Posted on July 31, 2011


My last blog post wasn’t particularly well written. This is what happens when I stay up until 3am, trying to be witty and insightful. Hey ho. I’ll probably fix it at some point. That point hasn’t arrived.

Tomorrow, we march off up to Newday. It’s only about 20 miles away on the Norfolk Showground, so it’s nice and easy for us to get to. 6 days at a youth camp = tiring. However, 65 odd people from Great Yarmouth being affected by God = awesome, so it all comes out in the wash.

I was listening to Youthwork the Podcast again today, and something occurred to me about the use of and potentially the importance of story in relational evangelism.

What I mean is this: when I’m chatting to a young person about what’s going on in their lives, or about the F1, or about something else that I’m interested in, this is great, because it builds some bridges between myself and the young person. But those bridges are tenuous and can very easily be burnt. But if I ask a young person what they’re story is – it’s something so much more. It goes down to the deepest part of who they are – it’s the sum total of their life experiences, and so important in fact, that I feel that we can’t really pull ourselves apart from our life stories.

What does this mean?

The way I’m seeing it right now, the young people that I come into contact with have a past that can be either positive, negative, or pretty much neutral – they can look back on their past with dread, fond memories, or just *bleauh*. Asking them to read out their story is asking to be part of it. By asking someone this intimate question, you’re asking for permission to peer into their souls – and I think that for many young people today, this is what they desperately want. Everyone has a story, and if instead of feeling like a book to be read, you feel like a number to be ticked off, then this mismatch in emotional culture and real culture cause friction, isolation, loneliness and heartache. Finding people in your life who want to know your life story is incredibly valuable – because it means that they care about you.

The moment someone opens their story up to you, you have the choice to become a positive or a negative force in their lives – I don’t think you can simply be neutral any more. Even in an attempt to remain neutral is probably destructive, because it’s asking the genie to go back in the bottle, and that’s a form of rejection.

As a youthleader who loves young people, it’s come to my attention that I don’t do story properly. I need to open my story up and offer it to the young people – not so that they like me, but so that they know that they are safe to do the same in reverse. This idea of story intrigues me, and I really want to try it out.

One thing I’d quickly interject here is that the film Freedom Writers is one that all youth leaders should watch. Especially if they’re in an area of cultural diversity and division. I’ll do a review of it some time – it’s excellent and something I think we should use as a discussion starter with our young people.

I now want to open this idea up to the internet, and bring in the ideas of others who have delved into this concept.

I’ve found a wordpress blog by a clinical chap, who also has a very high view on personal story. Worth a read. He references a book called On Stories. Another one added to my wish list.

As we’d expect, the excellent Youthwork Magazine have a resource to help us to connect better, and they look into the idea of stories – they particularly look at connecting the stories of people and of God together – a worthy and important thing to do, and a stage beyond where I am right now. I may want to look into this course at some point, and perhaps run it with the team. It’s aimed at young people, rather than youth leaders, but I may find something more appropriate – or if I look at it, this course may be appropriate anyway.

I’ve come across a youthworker’s website which is looking for stories. They rules that they use are as follows (totally taken from their website, but I’ve given credit…right?)

The rules:

1. It’s about story, not just facts. Reflection is also good.
2. A degree of anonymity needs to be built in to protect young people, and to not be naming and shaming particular churches
3. No stories that are basically self-aggrandizement
4. The stories don’t have to be tidy, they can be snapshots
5. You can choose for stories to be posted but the ability to comment to it, ‘switched off’
6. Authorship will remain completely anonymous unless requested otherwise
7. Stories must be true, un-exaggerated … and not an attack on persons or churches

I think that these are quite good rules for telling any stories. But I think the idea that I have in my head – drawing stories out of young people is different, I think that if we were to create rules for youthleaders, asking young people about their stories, they would look something like this:

The Rules:

1. Check your heart. Make sure that you’re asking someone about their story because you care about them. Not straight after they’ve misbehaved, but when the water is calm. 
2. Don’t interrupt, but do encourage. ‘Go on…’, ‘and then what happened’ ‘how did that make you feel?’ that sort of thing is great – but breaking someone off halfway through a paragraph to regale them with a story of ‘when I was your age….’ is bad
3. Listen. Too many people don’t listen when someone else is talking, they’re thinking about what they want to say. Just stop that and listen. Listen to the emotion, the heart and the way everything affects the young person.
4. Don’t dig. Young people can be like wild animals – we need to allow them to come to us, rather than wait until we think they’re close enough and then pounce on them. Leave them to open up, don’t try and force them to.
5. Be careful about disclosure. Make sure you have someone you can unload emotional stuff with. If you carry around the broken hearts of half a dozen kids in your pocket, they can do you harm – in all sorts of ways. Make sure you’re not alone.
6. Challenge. Once you have a relationship with a young person where they want to open up to you about things regularly, then do challenge them if their thinking is faulty. Do so gently and in love, but you never want to find yourself in a place where you’re simply therapeutically absorbing everything a young person is going through – because they will need guidance and challenge!
7. Reciprocate – but carefully. Again, relationships are built between people opening up to one another. If you love young people, you will want to help them through life – and this will mean that you will have to reciprocate in some of the opening up stuff. Always holding them at arms length and demanding that they open up is a dishonest relationship – it’s not really friends, it’s soiled, somehow. But like disclosure, be careful – you don’t want to unload your issues on a young person, but do share your heart with them. This is a tightrope. I know.

There are probably many, many more that I could list, but I think that this is a good start. Ah, stories. how important they are!