Part 3: Improving Our Storytelling
This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on telling our missions stories. To start back at Part 1, click here.
In Parts 1 and 2 of our series, we talked about why it’s so important to tell our missions stories to all who will hear, and we looked at the anatomy of a story. Now, let’s take a look at some practical tips, exceptions-to-the-rules, and some topics to practice your skills.
Appropriate stories to share could include any of the following (and many more) to jog your memory:
A change of your heart
A new understanding
Overcoming a fear
Meeting a person who impacted your heart or way of thinking
Seeing something you never thought you’d see
Watching a change occur in someone else
Seeing freedom in yourself, your teammate or someone in the country you’re visiting
How God provided
Your observations of indigenous leaders working together
Things you appreciate about the culture you are visiting
Recognizing Vineyard values in another culture, even if it didn’t look the same as home
Humans tend to think in pictures, which is how, when you are thinking through your missions experience, you end up with a list. Those words on your list, throw a picture into your mind. That picture brings back the entire memory for you: the feelings, the setting, the atmosphere, the build up, and the significance of those moments. When we record those moments, a little writer’s trick is to START with that picture that’s in your head.
Describe that picture. This description will become the notes for your last paragraph, the finale, the big-bang finish to your story. Include what you felt like or something you saw God doing, (with or without human hands). Now to craft a story out of this picture, you’ll start the first paragraph by telling “your best friend” on paper (try it aloud first, if that helps you process it) - why this looked significant to you. You can describe the setting, the people, the circumstances, the hardship, the “before” experience (as related to the coming change that you know about because it is the picture in your mind).
While we don’t need the next great American novel, we would also like more heart-detail than a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram post. Most stories can be told in three paragraphs of two to six sentences each.
As we examined in Part 2 of this series, our story should have a beginning, middle, and ending.
Beginning: Describe the characters and setting (what you want your reader to see in their mind before you introduce the action).
Middle: Describe the problem or conflict including any compounding circumstances. (The thing that will be overcome or moved or changed in the end) but leave out any outlying information that will not be involved in the wrap up.
Ending: Describe the climax or resolution here. Be sure to include how it felt or what you learned, particularly as it relates to relationship or growth in yourself, with others, and/or with God.
Storytelling can be as simple as that!
Writing For Your Best Friend
Don’t worry about trying to move from paragraph to paragraph with linking words like your English teacher hounded you about. People read fast and see action in pictures, both real photos and in their minds. To compose a good story, close your eyes and re-enter the circumstances of your memorable experience, and then describe it for your best friend. (Tip: Picturing your best friend as your audience will give your words a vulnerability in your story that is hard to recreate when you think of writing for a stranger).
Using sense words (feel, taste, smell, see, and hear) helps to describe your setting (paragraph 1) for your best friend. You can relate to past experience or describe what the place reminded you of. If everything was brand new and you are making adjustments by leaps and bounds, you can describe that too, how what you were experiencing/seeing was so different from your everyday experiences at home.
Nearly every rule has an exception, so don’t toss your hands up in despair and stop writing if you can’t force your story into this grid. Not every storyteller uses this format. Many other formats and structures are certainly acceptable, but we hope this simple structure will help get you started recording your God-stories.Then you can begin to grow in crafting your stories for people to learn from your experiences.
Hone Your Writing Skills
Here are a couple of practice story writing ideas to hone your writing skills so you can write missions stories to share with your church, the greater Vineyard movement, and beyond.
Story ideas to practice with:
Taking your child to his or her first circus experience (you can make up the info if you have not actually done this.)
Returning to the gym after a long hiatus (again, you can make this up and make it as funny as you want to.)
A profound moment or breakthrough in scripture on a quiet Saturday morning with the Lord (let your reader really feel your heart).
Sharing Your Stories More Broadly
Ok, now this is our “pitch” to you. We are always looking for new stories to inspire, celebrate, and demonstrate what God is doing in His people and around the world. We want stories not only from team leaders, but also from team members, including youth and children! If you share your stories with us, you do not have to worry about grammar or spelling, everything submitted will be proofread and edited and returned to you for approval before publication. You can use MS Word, Google docs, or even just type your story in an email to us!
When you submit your stories, please include:
Name (optional, but preferred)
Email address (required, but will not be published)
Year of occurrence
Theme or clever title (optional, best if composed last)
Paragraph 1 (describe the setting and characters)
Paragraph 2 (set up the problem and all the mitigating circumstances)
Paragraph 3 (what happened? How was there resolution or change that occurred? What did it feel like?)
Paragraph 4 (optional) wrap up any little details on lessons learned or how this relates to other areas of life)
That’s it! Just email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. Attach up to 5 photos, if you would like to (optional).
We hope this series has been helpful to you as you grow in ways of telling your missions stories. We welcome your feedback, any tips you’d like to contribute, what you’ve experienced when writing. And we definitely welcome your stories!!!
For additional ideas and ways to share your stories, including video submissions, check this out.
Kim Frolander started attending Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. She spent two years as a volunteer/missionary in Jerusalem, Israel, and upon coming home, she trained with Bubba Justice and led missions at IVC for 3.5 years. Now she uses her experience and degrees in research and writing, (formally known as English and History) for curating resources for Vineyard Missions. She has authored eight books and recently founded a non-profit ministry, the Ruth Israel Initiative.