“When we fulfill our humanity as God intended, we are prophetic, priestly, pastoral people. All of us. Every one of us.” (Fr. Thomas Hopko)
In a recent survey on contemporary parish ministry, participants lamented a “lack of management/leadership skills.” You can’t just order people to show up at liturgy on time, or get motivated for your latest project, or start loving the changing face of your community. Congregations—humans—don’t work like that. But you can lead them where you need them to go with a skill you may already possess: good storytelling. Don’t think you’re a good storyteller? I’ll be offering some words of advice later on in this series. The point for today is that well-told narratives can create an intense, personal connection between your audience and your message. They can alter opinions, inspire others to achieve what seems impossible, manage your parishes’ increasing diversity and improve inclusion, and build your community and capacity, among many other possibilities.
Storytelling in parish leadership is different than the kind you do for entertainment. You create and relate these narratives to connect with your parishioners, fellow clergy, employees, suppliers, and anyone else involved in your parish, mission, or organization. You deploy them to achieve a specific goal or desired outcome.
That being said, as a leader, you need to be authentic. You need to believe what you’re saying, the story you’re telling. And you have to be true to yourself — including your imperfections. In fact, it is easier for people to trust you if you reveal your own vulnerabilities. Those instances of failure, poor judgment, or mistakes can help you connect with your audience. (If you have 20 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching Brené Brown’s brilliant TED talk on this very subject: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en). In parish life, people also use stories that originated in the Bible or the lives of the Church Fathers and Mothers. These can be effective but keep in mind that, in the leadership context, if you don’t feel an emotional connection with this material you won’t be able to create one for your audience.
Over the coming months, I’ll be offering a series in this newsletter about some of the different types of stories that can be effective in your leadership role.
- “Who I Am” Stories
- “What’s In It for Me” Stories
- Teaching Stories
- Vision Stories
- Objection-Slaying Stories
- “Who We Are” Stories
Patricia Fann Bouteneff conducted post-doctoral research in traditional storytelling at the University of Pennsylvania before working for 10 years at a Fortune 50 company in corporate storytelling (communications, internal marketing, and history). Over the last 30 years, she has participated as a member in a wide variety of Orthodox communities (Greek, Greek-American, British, Swiss, Romanian-American, and OCA), sitting on parish councils, and learning from the ways church leaders tell their stories.
Patricia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to comment on the article.
Storytelling for Church Leaders sources
- Blunt, Ray: “Leaders and Stories: Growing the Next Generation, Conveying Values, and Shaping Character,” on Org (http://govleaders.org/stories.htm)
- Hopko, Fr Thomas, “Speaking the Truth in Love: Compelling Commentary on Christian Belief and Behavior.” Podcast for Ancient Faith Radio (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/bishops_part_1_prophetic_priestly_and_pastoral)
- Jackson, Keith: “Business Storytelling: Using Stories to Inspire,” on com http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/BusinessStoryTelling.htm
- Linden, Russ: “Story Power,” on Governing: The States and Localities (http://www.governing.com/columns/mgmt-insights/Story-Power.html)
- Ramsdell, Catherine: “Storytelling, Narration, and the ‘Who I Am’ Story,” on WritingSpaces.com http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/ramsdell–storytelling-narration.pdf
- Schwabel, Dan: “How to Use Storytelling as a Leadership Tool,” on Forbes.com(http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2012/08/13/how-to-use-storytelling-as-a-leadership-tool/)
- Simmons, Annette: “The Six Stories You Need to Know How to Tell,” on com (http://annettesimmons.com/wp-content/files_mf/1294790921StoryFactorChap1.pdf)
- Stevenson, Doug: “Storytelling – A Leadership Development Tool,” on Story Theater International ( http://storytelling-in-business.com/files/Storytelling-leadership-development-tool.pdf)