Contextualizing the Story

mug-shot-c.jpgI've been able to enjoy a few days with Caesar Kalinowski from Soma Communities a movement that is led through people living missionally together to reach their cities (South Puget Sound).  Of all the churches we (Kaleo Church) have come across, we are finding we share the most in common with Soma.  Caesar has spent years studying communication as it applies to mission.  In these years of training, they have created a story-based dialogical approach to developing disciples, which has led to far better results than just telling people information.

Did you know that in the USA…

  • Researchers believe that 70% or more of the people in North America prefer non-literate means of communication.
  • Over 50% of people over age 16 are functionally illiterate*.
  • 58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion. Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.
  • Each day, people in the US spend four hours watching TV, three hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.
  • It is estimated that people spend as much as 80% of their non-working, non-sleeping time in front of a screen – TV or computer.

You can learn more about story & these statistics at Echo the Story.

Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, "Why do you always tell stories when you talk to people?”

Matthew 13:10

To see some of the stories & the questions that implicate people (meaning it's more than trying to throw application in the mix) into God's story and disciple them (I've done a couple with my kids and it's been GREAT.  Gideon is 4 and his answers have been excellent in thinking this stuff through) download these Gospel Story Narratives

UPDATE: Caesar sent the following, "in Soma we are also using narrative and dialogical forms of preaching that hold to a very high view of Scripture and the Gospel."  This is important because many who attack story/dialogical often dismiss this because they believe it diminishes the Bible as the authority.

QUESTIONS?  Ask away, Caesar has promised to answer any questions as to why current forms of preaching are not as effective and betray our missional endeavors and why he believes story/dialogical is critical to the future of the church. 

  • Jed Paschall

    December 7, 2007, 3:22 pm

    Great post Drew, very thought provoking. Some things come to mind as I read this post and browsed the echo site:

    1) Discipleship was an intelligble process in the Ancient Near Eastern/Emerging Western context that Christ and the early church ministered in. The illiteracy rates then were even higher than that of ours now. Yet it seems that we have a much harder time here in the literate West (even if our literacy is declining) making sense out of discipleship.

    2) One of the things that I have found in the ministry and church contexts that I have been involved in, is that all place a heavy emphasis on bible reading as a hallmark of discipleship. However, most church-goers have incredible difficulty as seeing themselves as active participants in God’s redemptive history and the overall story of the Bible. This concept is even more lost in the evangelistic efforts I have been involved in, where the gospel is torn out of its salvation-history context it is embedded in, leaving new converts with their feet firmply planted in mid-air without any sense of the historic foundations and eschatological hope that gives their new-found faith both roots and an ultimate direction.

    3) I often fall into the trap of limiting my own view of my discipleship into literary and/or informational terms (ie: how much Scripture and devotional lit I am reading), as opposed to transformational terms of how Christ-like I am actually becoming. Models like echo and your post of telling gospel stories definitely offer a paridigmatic shift that can be wonderfully corrective to this trap that I (and I am sure many others) often find myself in.

  • Matt Larson

    December 7, 2007, 10:12 pm

    Deja vu – I saw those exact same figure quotes elsewhere just the other day. Blogs… 😉

  • Mike

    December 10, 2007, 2:38 pm


    1. I have listened/read the first story (Genesis-creation-First Humans). I’m wondering why this story would be more captivating/engaging than simply reading the already narrative form of literature that comprises the creation story? Further, much of the Scripture is already a narrative–why try to make more interesting what God wrote?

    2. Do they actually play games or skits for “re-telling” with adults or is that geared mainly toward a younger segment of our generation (jr. high/elementary school). How else could this be done (re-telling) apart from this form? My kids would think this is great–my neighbor would walk out of my house.

    3. Obviously, these particular stories are chosen as key stories that tie the greater story of the Scriptures together. However, the stories in between these ones—how do we tell those in this same manner.

    4. Are these stories meant to replace or supplement typical monologue teaching? How does the “storying” differ from what takes place in the midrash for missional communities at Soma? In other words–is Soma moving to a weekly story/dialogue even for the Sunday gathering or is this only employed in a particular context, etc.

    I’m sure I’ll have more, but these were my initial questions. I ask these with absolutely no axe to grind and as a leader in a community seeking to explore a more dialogical approach to teaching. The idea of recapturing the ability to “tell stories” even in a family setting or close group setting is very romantic in a great way, so thanks for encouraging us and sharing this resource with us.

