Fruitful Practices #6- The Art of Storytelling

By A SEND Worker
Tags: Muslim Ministries, Southeast Asia, Muslim Ministry, Story

This is Part 6 of the “Fruitful Practices” series.  If you have missed former articles, we encourage you to follow the links at the bottom of the page to check them out! The methods highlighted in this series are, by no means, the only way to do ministry among Muslims, but have been found by Kingdom workers to be effective strategies in many Muslim contexts.

The Storyteller’s Bazaar

Everyone loves a good story! Years ago, in Peshawar, Pakistan– a major city on one of the ancient crossroads of Asia– I heard about and visited a market called the “Storyteller’s Bazaar.” I asked the local shopkeepers about this unique name. “Tradition has it,” they told me, “that before there were movies, videos, TV, radio, and even books, travelers would make their way to this market and tell tales of things that were happening in other countries and cities that they had recently visited. In addition, the accounts of local storytellers acted as a sort of collective memory for the community. These local storytellers continuously incorporated new stories into their collections, and repeated them to others as often as possible.

A History of Stories

The love of stories extends far beyond Central Asia. In the middle ages, traveling bards entranced audiences with songs and tales, some true and some fictional. In Europe, legends of King Arthur captivated the crowds; in the Middle East, stories about Arabian Nights spread like fire; and in North America, tall tale stories of Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan and his blue ox entertained the common folk. What we can learn from these famous tales is that if stories are captivating and well told, then they will hold the attention of listeners, possibly for generations. If captivating fictional tales can spread so quickly and so wide with their influence, how might God use the telling of true stories from His Word among the unreached?

The Impact and Benefit of Stories

When seeking to engage the unreached with the Gospel, it is good for us to remember that the Bible was given to us largely in narrative format. There are several key benefits to sharing the Gospel through stories:

Most people remember a story much longer and more easily than facts, lectures, or teachings. Though I cannot remember a word from many college-level lectures and classes, I can still remember specific lessons that I learned about Jesus through stories told in Sunday School as a child.

Storytelling, or oral communication, is the common learning preference in most Muslim cultures. Fruitful Practices researchers state: “The reason storytelling is so powerful, is that it intersects with the learning pattern of most people in the Muslim world. Orality is a basic learning preference of many non-western peoples. This does not mean they are illiterate; it means they prefer to acquire important lessons about life in oral, not literary patterns. In many cultures, literary patterns of thought are associated with technical knowledge, but moral or religious thought is associated with oral patterns.”

Storytelling is a natural and non-confrontational way to impart truth in the context of daily life. Field studies have shown that Kingdom workers among Muslims- who employ a heavy use of stories, poetry, and proverbs throughout their daily interactions- demonstrate fruitful effectiveness in their work, build trust, and gain listening ears. Though it is easy to disagree and argue with doctrinal teachings or lectures, it is hard to debate a story. Arguing Christian doctrines can lead to division and defensive walls. On the other hand, stories create conversation and dialogue, and begin building bridges of trust.

Jesus used stories. Many Kingdom workers systematically and chronologically tell the stories of the Bible, leading up to the story of Jesus. Many also follow Jesus’ example by using Bible stories in the context of real-life situations to illustrate specific spiritual lessons or truths. Jesus used stories to answer questions; he used stories to elicit questions. He used stories to challenge his critics; he used stories to disciple his followers. Some of Jesus’ stories made his listeners think outside the box. Some were to remind them of God’s faithfulness throughout history. Jesus used stories to break down barriers among the lost and to encourage growth in those who already knew and followed Him. Jesus instructed his followers to use their own stories of God’s faithfulness to reach others (Luke 8:39). Sharing God’s story, along with our own life stories, is a powerful and effective way to spread the Good News.

Therefore, let us together “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people.” Psalm 96:3


Read Fruitful Practices Issue #5- Building a Good Reputation
Listen to a podcast by expert David Garrison about how God is moving in the Muslim world today!
Learn about SEND’s Hope & Light campaign to mobilize more workers into the Muslim world