STORYTELLING & A biblical storyteller shares the secrets of his calling.

By Matthew Puddister, March 1, 2023

… A founding member of the Canadian branch of the Network of Biblical Storytellers (NBS), an ecumenical association, Frank-Epp has led numerous workshops that aim to teach the art of sharing Bible stories learned by heart… has more recently been attending services with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical denomination.

How does oral storytelling enhance the teaching of the Bible?

There’s a power that is released. I often say in my workshops that the Bible will not release its greatest secrets until it is learned by heart and spoken out loud in the company of God’s people. It’s compelling because it has power to speak to both Christians and non-Christians.

I was doing a telling of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and my co-worker came with her husband. After the telling of that letter, her husband, who has never been to church, said to me, “If that’s what’s in the Bible, I might be interested.” That’s a non-Christian speaking.

When you tell Bible stories, you’re not paraphrasing them, but reciting the biblical text word for word.

That is correct. I use several translations, but I stick with the authorized versions. They are essentially the script that we’ve inherited from our ancient church tradition, the way they come to us in the Bible. I don’t do first-person monologues. I do not add from or subtract to it. I stay faithful to the biblical text, and lo and behold, they tell like stories.

[The Bible] is an oral script, and it is so exquisitely crafted to be learned by heart and told out loud. These are the most exquisitely designed and crafted stories you will ever find in the world. They’re so profound and so simple. At the same time, in their profundity, they evoke a complex conversation within us and with the text, with God and with others.

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STORYTELLING & Jeff’s story illustrates why your church website should include life inspiring stories about your ministers & the congregation.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel. Researchers have found that if you attach a storyline to a vision statement, then the vision is three times more likely to come about. Take a look at this example. Would you promote Version 1 or Version 2 on a website?

“Does your brand have a great story behind it? If so, tell it,” by Steve Strauss, USA Today, 11/3/22.

Version 1: Jeff had an enviable, cushy Wall Street job that he probably would have stayed at for years had not fate intervened.

One day, Jeff’s boss gave him the assignment of analyzing a new industry. Jeff was amazed by what he learned, namely, that it was growing at an unbelievable 2,300% per year. He had to be part of it. Jeff quit his job and he and his wife packed up the car. While she drove West, Jeff pounded out a business plan to sell goods – first books and later everything – over the newfangled internet.

Compare that to this stoic version of the same facts.

Version 2: is an e-commerce company founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994 and based in Seattle, Washington.

I am illustrating these two versions of the same facts about the same businesses because far too many entrepreneurs think of their venture’s story as the latter, i.e., practical facts and dry data, when they should be sharing the former, namely a compelling story, interestingly told.

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SPEAKING & Your Audience Tunes Out After 10 Minutes. Here’s How To Keep Their Attention.

by Carmine Gallo, Forbes Magazine, 2/28/19.

Cognitive scientists have a reasonably good idea of when audiences will stop listening to a presentation. It occurs at the 10-minute mark...Neuroscientists have found that the best way to re-engage a person’s attention when it begins to wane is to change up the format of the content.

1. Introduce Characters

There aren’t too many commercially successful one-person plays. Few people can pull it off…. include members of the team. Hand off a portion of the presentation…

2. Show Videos

If you can’t bring someone else along, do the next big thing and show a video… Apple does this with nearly every keynote when they show a video of chief designer, Jony Ive, describing the features of a particular product…

3. Use Props 

Steve Jobs was a master at using props. In 1984, Jobs didn’t have to pull the first Macintosh out of a black bag like a magician. But he did. In 2001, Jobs didn’t have to pull the first iPod out of the pocket of his jeans. But he did. In 2008, Jobs didn’t have to pull the first MacBook Air from a manila envelope. But he did. Props are unexpected. They get attention.