  • Caesar

    December 11, 2007, 6:37 pm

    1. Just listening to, or reading these short narratives are only part of the picture. In this “method” of teaching/discipling, dialogue guided by the Spirit around the Word is our goal and where the power of story emerges. Often I am asked why a person couldn’t just video tape our storying sessions or listen to the audios and call that good. It doesn’t work that way. This is an oral methodology that resembles the Jewish tradition of midrash. It is in the process of a community (in context) engaged in dialogue around each narrative that truth is learned and retained. Implication happens…a person begins to become a part of the Story as they spend time listening to others responses and joining in themselves. Additionally, people actually begin to believe what the Bible tells them about the church being a “priesthood of saints”. “I have a voice and can hear from the Spirit too!” This is what we all want our people to believe and act upon! Our goal is not to try and make the narratives more interesting than the original text, it is to pull a very specific line of thought from the Bible helping people to clearly and concisely see specific aspects of the Story and about God. In the case of the narratives online at Echo, this is the “Redemptive Arc” showing in short order the redemptive thread of God’s pursuit of mankind throughout the Bible story.

    2. Some of the methods shared on Echo as things that have worked for a variety of contexts are given to be resources…idea starters for you to use as desired. We make no suggestion of how or what exactly someone needs to do around the use of these narratives–we don’t know your context. Mike Novelli, my partner at Echo, is very involved with youth and has a lot of experience and success using story in that context…my experiences have centered more around church planting and discipling people to a fuller understanding of Christ-creating missionaries. In every case, a “storier” would need to adapt the methodology to their own context while still retaining all the necessary components to make it effective. We do retelling of the stories with adults, my neighbors, atheists, theologians etc. and it has never failed to connect. We do not use games for retelling, these are adults; we do it in a very conversational way where participants have been asked to listen carefully to this story because in a moment we’re going to do a group retelling to see if we were listening. I explain this will actually train us to listen in a very different manner–and it does.

    3. Again, you are right Mike, these stories make up the “Redemptive Arc” of the Story. The other stories and even the additional detail within these stories can and does come out later in future storying sessions. There are different story sets for seeing Gods redemption, discipleship, church planting, church growth, end times etc. They all build on and out of the initial set of stories that you have seen on Echo.

    4. At our Soma gatherings we employ a form of preaching and teaching that is narratives and dialogical in nature. We actually dialogue with hundreds of people at a time…in a sense :0) It is a learned skill, like any other, but is very effective in bringing people into the teaching and having them, again, feel like they can contribute to their community as learners. We teach the Story of God in its entirety in missional communities and quarterly in a fast-track version that takes us from Genesis to Jesus in about 6 or 7 hours. A thrilling ride to be sure, where many, many people have come into a much greater understanding of the Gospel, grace and redemption in a short period of time. Of course this is just a beginning, but I am talking about some people that have served in “professional” ministry for 30+ years having their worlds rocked! This January ’08 we are going to, for the first time in Soma Communities, begin to teach through the Redemptive Arc of stories in our larger gatherings; 25 weeks straight through chronologically. Dialogue driven and each week we will be connecting Jesus back to every story. Our goal here is two-fold: We want our people to really understand the Story AND we want them to see Jesus and the Gospel in ALL parts of the Bible, not just parts of the New Testament. I could write much more in response to all of these great questions, but I hope that this at least helps keep the ball moving. Blessings…

  • mike gunn

    December 13, 2007, 1:57 pm

    ALthough I actually like Keller’s Narrative Exposition as a helpful homiletical tool, I do believe the current fad towards story, with Jesus’ blessing is a bit overblown. The follow up of the verse often misquoted re: Jesus’ preaching in parables is that He does so to confuse the hearers not contextualize His message (See Matthew 13:10-13). Also He used “Parables,” which are not stories in the way I have often heard them used, but they are analogies of a mystery that He intended to keep from non-believing Jews.

    I think Nehemiah 8:7-8 gives us a better understanding of what the ancients did to reach an illiterate, oral culture.

    Also, although Jesus spoke in parables, it is evident His disciples did not. They expounded on the centrality of Jesus and His words. They told no stories.

    My fear is that we are actually duped by our culture, and concerned more for artistic posturing than we are for the exposition of scripture.

