Parables were the storytelling method of choice for our Lord. A parable can be defined as a brief story that can stand alone—like a self-contained module that appeals to the thinking and attitudes of its hearers. There are other ways to tell stories, of course, but I want to focus here on the parable telling (or storytelling) of Jesus. I see them as one and the same, because parables are a particular kind of story.
The Structure of Jesus' Parables
There are many ways to tell stories, and we can certainly be creative. But I believe we can greatly improve the stories we tell by following Jesus' examples. When we dissect the way that Jesus told parables, we can see several profound principles about how to tell our own stories.
First, the source of Jesus' illustrations was often his imagination. Jesus rarely used personal examples, and while he regularly used material from Scripture, he only occasionally used historical examples. That's the opposite of what many storytellers do today. Our practice usually starts with a personal example, moves to history, then a Bible story, and then to our imagination.
Second, the opening (first 10 seconds) of Jesus' stories established the setting. Too many times when we tell stories, we don't answer any of the six journalistic questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Take Jesus' well-known parable about the sower and the seed. In 10 seconds, you can read this much: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture" (Luke 8:5–6).
Now ask the six questions. At ...