4. Give Demos

Former Apple evangelist and venture capitalist, Guy Kawasaki, says demonstrations should start with “shock and awe.” In other words, don’t build up to a crescendo. Show off the coolest thing about your product in the first sixty seconds…

5. Invite Questions

A presentation shouldn’t be about you. It’s about your audience and how your product or service will improve their lives… Change it up by pausing and inviting questions before you move on to the next section.

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RECONCILIATION & Practical Ideas for Repairers of Ruined Cities, Healers of Many Devastations Written By My Colleague #ElaineHeath

Article by Rev. Elaine A. Heath, Ph.D., Dean, Duke Divinity School, The Duke Center for Reconciliation, 12/6/16.

In her book, Trauma and Grace, Serene Jones offers the proposal that both individuals and communities who suffer from trauma, can find healing and hope in certain biblical narratives. [1] For example she cites the story of the Walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-49) as a text about the communal trauma that the disciples experienced, and how Jesus broke through and helped them to begin to re-narrate their experience and their future. Jones specifically uses this text in conjunction with the trauma inflicted upon the United States on September 11, 2001. The story of the Walk to Emmaus thus becomes a template with which to imagine our own collective healing from other kinds of community trauma.

The process of healing trauma, writes Jones, includes speaking about the original harm that caused trauma, doing so in the presence of witnesses who create a safe environment as a container for the story, and finally, both those who experienced trauma and the witnesses to their story, begin to create a new story together, “to pave a new road through the brain.”[2] By creating the new narrative of hope, survivors of trauma develop agency to enact a better future. They reframe their understanding of themselves and increase their capacity to resist further victimization or enactments of violence, as well as the paralyzing apathy that can be a side effect of trauma. For communities in trauma, the corporate creation of a new pathway “through the brain” takes place through a new set of shared practices that foster communal healing. The appropriation of what Richard Hays calls Scriptural Imagination is a key element in healing communal trauma as Christians.[3]

Scriptural Imagination and Post-Election Communal Trauma

A primary task of the church in post-2016 election United States is to invite a deep reading of Scripture within the church in order to facilitate healing of communal trauma within and beyond the church. Indeed this is a significant aspect the Church’s “working out our salvation” at this volatile and polarized time…

The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Us

The first place to begin is to remember our identity. When Jesus stepped into his public ministry and preached for the first time in his hometown, he read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4: 18-19, 21).

Jesus, in other words, claimed Isaiah 61 as his mission statement. He then went on to live this text throughout his ministry. Because the church is the Body of Christ, Isaiah 61 is also a defining vision for the church, and no text is more powerful than this for helping the church to once again imagine how to live with and for our neighbors. This text is, indeed, a template for us to imagine God’s preferred future for the world, and to live into that future together.

Consider these verses, for example, and how they might shape our plans of action as congregations working together for the common good: ”They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations” (Isaiah 61:3-4). This is our vocation, our identity—to step forward and create a new story with our neighbors, one in which devastated cities and ruined neighborhoods are renewed, children grow up with a future, and the church behaves like Jesus.

In the midst of a climate of fear, despair, and hate, the church can and must live into this text, to work together for the healing of our nation. We can do this because “the Spirit of the Lord is upon us.” Not only is it possible for us to bear witness to the trauma and usher in healing through this text, but it is a gospel imperative. The church is in the world for “such a time as this…”


End Notes

1. Jones defines trauma as “…an event in which a person or persons perceives themselves or others as threatened by an external force that seeks to annihilate them and against which they are unable to resist and which overwhelms their ability to cope.” Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (Louisville: Westminster/John Knowx, 2009) 13. Gabor Mate describes it this way: “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold in the absence of an empathetic witness.” Gabor Mate, “Foreward” in Peter A. Levine, In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010), xii.

2. Jones, 31-32.

3. Richard Hays discusses Scriptural Imagination as a crucial skill that fosters renewal of the church with colleagues L. Gregory Jones, Ellen Davis, and Stanley Hauerwas at Duke Divinity School in a panel discussion Feb. 14, 2013.

