We have considered adding “Storyteller” as one of the team leadership roles for our missional communities. And I would love to fulfill this role. I love stories—especially stories of God’s faithfulness.
But I’ve faced some ethical dilemmas in the past as I’ve sought to write newsletters and create social media content. My three main issues have been: 1) Is this my story to tell? 2) What are my motives for telling this story? and 3) What if what I’ve written isn’t the whole story? (It never is.)
Part of the problem is our modern mode of communication. Everything we say is for everyone. While I can share a win about a gospel conversation I had with a teenager from my neighborhood with my missional community, I feel a little hesitant about broadcasting that to the world. What if she sees it? Will she think I see her as a project? Would she relate the experience the same way I did?
I also worry about how the reader receives it. First off, I don’t want me or my church family to be the reader’s hero (even though I may be tempted to see myself as the hero apart from the Spirit). I also don’t want the reader to think I’ve said everything there is to say on the subject. I’m presenting a snapshot, more like the director’s cut than hours of raw film footage.
Actually, it’s probably more like a trailer than a movie. A trailer is all about emotional connection. They win us with evocative close-ups of the character-stars, captivating voice overs summarizing the plot, compelling scores booming in the background. They convince us to add films to our must-watch lists.
Yet, trailers can be deceptive. They don’t alway live up to the hype. Sometimes there’s a total disconnect between the trailer and the movie.
The same can be true of the stories we tell, but that shouldn’t keep us from telling them. We need stories, even short, little stories, because they are powerful, we remember them, and they can change us.
Helps For Ethical Storytelling
We should handle the stories we tell with care.
This means we handle the people who’ve lived the stories with care. We aren’t journalists. We don’t experience other people’s stories in the context of let-me-ask-you-some-questions-for-a-newspaper-article. Instead, we should ask permission before we use someone else’s story, especially if we are using names and details. And preferably, we would encourage people to tell their own stories.
This also means we must steer away from emotional manipulation. We can test our motivations by asking:
- Who do I want to look good? Me/my church/my missional community, or Jesus? Is it to boast in “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” alone (Galatians 6:14)?
- How do I want the reader to respond? Is it to “stir one another toward love and good works” (Hebrew 10:24)?
- Have I embellished or omitted something that changes the truth of the story? Am I about to stumble into the trap of deceit? (Consider the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.)
We should root the stories we tell in the whole story.
First, we should consider the whole story. We can’t know all the whos and whats, the whys and hows of every story, but we can consider the context of the story—the setting, the characters, the conflicts. We can also consider how the Creation-Rebellion-Redemption-Restoration paradigm we use for sharing our own stories informs how we tell the partial stories and snippets of other people’s lives. This will help us see how the stories we are telling intersect with the story of God.
Second, we should root the stories we tell in the gospel story. Our stories aren’t the foundation of what we believe. They simply attest to the truth of the bigger story—the story of redemption achieved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our Cornerstone. Therefore, every story we tell should be a humble reflection of that story. We can’t tell the whole gospel story in every blog post, video, or teaching illustration, but we can root the stories we tell in solid biblical teaching, in the whole counsel of God.
We shouldn’t let fear prevent us from telling stories.
There’s a lot that could go wrong. Other people could misinterpret or misuse the stories we tell. They could use them against us. Call us liars or self-aggrandizers. Accuse us of promoting something we don’t. They could misapply them. Take them out of context. Think they are prescriptive instead of descriptive.
Our own inadequacies could interfere in our storytelling. We have limited perspective, which could skew how we understand or tell the story. The time crunch can beat us. We may not have the right words to do the story justice.
Or, we in good faith, could share the story of so-and-so’s life being changed by grace one week, and the next week so-and-so is living a life of rebellion. We baptized Billy, but now he’s in jail. Jennie started participating in our missional community. She said it really felt like family, but now she is telling everyone we are a bunch of fakes because no one volunteered to babysit her kids.
Even if we muddy His name, He is still the “author and perfecter of our faith”—and the faith of all those He calls to Himself. If we face hostility from others for the stories we share, due to our own sins or the sins of others, we can rest knowing that He “endured the cross” on our behalf so that we may “not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrew 12:2-4).
Although these fears should serve as healthy warnings, they shouldn’t deter us from “recount[ing] all of [His] wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1). Our ultimate hope is not in the stories we tell—or the stories we live. Our hope is in the great Storyteller, the One who says, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isaiah 46:9b-10). Our half-written stories find their ends and beginnings in His story.
How can you grow in knowing and articulating both God’s story and your own story?
–> Join the online community, ask questions, and get answers from seasoned practitioners.
–> Check out resources that are a part of your Saturate membership, or start your free 3-day trial today:
- The Story-Formed Way: A 10-week version of the Story of God and was designed both to lead people through the basics of the gospel and provide a foundational structure for the key doctrines of Christianity.
- True Story: This 6-week version of the Story of God help groups engage the big movements of God’s redemption and restoration, and helps participants understand the depth of the gospel through dialogue and narrative.
- How to Share Your Story: This free guide is designed to help you discover your own dominant story, as well as equip you listen for other people’s dominant story by asking questions.