Preaching and the mystery box


I just read notes from a session with Chris Seay over on the Collide blog. He’s talking about the power of story – preaching the bigger narrative, asking questions, leaving mystery. There’s something big here for people who communicate and teach. I love this. I see it. I want it. But can I be honest? The journalist in me fights it. I want to share a story and pull people along with the mystery of it all, but I end up giving them the answer in one short paragraph.

So I’m trying to move there, but I have to find a balance with my own style. I guess the question is, how do you feel communication works best? What about in sermons? Should sermons involve more stories and mystery? Is there still a place for the direct teaching style (I think Andy Stanley does this well)? Maybe more discussion? Maybe we need to rethink the “person up front speaking to everyone” idea all together?

If it’s a topic that interests you, you need to listen to JJ Abrams’ talk from TED. Mystery, he says, is more important than knowledge. It’s the catalyst for imagination.

A few other points he makes:

  • The best stories are mystery boxes (alluding to a story he tells about a family member and an unopened box of magic tricks). They are question after question after question that pull you through a complete story.
  • Withholding info increases interest. The Jaws shark didn’t work half the time so it was shown less. That’s what made it frightening. The unseen.
  • The best stories hold a difference between what you think you’re getting and what you’re really getting. ET isn’t about an alien who meets a kid. It’s about a heartbreaking divorce and a kid who’s finding his way in life. Jaws isn’t all about a shark attacking people, it’s about a man wrestling with his place in the world, his masculinity, and his family. (If you want to do a sequel, don’t rip off the shark, that’s not what makes it work! Rip off the story – the characters – the struggle)

So you kind of miss the point if you talk about the value of story and then read an outline of the talk :). But it’s good stuff. If you have 18 minutes, go watch it.

3 responses to “Preaching and the mystery box”

  1. jj abrams trully must believe this…kim and i are only 3 seasons into lost, but honestly…abrams has thrown so many mysteries into that puppy it’s crazy.

  2. One thing he says in the talk is that he and others had only 11 1/2 weeks to create, write, cast, and film the pilot. It’s AMAZING what they were able to come up with…

  3. Story is incredible. I’m teaching my advanced students story and storytelling. It’s not all about mystery. Mystery is an element to story and storytelling but “the thing.” I believe Ira Glass and Annette Simmons would agree.

    You must read Simmon’s “The Story Factor.” Everyone who wishes to influence or inspire needs to read Simmon’s book (including pastors). Here’s one pithy statement from the book, “Whoever tells the best story wins.” Throughout all time this has been true for good or bad. This statement is so pregnant she gave life to it through another book entitled the same.

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