4. Also see William J. Barber II, The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, with a Foreward by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Boston: Beacon Press, 2016).

5. Harassment Incidents Since Election Day.

6. According to a Pew survey released 11/9/16 the divide between evangelicals and other Christians in this election was similar to previous elections of recent decades.

7. Election Fears

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STORYTELLING & Why Easter is the best time to tell Jesus’ story.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I’ve noted in my books that storytelling is one of the best ways to communicate purpose and values. And my colleagues at Duke Divinity School have pointed out that never is there a better time for preachers to focus on Christ’s story, than at Easter.

“Some stories need to be told again and again. So it is with the story of Easter, a story that reminds us that we belong to God and that Jesus is out ahead of us, calling us to God’s future…” by Nathan Kirkpatrick, Faith & Leadership, Duke Divinity School, 3/26/18.

My colleague Christine Parton Burkett reminds preachers that children, after hearing a well-told story, never respond, “What does it mean?” Instead, with glee and abandon, they exclaim, “Oh, tell it again!” She reminds preachers that, as human beings, we never really outgrow our love of a story well-told; there is a part of each of us that wants to cheer, “Oh, tell it again!”

Several years ago in The New York Times Sunday Review, the Swedish writer Henning Mankell wrote that “a truer nomination for our species than Homo sapiens might be Homo narrans, the storytelling person.” Mankell’s argument was not that the biologists are wrong or that we are not thinking creatures but rather that we are also — and maybe even primarily — storytelling creatures.

We make sense of the world and our place in it through story. Story is how we create meaning, how we interpret reality, and how we come to know who we are and why we are. That is why when we hear a story that we know is good and true, we say, “Oh, tell it again.”

Literature professor John Niles, in a book called “Homo Narrans,” puts it this way: “It is chiefly through storytelling that people possess a past.” But it works the other way as well. Through storytelling we possess a past — but that past possesses us, too. It’s through storytelling that we find our identity…

It’s through story that we possess a past — a very particular past — and that the God of that very particular past lays claim to us. “Oh, tell it again.”

Each time the stories get told, we wrestle with our past, too. We wrestle with the violence of God’s people. We struggle with the sometimes inscrutable ways of God. We try to hear in some of these words the words of life, however faint they may sound. But in the telling of the stories, the past lays claim to us, and we lay claim to it. So we tell them again.

And yet it is not just the past that lays claim, because through story — through the particular story of Easter — God’s future lays claim to us as well…

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EVANGELISM & How to Share Jesus Without Freaking Out #AlvinReid #BGCEfellow

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: My colleague Alvin Reid is a co-Fellow with the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. He has written a very concise and well researched article regarding how to take the fear out of sharing our faith.

How to Share Jesus Without Freaking Out

by Alvin Reid, LifeWay Facts & Trends, 3/16/17 and author of Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out.

…How can we share Christ with the unchurched today? It’s simple: one conversation at a time. Here are some reminders for Christians to help alleviate their fears.

1. Think less of giving a presentation and more of having a conversation.

In the LifeWay Research study, 47 percent of the unchurched said they would freely discuss religious beliefs with someone who wants to talk about them. And 79 percent said if a friend truly valued faith personally, they wouldn’t mind the friend talking about it. I see this all time.

Lost people are more amazed at our silence than offended by our message! You may feel insecure giving a presentation to someone, but all of us—extroverts and introverts—have conversations every day.

Learning to talk about Jesus in everyday conversations not only communicates the gospel more effectively to the unchurched but also helps us to share Jesus without being self-conscious about it.

2. Tell them the great story of the gospel more than listing propositions.

Only 10 percent of the unchurched surveyed say they think daily about heaven and life after death. And 43 percent say they never do. I’m so grateful God gives us eternal life through Jesus. But He also gives us joy in our daily lives.

When asked if there is an ultimate purpose in life, 70 percent of the unchurched agree. You and I know the only way to find that purpose is through Jesus.

Most of us think of the gospel in its essence: the announcement of good news found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But in a world that doesn’t know the biblical story, it’s vital we also share the good news as the epic story it is.

When I witness, I like to share Christ by connecting our conversation to the great story of Scripture—from creation to the fall, from our rescue in Christ to our hope of restoration.

This allows me to connect the story of God’s redemption to everyday life. One way I do this is by showing how movie plotlines relate to the gospel with young adults. Look for ways to have conversations with the unchurched about their ultimate purpose in life and God’s plan for all of us.

3. Connect the story to their everyday life experiences.

In everyday conversations, people talk about their painor their passion. When we talk about these things, it allows me to relate their story (and mine) to the gospel story.

If we talk about pain, I talk about the obvious brokenness in our world through sin, and I point them to the hope we have in Christ’s work on the cross and the resurrection.

If we talk about their passion—their hopes, dreams, or plans—I point them to God’s great design in creation and how He put those desires in our hearts when He made us in His image.

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NARRATIVE & Followers Don’t See Their Leaders as Real People, But a Story Can Help

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Research cited in this article indicates that people create idealized mental picture of leaders. The authors discuss ways that authentic narratives can keep leaders from being hampered by exaggerated expectations.

By Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin, Harvard Business Review, 1/23/17.

They may be flesh and blood to the senior team and the assistants in the C-suite, but to people in outer orbits, from operational departments to business units, they are imaginary constructs. Employees create pictures of what leaders seem to be, based on the bosses’ accumulated emails, tweets, speeches, and videos, plus whatever tidbits are picked up here and there.

Companies assume, or merely hope, that people will somehow derive inspiration from these mental images of the leader. But employees are judgy; a perceived shortcoming in a leader can easily undermine the image. But the mental process of building an imaginary picture is complicated, and certain weaknesses can be interpreted as strengths, lending the image an aura of authenticity. Understanding this process can be advantageous for leaders who hope to motivate and inspire.

Our extensive research suggests there are four rules governing how people create and respond to the imaginary leaders that live in their minds.

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TESTIMONY & Congregations Where Teens Have a Voice #SayingIsBelieving

Mar 18, 2013

Amanda has been in youth ministry for almost 15 years. She has ministry degrees from both Indiana Wesleyan University and Princeton Theological Seminary, both of which prepared her for the life of a youth pastor in the local church. Following her time as a youth pastor, Amanda felt called back to school. After completing her Ph.D. in Practical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Amanda began teaching youth ministry courses at Indiana Wesleyan University. She loves to see teenagers find the empowerment they need to be able to express their faith in words and actions. Amanda balances the life of a professor in practical theology, a speaker, an author, a wife to John, and a mother to Sam and Clara.
This presentation was recorded live at The Summit, hosted by The Youth Cartel on November 10 and 11, 2012. The content is owned by the presenter, and may not be sold or used to generate revenue.
For information on the 2013 Summit, go to

TESTIMONY & Amanda Drury talks about her definition of testimony

The Yale Youth Ministry Institute, 11/10/16. Dr. Amanda Drury talks about her definition of Testimony, after delivering a lecture on the importance of Testimony: cultivating community and individual flourishing through telling our stories and listening to the stories of others.

Retrieved from … where you can watch more segments from this interview.

STORYTELLING & Inspirational Leaders Use Stories to Inspire According to Research

Charismatic People Do These 7 Things, According to Science

Recent scientific studies reveal the ‘secret sauce’ that helps great leaders influence and inspire us all.

by Jeffrey James, Inc. Magazine, 8/15/16.

