Evangelism as Storytelling: learning all three stories

This the fourth and final blog post in which I explore the whole process of faith sharing. I’ve been pitching the idea that evangelism is about much more than memorizing and retelling one story. It’s actually about telling three stories.

In my first post, I wrote about how we need to get better at telling our own stories of how our faith has shaped our lives.

Secondly, I encouraged you to tell the story of God in all its richness and beauty.

And in the third post, I talked about how we need to help others to find God’s footprints in their story.

Let me recap some of what I talked about in those posts. And then I want to try to bring it all together as a coherent model.

Story 1: Our Spiritual Autobiography

One of the stories we need to learn is our own. You might think you know your own story, but a lot of Christians don’t spend enough time reflecting on their own spiritual autobiographies. How is God’s story shaping my story? How is God healing me? How is God changing me? How am I growing and changing to conform more and more to the values of God’s kingdom. Where is Jesus present in my story? 

This involves us knowing how Jesus was present in our lives even before we became Christians. It also involves how we see God being present in our lives during even non-sacred activities. Is God there when we’re watching something on Netflix, or surfing, or doing our tax return, or fulfilling a mundane chore or duty? Yes. Think about how God is present and learn to share this with others.

Also, we should be able to talk about how our work toward justice, reconciliation, hospitality and generosity are inspired, shaped and sustained by God’s presence in our lives. 

We need to practice sharing our biographies, not just how and when you became a Christian, but how and when God is turning up in your life these days. We need help in knowing how to talk about these things in real, colloquial, winsome ways. That involves acknowledging our failings and uncertainties, being genuine, not embellishing our experiences, not relying on clichés. As Rebecca Manley Pippert writes,

“Our problem in evangelism is not that we don’t have enough information—it is that we don’t know how to be ourselves. We forget we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen and know, not to what we don’t know. The key on our part is authenticity and obedience, not a doctorate in theology.”

Story 2: The Story of God

Of course, evangelism involves talking about God, but not like a sales pitch. More like an epic story.  It’s the story of a God who reigns over everything and whose realm is one of justice, beauty, freedom and love. God created this world according to his good purposes for all life, but human sin opened the door for evil, undermining those purposes.

But Jesus showed us what the good life looks like. He lived it, taught about it, demonstrated it. His is a world devoid of evil and sickness, a world of justice, peace, joy and community. He took our punishment, conquered evil, brought forgiveness, defeated death, and ushers in a new social and political order according to God’s purposes, one that mirrors God’s heavenly kingdom.

The good news is that this new order has begun with the resurrection of Jesus, and we live in the light of the future in the power of the Spirit.

There’s so much more I could say here, but suffice to say that the story of God is not just news about how to avoid going to hell when you die. It is an invitation to healing and wholeness, to an experience of the presence and power of God in our lives now. You need to learn to tell it really well.

Story 3: Hearing The Other’s Story

It might sound presumptuous to suggest that our job is to tell people their story. But there is nothing so intimate, so loving, as being able to put another person’s story into words.  As I just mentioned, many of us have never reflected on our own stories and are quite limited in our ability to talk about them. It’s the same for non-Christian people. Life just happens. We get busy. We don’t take the time to stop and examine our own biographies, let alone put them into words.

But when someone — a dear friend, a therapist, a close relative — puts into words our deepest longings, or explains how they see the events of our lives shaping us, it can be so incredibly powerful and intimate.

In order to be able to do this we need to make ourselves available to them. We need to be loving, attentive, interested friends. Learning to listen well in order to genuinely hear and understand is an essential skill in evangelism. Well, in life, actually.  We have to become better listeners in order to tell someone their own story.

Become curious about other people. But remember that too many questions can feel like an interrogation. Try asking questions without question marks. For example, “Tell me about your family”, “I’d like to hear more about that”, “Tell me how that’s working out for you”. 

Most people are lousy listeners, often only pausing long enough to think of something to say. They compete with you for airtime and leave you feeling exhausted rather than understood. Instead, we should practice what counsellors call active listening. That’s listening with empathy. You do it by maintaining eye contact with the other; leaning toward the person; asking questions; and repeating answers back for clarity. Try to maintain a state of prayer and a learning posture to unwrap the gifts in others.

Finding the Points of Intersection

As you’re learning to tell these three stories, you’ll discover that the most important thing is to find the points where those stories overlap. This is where the magic happens. The most fertile ground for evangelism is where two or three of the stories intersect, as shown in this Venn diagram:

Find Where God’s Story Intersects with My Story  – the places where God’s story overlaps with mine are the many ways grace is working on me, guiding me, healing me, shaping me more and more into the person God wants me to be. I call this intersection “Saving Grace,” but it’s not just about me being saved. This intersection is where you can see all the evidences that God’s reign is changing me. 

Find Where God’s Story Intersects with The Other’s Story – God’s story of grace overlaps with an unbeliever’s story even if that unbeliever doesn’t understand it or recognize it. This is called “Prevenient Grace.” The term prevenient comes from an archaic English usage meaning “anticipating,” “going before,” or “preceding’’. So, prevenient grace refers to God’s grace that precedes any human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything a person may have done. I need to know another person’s story so well that I can identify all the ways I see God at work in their lives, even without them noticing. 

Helping people to see how God has touched our lives and theirs is really beautiful work. It’s possible to learn to recognise the myriad ways that God touches us outside of that which is openly spiritual and we can share these moments with others. God touches us through painful growth experiences of loss and grief, through moments of creative and athletic excellence, through moments of victory over our problems and through the tenderness of relationships.

These moments when we touch something eternal and noble and good are God’s fingerprints on our lives — God’s prevenient grace. People need to realise that the God they feel they do not know has, in fact, been at work already in their lives in many ways.

