Photo via National Community Church
Photo via National Community Church
There is amazing power in a story. Heather Zempel knows this. During her workshop at the Orange Conference 2014, she started out focusing on the story from Mark 2. It is about the group of friends who transported their friend to Jesus through the roof of a house. So often, we skip right over the fact that these guys dug a big hole through someone’s house to do this. Heather talked about picturing Jesus down below with stuff falling on his head. Then, she goes on to point out two important things in this story:

  • The man’s mat was the symbol of everything wrong in this guy’s life.
  • The faith of the man’s friends allowed him to walk away with a new life.

So often, Heather teaches, we focus on a lot of the morality of the Bible, but we miss the context of the story. The story of the Bible should have a huge impact on our lives. It should ignight us to go after a better way of living.

“It’s a sin to bore people with the Bible.” – Howard Hendricks

Here are some elements of good stories and those who tell them:

  • Characters: likeable and relatable
  • Context: the Bible is history
  • Conflict: greater conflict = greater story

In order to be good storytellers, we have to get good at three things: content, delivery, and presence.

Content is what we say. How do we get good at content?

  • Begin with your audience.
  • Look for pictures.
  • Find new angles.
  • Build your illustration bank. (See excercise below.)
  • Develop in teams.
  • Cut your content.
  • Make it stick. (See “logline” examples below for ideas that can stick.)

In order to capture you content well, it helps to manuscript your talk. You can also use an outline, but transitions might struggle. Pictures in a “mind map” could also help. The point Heather makes is that we need to come up with a great way to capture it and use it when speaking.

Delivery is the way we say it. How do we get good at delivery?

  • Don’t waste your introduction. Maximize it.
  • Don’t copy someone. Be you.
  • Don’t move mindlessly. Be intentional.
  • Don’t let props use you. Use them.
  • Don’t be monotonous. Change it up.
  • Don’t add jokes. Uncover them.
  • Don’t mistake headlines for transitions. Plan them.

In order to get better at delivery, we need to practice. Recording yourself helps. Also, you could have someone else deliver your content, and see how it sounds. Warming up your voice is another helpful before delivery. Heather also suggests to practice “impov preaching,” by giving quick messages based on a Scripture with only a couple minutes preparation, in order to help get better at delivery.

Presence is the X Factor, and most of it is outside our control. Some things help that are out of your control, like age, gender, and size. There are two primary things we can pay attention to in order to maximize our presence:

  • Body language.
  • Pursue the presence of Christ.

There are two things, though, that really factor into presence:

  • Giftedness: Some people just have it.
  • Presence of Jesus: The more you are in Jesus’ presence, the better presence you will have.

Heather closed her talk with the story about the man born blind, who can see again after Jesus puts mud on his eyes. There are a lot of different angles to come at this story, but she focused on the spit. She asks, “How many times did Jesus have to spit to make enough mud?” This is just another picture that we can paint to draw people into the story where there is often disconnect.

The story of the Bible is amazing. Heather ended by saying, “It is the greatest story that has ever been told, and it deserves the best storytellers.”

Below are a couple resources Heather provided.

Examples of Loglines/Bottom Lines:

  • Faith is not the assurance that everything is going to be okay; faith is the assurance that God is in control.
  • Following Jesus means doing what Jesus did the way He did it.
  • God’s jealousy drove him to the cross; that should drive us to our knees in worship.
  • God works all things together for good according to his purposes, not according to our experiences.
  • God faithfully pursues unfaithful people.
  • Don’t let Jesus’ last command become your least concern.
  • We are not called to defend God’s character but to reflect it.

Heather gave a great excercise in order to help you come up with your “Illustration Bank:”

  • Divide your life into 5-10 chapters (school grades, seasons, transformational moments, geographical moves).
  • For each chapter, capture the following:
    • Significant People (coach, teacher, grandparent, babysitter, youth pastor, husband/wife)
    • Significant Places (camp, recess play yard, classroom, honeymoon, first office space)
    • Significant Events (lead in the school play, graduation, promotion, wedding)
      • Big Dreams
      • Big Decisions
      • Big Deals
      • Big Days

Heather Zempel is the discipleship pastor at National Community Church in Washington D.C. You can connect with Heather through her website at and on Twitter at @heatherzempel. You can also read her book, “Amazed and Confused.”

5 thoughts on “The Power of Story (OC14)

  1. It’s interesting to see a blog provide guidelines on how to tell a story. I feel like the points would have been better communicated if we had more examples on how Heather used these practices in her workshop.

Leave a Reply to The Caffeinated Theologian Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.