by Ashley Weece
The next time you’re in a coffee shop, take a quick scan of the room. Slow down and try to note the people who seem to be most engaged in conversation with one another. You might notice their heads leaned back as they’re laughing so hard that it seems their bodies can handle no more or their hands covering their mouths in sheer shock and awe at what they just heard. If you look close enough, you might even see those who are drawn into an almost trance-like state by what is being said.
That, my friends, is the power of story.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You are going to be let in on a secret that those who skim this magazine miss out on: when a good story is true, the retelling of it is only that much more captivating. That may just be why the real Jesus—not the flannelgraph Jesus you learned about in Sunday School, but the one of flesh and blood who laughed and cried, shouted and whispered, challenged and captivated—seemed to leave an impression everywhere He went. Jesus was a master at story.
Matthew 13:34 NLT says, “Jesus always used stories and illustrations…when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables.” And this is what I love about Jesus.
I’m sure it would’ve been easier to throw in the cloak and call it a waste of time trying to explain God to a bunch of unschooled ordinary people. I’m sure it would’ve been easier just to hang out with the religious and talk the religious talk and joke the religious jokes and keep everyone else on the outside. But Jesus knew the story was too good not to be told. It had to be told by whatever means necessary. And that is what He did.
Jesus invited people into the mystery of heaven using the language of the streets. He pursued all avenues possible to help everyday people fathom that which is unfathomable, and they were captivated by Him. Simply put, Jesus told stories because love compelled Him to. His love compelled Him to use all means necessary to make sure people understood just how radical the Gospel actually is.
And that’s what we do as pastors and leaders—we use all means necessary to make sure people understand just how radical the Gospel actually is. Rather than throwing in the towel, we keep trying to meet people where they are to express as clearly as we can the powerful work of the Gospel in our ordinary lives.
While times have changed since Jesus walked the earth, one look at the success of Hollywood reveals that people are still longing for an unforgettable story. So, the question becomes, if people are longing for an unforgettable story, how do we as a church tell them about the best story in the world?
You might hear the religious people argue, “They just aren’t listening. Why waste your time?” But if the story really is as good as we say it is, then maybe it isn’t a problem of story, but a problem of delivery. Are we speaking with the language of the streets or the language of the religious?
Psalm 78:2 NLT speaks of the way that Jesus would interact with people: “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.” And that is what He did. Jesus had this unique ability to use cultural symbols and stories to explain the heart of God and the power of the Kingdom. All who heard Him were on the edge of their seats and pierced at the heart by the way His stories called them to something more. What made Jesus such a good storyteller is that He was deeply entrenched in His culture. This allowed those to whom He spoke to understand what He was saying, even when it was a mystery.
Jesus knew the language, the local buzz, and the location in which He spoke. When He told the story of the lost sheep, He knew His audience had shepherds. I’m sure many of those shepherds leaned in a little closer as He began to speak with illustrations that were almost second-nature to them. Jesus simply chose to help remove some barriers to explain who God was by using illustrations they could clearly understand.
So, how do we deliver the greatest story ever told in a way that people will understand? This was the question we began asking, and it only led us to more questions. Who are people listening to? What are they engaging with? What language do they understand in this generation?
As we began asking these questions, we realized quickly that movies might be the greatest storytelling medium of our time. Movies are something people will go out of their way to experience. There aren’t many rooms where we will laugh, cry, cheer, and boo with 100+ strangers, but a movie theater is one of those, and all of a sudden, strangers become united around a common thing—story.
It makes sense then that Jesus would use an earthly story to help unite people around an eternal one, and that is what we decided to do by having our annual At the Movies series. Jesus used illustrations, stories, and metaphors not to water down the Gospel, but to clarify it, and that is what we are trying to do. Our world is longing for a good story—not just to watch, but to live. When a good story is true, the retelling of it is only that much more captivating.
We’ve been given a story that weaves cultures, continents, and centuries together, and it is one we should exhaust all avenues with to captivate the world.
Ashley Weece is a Preaching Ministry Associate at Southeast Christian Church.
Close-up: At the Movies
Film is one of our society’s most powerful storytelling tools. We can be moved emotionally by the musical score, challenged mentally by the underlying themes, or jarred physically by a jump scare.
Surprisingly, movies can also be used as tools to help transform us spiritually. There is no spiritual power in the movies themselves, but there is power in the Gospel narrative and truths that are captured in Scripture and, often unknowingly, conveyed through a film’s plot.
Reflections of God’s grand story can be found in the most peculiar places if we keep our eyes open.