I was struck by the Biblical accuracy that was maintained in simply telling, retelling and examining the stories for the observations and applications that are found in them. Anytime that someone—in this very interactive, dialogic process—brought forth something that was even the slightest bit “off,” the moderator (i.e. storyteller) would simply say, “Can we find that in the story?” Immediately the group was brought back to the word and it was easily sorted out.

The process was [very] different than what I, as a pastor/teacher, am generally use to. But, as the week went on it became a joy to see God, by His Spirit, direct the discussion and bring forth truths that I did not initially see, although they were right on the surface. While I’m not completely sure just how we will incorporate this into the life of our church, I do know that it will be utilized in some fashion as we move forward.

Further consideration:

Simply the Story
The God Story Project
GCM Collective
National Assessment of Adult Literacy

11 replies
  1. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Hey Miles, I’m so blessed to see this post! I think I did a story-exposition message for your TV ministry when I was there last. The IMB (missionary network of So Bap) has been working on re-tooling their approach to world missions using Biblical storying, and have been some of the major contributors in this area.

    Simply the Story (Dorothy is in a CC near Hemet) sees her approach as “oral inductive”, and one of my former students is a trainer for STS in the Philippines. I work with him pretty closely when over there (just got back this week) & he’s bringing 2 of his guys to India with him soon for more training as trainers.

    I know several others who are seeing great fruit from biblical storying here and overseas. Wow, I’m stoked to see this post! Hallelujah!

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Apparently we move in a very small circle my friend…

      We spent (Josh and I) all last week with Dorothy at STS in Hemet. Which friend in Philippines are you speaking of?

      It definitely is a work the Lord is doing. I am meeting more and more people who are examining the potential of biblical storying. Pretty exciting stuff.

      • Trip Kimball
        Trip Kimball says:

        Ptr Elmer Bungcasan… he’s on his way over to India this week & is one of STS’s trainers for the Philippines/ SE Asia.
        REally blessed to see you hook up with this. There is, typically, a reticence to accept it (because it’s oral, not written & so simple), but when it’s seen (done well) it always amazes me how responsive people are to it (including many CC pastors- Bill H, for one).
        Look forward to seeing you again Miles… whenever I can get out that way again.

  2. Josh Olson
    Josh Olson says:

    Miles, you said, “Is it possible that we’re neglecting a large segment of our society?”

    I think that is what’s called “overstating the obvious”.

    Oh, so painful things to wrestle with/beat your head against the wall over because it is so “outside the box” that we are so used to. But oh, so sweet, the fruit of seeing the obvious and the obvious context that I may have overlooked for years because I was hurrying down the path, instead of taking my time and allowing the text to speak to me. Then to see the Holy Spirit minister to and through each within ear-shot of “The Story”…amazing stuff.

  3. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Very interesting, Miles. I’m sure you’ll be experimenting with this. When you think you have a story message you’d like to use to example this method, send me the link.

  4. Bill Davis
    Bill Davis says:

    Great thoughts, Pastor Miles. I didn’t realize the statistics for the USA were so slanted in that direction. In the NT times, Christians sure didn’t each have a full Bible on their lap. There were limited copies and much was learned through listening and discussing. Somehow we who are so literate and enjoy the privilege of ten Bibles on our shelf think it’s always been this way for everyone.

    We certainly face this issue in preliterate unreached people groups like the Palawanos. Even our best readers prefer to hear. So we teach literacy, sure, and we produce written materials with a view to the future. But we disciple orally. We teach the foundation for the gospel and then the good news itself, starting with creation through fall and on to Christ as a narrative (which it is!), rather than (merely) as points and topics. If correctly told, the story teaches those same points, and it’s amazing how much better they remember a story than an outline. The burden is upon us to tell the story accurately, of course. And this is why we’re excited to parter with you guys to put the Scriptures in an audio form as well as a printed book.

    There are two threads there… chronologically teaching the story of redemption, and then storying (narrative as opposed to verse-by-verse study). I think the church in American can incorporate both without giving up the expositional, inductive study for those who profit from it.

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:


      It really is amazing how much easier you remember the story over the outline! One of the illustrations used in the seminar very effectively drove this point home. A list of about 10 words was read, then everyone was asked, “how many words can you remember.” I think the top was 4 or 5 words that were repeated; this was seconds after the list was read. Then the same list of words were used in a story that took all of 30 seconds; almost everyone was able to repeat the words as they appeared in the story.

      It’ll be cool to see how everything comes together with NTM, CCO and CCEsco over the next year. We’re definitely anticipating great things! BTW, I hope to be with you all for the dedication service!

  5. Ed Compean
    Ed Compean says:

    Miles, I’m just catching up with the posts because I was out of town. That is to say I was out of town teaching church leaders in northern Kenya how to do Chronological Bible Storytelling. I could go on and on about this, but it is a great compliment to expository teaching. I like to say one of seeing the tree one at a time, the other is seeing the whole forest.

    We use it several times a week. The church as a whole is on its second time through the revelation of God with CBS and we have written our own stories. Because it is not dependent on reading and access to helps, it actually engages more people in ministry, and we have found it to be a a great partner with Talking Bibles. We use it in our main Sunday service (along with traditional verse by verse expository preaching), with JTS (Jesus to the Streets ministry to street boys), for evangelism, one of our home groups and I use it at one of the local high schools. We teach it in the SOM and in the Shepherd’s School (pastoral training) and our future church planters to rural areas rely on it. We have done kids camp (like VBS) and women’s retreats with CBS. It SO compliments verse by verse teaching that we basically find it fits into all aspects of church life. Just yesterday I was in a counseling situation and told a man the story of Mwito Musa na Kichaka Kinachochomeka (The Call of Moses and the Burning Bush), and God used it so the guy surrendered to be saved.

    Okay, okay, I could go on and on, but I’m obviously a fan and believe God is using it (as Jesus, Moses, Stephen and Paul did). You can see some images here,

    I’m stoked to see others engaging it not only for world evangelism, but for ministry in the States.

  6. Matt Kottman
    Matt Kottman says:

    Great post Miles,

    1 Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

    The early church had few copies of the Scripture and many slaves who couldn’t read. The Scriptures were effectively being read aloud in gatherings.

    Looking at the history of Israel, they worked in story form. The account of the Exodus wes narrated afresh every Passover at the dinner table. The people knew the stories well. Story as a means of communication is powerful. Many people won’t remember the five points that began with S from Sunday’s sermon, but they will remember the illustrations used to support those points.

    I think this is one of the reasons for the form Moses used in recording Genesis 1-3. Although the Creation account is true, the point of the account is not creation. Creation was being used as a device to introduce God. In the story (account) of creation, we see what God is like. He is orderly, everything he does is good, his words carry efficacious power. He is inviting which is seen in the creation of man to enjoy fellowship with him, and he showcases his goodness to Adam and Eve. The plot of the story twists as man believes the lie that God is not good (despite all that has been narrated) and they bite into the lie trying to use God’s good creation to hide their sin.

    Story is such an effective form of communication. Obviously it’s not the only form as the Bible contains all sorts of genre for our instruction, but I think it is good to use story and to use it often.

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