    Just my thoughts!

  • Michael Foster

    December 14, 2007, 10:27 am

    Mike G, although I share many of your concerns but I have to call into question the following comment:

    “Also, although Jesus spoke in parables, it is evident His disciples did not. They expounded on the centrality of Jesus and His words. They told no stories.”

    The first thing that came to mind was Stephen’s sermon shortly before he caught a rock in the temple (Acts 7). Isn’t that an example of a disciple telling a story (the True Story)? To be fair, this is the only one that immediately jumps to mind.

  • Caesar

    December 14, 2007, 11:06 am

    Jesus himself in Luke is one powerful example of how our Lord used the historical narrative as his teaching method:

    Luke 24:27,32 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… They asked each other, ‚ÄúWere not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?‚Äú

    The “Scriptures” Jesus opened were stories, narratives. There is no indication in Luke that Jesus was pulling a cart full of scrolls with him down the road that day. There is no indication in Scripture that Jesus owned a copy of the Torah. Interesting.

    Additionally, Jesus’ use of parables took on different forms and had different goals at times. His parables of the Kingdom of God used local, contextualized examples to paint a picture for his hearers…the Kingdom is like a banquet, a treasure, yeast, a pearl… Not meant to confuse here, but clarify.

    Jesus disciples CLEARLY told stories and used the narrative from Scripture effectively and normatively…

    Stephen’s speech / preaching to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 is an amazing narrative summary.

    Paul in Pisidian Antioch “preaching” to both Jews and Gentiles in Acts 13:

    16Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18he endured their conduct[a] for about forty years in the desert, 19he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. 20All this took about 450 years.

    “After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

    23″From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

    26″Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent‚Ķ

    Paul continues to skillfully connect the narrative to Jesus and back and forth to the O.T. prophets.

    Clearly we can see that Jesus and his disciple used narrative as a form of communicating and preaching (heralding) the Christ. There are many other examples.

  • Mike Edwards

    December 15, 2007, 10:16 am

    I posted this on a related post on another blog, but it’s appropriate here as well I think:

    Both Narrative and Propositions have their place and importance. I believe part of our issue is that we seem to try to keep them as two separate things when they are interrelated. *It seems as though we push people to choose between the two: either you teach narrative/dialogical or propositional/monologue* but I believe that’s an unnecessary and inaccurate oversimplification.

    People naturally draw “morals” from the story which can be expressed in propositional forms. This is the root of systematic theology–statements and explanation of truth from the story. Problem: forgetting that it came from the story and must be taught in the context of that story.

    On the other hand, people also naturally connect statements of truth together, prioritize them and fashion them in some way to understand how they relate. It could be said that they will take these statements and form a narrative (perhaps a “worldview”). Problem: the narrative can be Frankensteined together and not be coherent or cohesive because the Story informs the statements and it’s unable to work in reverse. If this doesn’t make sense, people will default to being formed by the story around them, Christian or otherwise.

    So, the two need to work together OUT OF a common story. We cannot oversimplify the story and we cannot overestimate the statements.

    man–I hope that all made some sense.

  • Caesar

    December 15, 2007, 6:41 pm


    I agree with your thoughts here. We actually “slip” in and out of narrative/dialogical and monologue/exposition every time we teach at Soma. No matter which angle was the goal, both seem needed to ultimately communicate clearly given cultural diversity and Biblical experience in the room.

    Time seems to be a big constraint as well. I really do believe we can help truth emerge from the Story/text and it will be more effective and retained if we have the time to use dialogue effectively. Often we feel that the 45-60 minutes we employ for a “message” at one of our gatherings requires us to exposit, unpack and “preach” more than we prefer if we were to have more time. From experience, when a person or group digs out the truth from the text in a dialogue instead of me telling them what to think, they leave implicated and changed in the moment, versus me giving them an “application” that will have to be reapplied over and over in their lives in order to retain its effectiveness.

    Implication is always better than application.

    One last thought…I always try and be careful not to reduce the Gospel to a set of moral issues. Often I slip into this, which is legalistic (law) and produces death in the recipient instead of the idol killing life giving Gospel of God’s grace.

  • Mike Edwards

    December 15, 2007, 9:05 pm

    Amen Caesar–and I agree that implication realized by a person goes way further than being told the/an application.

