Believers learn to tell ‘The Story’by C. Walter Overman
Nearly a decade ago Jerry McCorkle attended a Christian conference and heard something that altered the course of his ministry.
“I heard Tim Keller say that the way we share the gospel is going to have to change because the culture has changed,” he said.
McCorkle, executive director of Spread Truth Ministries, heard Keller speak of America as a post-Christian society.
A generation ago, the majority of Americans had a working knowledge of the biblical story and broad themes such as the fall of man, sin and redemption. In that generation, the propositional truths of the gospel could be shared with the lost and be effective.
“People knew the basic story line of the Bible and you could share the gospel with them and they could connect the dots,” McCorkle said.
Yet, today’s America is fundamentally different, which means evangelism methods must change. In response, McCorkle created what eventually became known as The Story – an evangelism tool that helps believers share the gospel through the overarching biblical story of creation, fall, rescue and restoration.
“The gospel was not delivered to us in bullet points. It was delivered to us in a beautiful narrative that runs from Genesis to Revelation,” McCorkle said. “Believers must understand how to communicate that story to the culture.”
McCorkle spoke during “The Story: A Witness Training Conference,” held recently at Caraway Conference Center. The two-day conference featured plenary sessions led by McCorkle and Alvin Reid, associate dean of proclamation studies and evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Story is a conversational approach to witnessing that encourages believers to build relationships with unbelievers through everyday conversations that naturally point to the overarching biblical story as the answer to life’s most pressing questions.
“This generation is searching. They know something is wrong in the world, but they can’t quite put their finger on it,” McCorkle said. “This is the only story that gives hope in life. It’s the only story that explains all of life.”
Build a Foundation
Witnessing through The Story begins with the story of creation, which resembles Paul’s approach to evangelism in Acts 17. This approach builds a foundation from which unchurched people can better understand the gospel.
“The largest number of people in America today are like people Paul met in Acts 17,” Reid said. “Paul started with creation. That’s where we must start.”
A key element in relaying the creation story is the image of God in man. McCorkle and Reid urged participants to begin their witness by affirming the image of God in everyone. This sets a positive tone for witnessing and helps create compassion for the lost.
“What we’ve done sometimes in our witnessing is forget the beauty of the image of God in man,” McCorkle said. “There is a God who is loving and kind who has placed His image on people.”
Reid agreed, noting that traditional forms of evangelism can appear condescending when themes such as sin are approached in today’s culture, especially when people are unfamiliar with the concept.
“Point people to the image of God in man by pointing out the creativity and special abilities of humans,” he said. This approach builds common ground, allowing believers to share the rest of the biblical story.
Sam Cerniglia, lay leader for outreach and evangelism at West Burnsville Baptist Church, said the way McCorkle and Reid explained the image of God resonated with him.
“We can lose focus of the fact that we are all created in God’s image. That hit me hard, and it gave me a deeper passion for affirming the value of all human beings,” he said.
Prior to the conference Cerniglia was unfamiliar with The Story, but was impressed with the approach and said it’s a simple way for believers to witness to the lost.
“The Story is a great way for all people in the church to share the gospel, especially those who are not gifted evangelists,” he said. “This is a simple way to integrate God’s story into our daily stories to show the world the truth. Anybody can do it.”
Carlyle Hall, pastor of Castalia Baptist Church, was also unfamiliar with The Story prior to the conference. He said the training will change his approach to evangelism.
“The Story makes you sit down with somebody and listen to their story,” he said. “I think when you do that they are more likely to listen to your story and that allows you to share God’s story.”
Hall said The Story is effective because it provides answers that many people in today’s culture are looking for.
“This shows how the world became what it is today,” he said. “And it shows that God has done something to bring us back; that God is chasing us. It’s an excellent approach.”
For more information about The Story, visit www.viewthestory.com. North Carolina Baptists can also learn more about The Story during a break out session at this year’s Annual Meeting in November. For more information, visit www.ncannualmeeting.org.