1. (Inspirational leaders) tell stories rather than relate facts…

Humans use stories to put facts into context and give meaning to random events of the world. Stories create rapport between the storyteller and individuals in the audience and “move” them emotionally to take action. That’s why every great TED Talk contains a story or series of stories…

(Charisma is the ability to influence and inspire others merely by your presence. According to a recent article in The Atlantic,several new scientific studies reveal that charismatic people habitually use the following key behaviors)…

3. They avoid speaking to fatigued audiences.

Charismatic people instinctively sense when it’s the right time to inspire others. The study about sleep-deprived speakers also revealed that sleep-deprived audiences are less swayed by charisma than well-rested ones. That’s why charismatic speakers seldom schedule talks before breakfast or late at night.

4. They express deep moral conviction.

The great religious leaders of history were so charismatic that their followers believed they were touched by God. The same is true, in a more limited sense, of charismatic business people. They’re neither wishy-washy nor namby-pamby. They show by word and deed that they aspire to something greater than their own self-interest…

6. They have broad interests and are deeply curious.

Charismatic people connect more easily because they’ve acquired general knowledge on a broad range of subjects, thereby creating more opportunity to find points of common interest. A charismatic leader responds quickly when other people bring up subjects that interest them. By contrast, specialists are seldom charismatic.

7. They let people hug them.

While charismatic leaders never force themselves physically on other people (which would be creepy), they are open to being hugged and touched. Apparently, many people unconsciously believe that some of the person’s charisma will “rub off” onto them, much like touching a lucky charm.

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METAPHOR & A Domino Effect Video: “Who am I, and where do I belong?” narrated by Sharon Koh

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  One of my recent DMin students at Fuller Seminary, Rev. Sharon Koh, shared an amazing “domino effect” video that uses OT metaphors to teach “It is not who you are, but whose you are.”  Watch this intriguing video (I guarantee you won’t stop it once it starts).

Here is the link to the video:

PREACHING & Why/How Paul’s Letters Were Performed by a Reader in Public #ScotMcKnight

by: Scot McKnight, 6/11/15.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 5.37.27 AMIn a previous post I observed that Paul’s letters were not read by individuals but performed by a reader (or lector). The lector didn’t read a letter of Paul cold on the spot but instead would have been given instructions (by Paul and his co-workers). In fact, it would not have been unusual for the lectors to have prepared and performed the letter in advance — or a number of times, perhaps rehearsing the letter’s performance a few times. None of this, of course, is discussed by Paul in his letters but he does mention couriers and reading (e.g., Rom 16; Col 4).

Though this helps explain Lucy Peppiatt’s theory about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the post today is about performance in the world of Paul and is based on the excellent sketch of memorized speech-making by William D. Shiell, in a book called Delivering from Memory: The Effect of Performance on the Early Christian Audience (Eugene: Pickwick, 2011). Shiell is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church Tallahassee. His work is rooted in the excellent work on rhetoric by George A. Kennedy.

Some are calling this “performance criticism,” and perhaps America’s best-known expert is David Rhoads. The facts/details about performance are based on ancient rhetorical handbooks. I don’t know anyone who thinks Paul was trained as a rhetor or a lector, but the reality is that most in the Roman and Jewish worlds would have experienced trained rhetors on a common basis — the public square. Thus, those who “read” Paul’s letters aloud would have “performed” them on the basis of experiencing other lectors/rhetors. None of this stretches evidence and is therefore valuable for learning to “hear” Paul’s letters as they were meant to be heard for he wrote them to be read in the congregation’s public gatherings (Col 4:16).

To quote Shiell, “In Hellenistic Jewish and Greco-Roman audiences, the performer and the audience were shaped together by the recitation [or reading], retention, and response to the performance” (7). Furthermore, “Prior to performance, the reader practices, remembers, retains, and paraphrases the reading” (8). [Is it possible that what we now know as text-critical variants began at the original performance?]

Here are some clear texts about public reading of letters: Acts 15:31; 1 Thess 5:27; Col 4:16; Luke 4:17-20; 1 Tim 4:13-16.

