When Ed Holtz returned home after serving with Cru in Europe for 25 years, he faced some culture shock. The way people approached Christianity in London was different from the way those in the United States did. “I had to figure out how to connect with people [here],” says Ed. “What are they interested in?”
Ed found that one of his best methods to reconnect with the culture was an approach he had used in London called Living and Telling. Ed joined several other Cru leaders in adapting Living and Telling to reach even more people, including bringing in the element of storytelling.
“It’s an approach that is very natural and very much in the style and in the way that Christ would enter into someone’s life and listen and engage them well,” says staff member John Hursh, who learned about the program when Ed and others were testing it.
John believed in it so much that he talked about it with Cru president Steve Douglass. In fact, John describes it as pestering: “What are you going to do with this? We need to do something with this.” John has since become the coordinator for the Living and Telling program.
When Ed and other teachers begin a Living and Telling seminar, they first talk about why stories matter. They give reasons from Dan Allender, an author and consultant on the project. They explain:
God has already written your story.
Your story marks you.
God is revealed to others as you share your story.
Our calling is to enter other people’s stories.
The entire training uses the context of telling stories. “In our relationships,” says Ed, “we need to go through the process of listening to people, asking good questions, looking for openness and then taking advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel with them. But it’s a good idea to engage in a conversation with someone else and understand their story before you engage others in sharing your story.”
People who have taken the Living and Telling training love understanding more about story and about motivational themes in a person’s life.
“I can take advantage of every opportunity that the Lord gives me to say something that will be helpful to a person in their spiritual journey—wherever they are,” says Ed.
For example, one afternoon Ed invited several neighbors over to watch football. In the midst of conversation, Ed asked one neighbor where he thought he was on his spiritual journey. The neighbor immediately responded that he was lost, remembers Ed. So he set up a time to talk with the man further. When they met for lunch later that week, Ed told his story of coming to faith and explained how the man could experience God’s love and forgiveness, too. It was all in the context of conversation and storytelling.
Living and Telling teaches participants to connect with others using conversational sound bites of their story. In the training sessions, teachers like Ed help participants examine four elements of their faith story. For each one, they ask people to come up with short answers they might insert into a conversation.
What was my attitude before I took Jesus seriously?
ED’S STORY:“I was a manipulative and arrogant pleasure seeker.”
Why did I begin to take God seriously?
ED’S STORY: “I was getting bored. You can only party so much and, after a while, it gets old.”
How did I say “yes” to Jesus?
ED’S STORY: “I made a conscious decision, as an act of my will, to choose to give up the god of pleasure for having a personal relationship with God through Jesus. It was not just a decision I made. It was an exchange—I was releasing one god and establishing a relationship with Jesus.”
How has Jesus changed my life?
ED’S STORY: “I used to be arrogant and manipulative in my relationships to get what I wanted. Now I have turned into an others-centered, loving and giving person rather than being self-centered, manipulative and arrogant.”
The main lesson of the training can be summed up in three words: listening, connecting and helping.
“Living and Telling is 90 percent about listening well,” says John. “It’s five percent about connecting and five percent sharing the gospel. That’s not to diminish the gospel in any way, but it’s like the setting of an engagement ring. The diamond is the gospel; everything else supports and brings preeminence to the diamond.”
The purpose of Living and Telling is to connect Christians with those who are not yet believers in Christ. The goal is to tell their stories and show how each fits into God’s redemption story.
You can contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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