  • Jeremy Pryor

    December 20, 2007, 8:55 pm

    Hey Caesar,

    This is really helpful. I’m a huge believer in the narrative approach.

    If you’re still answering questions I had a couple –

    1. How do you move from story to application in the discipleship process? Are you relying on the experience of the story to transform?

    2. Describe the difference between teaching (conveying information) and discipling (making an apprentice) in your context and how this narrative approach specifically applies to discipleship?



  • Caesar

    December 28, 2007, 1:14 pm

    Jeremy–great questions man! I will answer in brief do to this format, but ask more questions as you want to gain clarity…

    In discipling people to a saving knowledge of Christ using the Story we are actually seeing that story “implicates” people. (versus 3 points, a few yucks and an application at the end) They begin (often Christians for the first time too) to see themselves “in” the story–a part of it. They begin to see how their identity flows from God and is now rooted in Christ. They become implicated with “If this is who I am, then how must I live? If this is how God is and has always moved toward restoration of all things, then I was created to be a part of that with God…!” This is VERY different than application springing from a review of the text. As leaders we live hoping/praying that people will be moved–implicated–by the Word and we would no longer have to be the ones to apply truth to their sin/life/choices/actions…over and over again. This is all really the work of the Holy Spirit, but it seems that the Spirit uses story to implicate hearts in this way.

    One last thought on all of this and how it related to discipleship…we have come to see and believe that discipleship truly precedes conversion. Jesus said in John 8… “IF you hold to my teaching (be my disciple) you are really my disciple, THEN you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Notice the order of actions here: First we become Jesus’ disciple, we walk in his ways, obeying his teachings. THEN we know the truth and get set free. Jesus modeled this order of discipleship leads to truth that sets free with the 12. Clearly discipleship precedes conversion according to this command by Jesus. He also does the same thing in Matthew 28. We are learning that calling people into the Story, inviting them to walk in Jesus’ way (be a disciple) leads to a knowledge of Truth that sets people free. Then, when they have come to salvation in this way, the only life that they know as a “Christian” is as one who is a disciple, who serves and walks with Christ in his community etc.

    This is VERY different than my upbringing and past methods of discipleship where we always reversed this order…”If you believe what I say the Bible says as truth, then I will lead you in a magic prayer that will set you free. Then I will disciple the truth into your life. Backwards from what Jesus said and did. And it has not produced the greatest results either… :0)

    Just to avoid too many arrows coming my way, I am NOT saying that we do not disciple people after their conversion. We do. We should. We are to be life-long disciples of Christ. It has just become clearer that in scripture, discipleship seems normatively a process that leads to conversion. We are using the Story as a big part of the beginning and ongoing part of this discipleship process. We also start discipleship with “un-restored family” by inviting them to serve and bless our city with us…to walk in Jesus ways… The Story has implicated us and as we invite others into the Story they, hopefully, over time, become implicated by it too.

  • Reid

    January 29, 2008, 9:20 pm

    I was reading Drew’s bullet list of statistics above reflecting the poor state of reading/literacy. Recently Steve Jobs declared the Kindle e-book device from Amazon bankrupt at its outset because “The kids don’t read anymore” – The Kindle aside, I found his remarks a bit silly.

    That list of statistics to me demonstrates a problem to be addressed as well as a call for pedagogical wisdom. In my mind we can be aware of cultural trends and speak to people in it but at the same time creatively work to encourage thoughtfulness, reading, etc. Would this not demand us to be a counter-cultural people in this regard. The church can still create culture within our current millieu – why not a culture of thoughtfulness and literacy?

  • D. Goodmanson

    January 30, 2008, 8:46 pm

    Reid – Agreed. I don’t think the goal is to keep people in a state of being functionally illiterate but we must be people of the Word. We need to equip our people in that regard through reading scripture.

  • Caesar

    February 8, 2008, 1:24 pm

    I would agree that we do not want to promote illiteracy and in fact should promote literacy, but the issue is before and real. If we (the Church) are to live out our Missionary identity within this culture, we have to communicate in a way that the culture can understand and be changed.

    God in his sovereignty still has 2/3 of the planet pre-literate or illiterate and most of human history has not included great literacy rates or most people owning Bibles or books and yet the movement of the Kingdom and the Gospel has progressed.

    Let’s speak (preach) in ways that this amazing, powerful Gospel can be heard.