On performance, notice these texts: Acts 12:17; 13:16; 19:33; 21:40; 23:1, 6; 24:10; 26:1.

On audiences, here: Acts 2:37; 19:28; 26:24; 2 Tim 3:16…

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SPEAKING & How Storytelling Makes Your Speaking Memorable

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “It’ a teaching tool not just reserved for the Son of God 🙂 … because storytelling (i.e. narrative) is key to not only memorable speaking presentations, but bringing about change too (Wishert, 2013). Here are specific steps to attach appropriate stories so that listeners remember a message.”

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STORYTELLING & The Inspiration for Tolkien’s Ring #BBC #HistoryToday

by Lynn Forest-Hill and Mark Horton, BBC History Today, London, 1/3/15.

Did the story of a stolen Roman ring provide the basis for one of the 20th century’s most popular works of fiction? Mark Horton and Lynn Forest-Hill tell the story of the archaeological dig which fuelled the fantasies of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Fit for a Lord: the gold ring now at The VyneFit for a Lord: the gold ring now at The VyneSometime in the late fourth century a Roman by the name of Silvianus visited the Celtic temple dedicated to a healing god, Nodens, located on a hill above the River Severn at Lydney in Gloucestershire. During his visit (and possibly while Silvianus was bathing in the temple’s elaborate baths), his gold ring was stolen. We know this because two lead curses were excavated in the ruins of the temple in the early 19th century. According to these curses Silvianus believed that the thief was called Senicianus and he offered half the value of the ring to Nodens, who was asked in return to withdraw good health from the culprit.

The lead curses and numerous other artefacts found over the years at the temple languished in a private museum on the estate until 1928, when the young but ambitious archaeologists Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa were invited by the owner, Lord Bledisloe, to clarify the history of the site. Over two summers the Wheelers worked at Lydney and asked various experts to assist in the research. Two of these were fellows of the same Oxford college, Pembroke: R.G. Collingwood, the archaeologist and philosopher, who worked on the epigraphy; and J.R.R. Tolkien, the professor of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic literature, who sought to explain the identity of the deities, including Nodens, which he equated with the Celtic god Nuadha.

So much is well known. But these years were also significant because 1928-29 was the period during which The Hobbit was taking its final shape. How much was Tolkien influenced in writing his fantasy by his exposure to the archaeological excavations, to the Wheelers and to Collingwood? Was it Collingwood who introduced Tolkien to the Lydney project and the story of the stolen ring?

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METAPHOR & Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling #HarvardBusinessReview #Change #Narrative

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “This research by Paul J. Zak and colleagues explains why when undertaking organizational change it is important to tie that change to a story, metaphor and narrative. It turns out that stories create in our brains a positive chemical reaction, creating anticipation, excitement and good feelings, (which are helpful when undertaking some new change). Read this Harvard Business Review article for more insight from Zak’s research.”

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METAPHOR & Once Upon a Podcast: 11 Storytelling Podcasts To Love

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “As you know from my postings, researchers have found that utilizing a story as the central aspect of a sermon or when creating church change will make your endeavors twice as effective (Wilchert, 2012). Knowing this, I often wonder why so many pastors rely mostly on topical sermons when research shows that narrative- and story-based sermons are better remembered and their lessons retained more clearly. Could it be that our seminaries don’t teach and our pastors don’t know how to present a good story? If you’re having trouble making a story come to life, then listen to some of these podcasts with great examples of how to make a story come to life.”

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PREACHING & A Refresher on Storytelling 101

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “I have pointed out that research shows that ‘organizational change’ is twice as likely to occur if you attach a storyline to it. And I have shown out how this is the case in many large church turnarounds. Here is more research that proves you should use the power of stories and narrative to help people visualize change and growth.”

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A video of Bob Whitesel: PREACHING & The Secret Power of Stories to Change Churches

by Bob Whitesel, professor of Missional Leadership, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, 12/6/13, Indianapolis, IN