Even the shame, doubt and despair of not being the person you know you could be, can be the indication of the Spirit’s presence, giving a sensitivity to sin in your life. A moment where you connect with a deep truth through the work of an author or an artist can also be the Spirit’s work. A virtuoso performance full of human excellence can leave you feeling you need somewhere to put your wonder and gratitude. All these things can be seen as the Spirit at work through prevenient grace urging the heart toward worship of God. 

Find Where My Story Intersects with The Other’s Story – When you think about it, all conversations between good friends are about where and how our stories overlap. There’s nothing more affirming and empowering than when a friend says, “Me too!” It shows our commonality and our shared brokenness, and it fosters humility and hope.

Good evangelism doesn’t just involve finding where the places of intersection are, but expanding them. Allow more and more of God’s story to overlap with yours. Allow more and more of your story to overlap with your friend’s. And as this happens, you’ll discover more and more of the ways God’s grace has touched his or her life story.

The Place Where All Three Stories Intersect

If you scroll back up to that Venn diagram you’ll see there’s a zone where all three stories intersect. This is the place where Saving Grace, Prevenient Grace, and Real Friendship come together. This is the place where we share about God’s story and how it has changed us for the better, and where we can explore how that same God has already touched our friend’s life.  And such sharing is done in the context of a close, trusting friendship.

Elaine Heath was right when she said, “Evangelism is intrinsically relational, the outcome of love of neighbor, for to love our neighbor is to share the love of God holistically.”

There’s much more I should say — about the need to demonstrate love in practice, and the importance of community — but in the interests of keeping this short, I’ll leave it here. Evangelism isn’t simple. You can’t just memorize a spiel or hand someone a pamphlet. It just involves learning three really complicated, beautiful, perplexing stories really well and then figuring out how to tell them with gentleness, grace and kindness.

Share to:

Subscribe to my blog


The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

Latest Blogs

Cricket goes “Woke” and I love it

This week the Australian animated kids program Bluey released an episode about the great and ancient game of cricket. I know Bluey is very popular

The Problem of Fortune-Telling Preaching

“You won’t soar like an eagle if you’re negative in your thinking. Get your thoughts going in the right direction.” “Settling for what is comfortable

The Moon is Always Full

I saw a meme recently that credited Jackie Deacon saying, “The moon is always full, it’s just our view that is partial.” The truth of

My Favorite Cities

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain In my previous post I shared the ten most beautiful places I’ve visited across

4 thoughts on “Evangelism as Storytelling: learning all three stories

  1. Mike, I always enjoy reading your blog posts. And though we might disagree theologically, you are clearly coming from a place of honesty and good conscience.

  2. Mike, I’m glad your explanation of evangelism steers us away from reducing our faith stories to formulae, doctrinal statements and above all pamphlets! Elaine Heath’s summary is spot on. Yet even the Venn diagram can be misleading in that it inevitably sharpens what are essentially unsharp boundaries – making it appear that we transition from “not-evangelism” to “evangelism”. This was the mistake of the well-intentioned old-style “friendship evangelism” where, no matter how much we tried to avoid it, we would give the impression that the friendship was not an end in itself but {mainly} the means to evangelism. This often resulted in Christians appearing to be fake. OTOH the Venn diagram is helpful in showing how three stories interact.

    Lots of us moved right away from that old approach, and what a relief it was. The pressure to “bring people to Christ” was off. And if we maintained our integrity we discovered that our non-evangelism was more effective, more real and more lasting than what we did before. Thanks for giving us this stimulating series.

  3. Hi Mike,
    I am unsing story telling for evangelism. Thank you very much for this interesting article. Especially the last part with the Venn diagram was new for me.
    May I ask: How does the command of Jesus for repentence (Matthew 4,17) or confessing sins fit into this approach?


  4. Michael,

    I have been on a journey for 30+ years as an adult “Christian” to come to realize in this past year how I had actually missed it. When I say, missed it, I mean that I knew how to act as a “Christian”, but didn’t truly KNOW God as the person in Mathew 7:21-23 discovered. I faithfully went to church, tithed, gave of my time, and even taught Sunday school and did evangelism here and abroad. I now see how I did this without KNOWING God. Now that I have come to truly KNOW Him I have come to see and understand in so many new ways. This blog has helped me tremendously. I have been working at sharing my journey with others and have been a little lost in how to help others in their journey beyond just sharing my experiences. What I previously thought evangelism was and even my training to actually go out and do now I see why it was so ineffective. I have also found a guy named Ray Comfort and have begun to adopt his approach to evangelism. We can’t just go out and proclaim the good news and share scriptures to validate God’s love for us and salvation through Jesus. Evangelism is much, much more then our efforts in sharing. Evangelism requires the Holy Spirit to be at work. We can’t do it. It is not our job. Before we can sow seed, we MUST remove rocks, clear the weeds and prepare the soil of ones heart before the Spirit of God can redeem a soul. Not only has my eternal destination changed this past year, but my understanding of our jobs as followers of Christ. I have come to understand our jobs. Matthew 22: 36-40 I believe is the “test” of a true conversion and believer. If we KNOW God then we KNOW His desires. God’s greatest desire is for His children to come to KNOW Him and we are charged with the task of helping bring others to Him. I think it is important to share that what I have learned is that evangelism isn’t leading people to salvation in Christ, but leading people to find and KNOW God. God must reveal Himself. We can’t do that for people as it is the job of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t come to KNOW God until I finally got tired of not understanding how one could prophecy, cast out demons, and perform miracles and not have eternal life. I literally cried out to God to show me how this was possible and God revealed to me the secret. It is simple and yet difficult – KNOW God. Again, I don’t think that we can truly KNOW God and not be about loving our neighbors or doing evangelism. Thank you again for your helping me better understand how to do this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *