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Christians learn to tell ‘The Story’

CARY, N.C. (BP) — Because the number of people who have a basic understanding of the Bible “is shrinking in America,” Jerry McCorkle said he began to explore a new way to share the Christian faith with all people.

The result is “The Story” (viewthestory.com), an evangelism and discipleship tool to help relay the overarching story of the Bible –- creation, fall, rescue and restoration.

“What we’re trying to say is that Jesus is the reality,” said McCorkle, executive director of Spread Truth Ministries (spreadtruth.com) based in Bloomington, Ill. “We need to know this big story, and we need to craft it in such a way that it taps into the deepest desires of their heart.”

Several Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professors contributed to the materials, which are continuing to be developed, including the training manual, booklets, a recently released English Standard Version Bible based on The Story and applications for smartphones.

“It’s God’s story,” said George Robinson, assistant professor of missions and evangelism at Southeastern. “It’s a good way to re-center conversations on what matters the most.”

Alvin Reid is a professor of evangelism at Southeastern, and in his 18 years there, he has been “always thinking about effective ways to share the Gospel in this culture.”

Reid uses the Apostle Paul as an example. When in Jerusalem, during New Testament times, Paul was speaking to Jews who had an understanding of the Scriptures, or the Old Testament. When he got to Mars Hill and Athens, Paul had to use a different approach. He started with creation.

“We used to live in Jerusalem,” Reid said. “But America is now Athens.”

This is evident by observing television, culture and music. “There’s a hunger for more,” Reid said. “There’s a hunger for truth. I believe we have to give people the whole panoramic view.”

Pairing evangelism with discipleship is key, Reid said. People need to see the Bible as more than a book of rules.

“The Gospel is about knowing God,” he said. “I think the best way to share the Gospel is to take them from where they are to the cross.”

Developing ‘The Story’

The Story was born out of a need McCorkle faced in his Spread Truth ministry, which leads mission teams each summer to New York. Year after year, the teams tried to use the usual evangelism tracts or training materials but had trouble because many of them rely on a person’s knowledge of a basic biblical framework. So McCorkle developed a small tract called “More to Life,” which laid the groundwork for The Story concept.

Robinson happened to be in New York one year with another mission team he was leading, and he found an early Spread Truth tract. He had been developing something on his own that mirrored some of the same concepts.

“I couldn’t just say Jesus died for your sins,” Robinson said, because “they defined the narrative outside of Scripture. I found I had to tell the whole story.”

Robinson began consulting with Spread Truth and Reid. It went from a small booklet to a training manual.

Individuals and churches can have a personalized Web page to keep track of how many contacts have checked their particular Story page. There are also applications for Android and Apple smartphones to help with sharing The Story.

Churches can utilize their accounts to show how God is using members to witness to others. They can even display a digital map showing where The Story has been shared.

In 2010, Robinson headed to Orlando for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. He had just opened his personalized Story account online. On the way down he shared the booklet with a person in Wilmington, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a couple of other pit stops along the way. By the time he made it to Orlando, Robinson said all those people had used the Web address given on The Story booklet.

At the Raleigh International Festival last year, Robinson handed out 20 booklets about The Story. By lunch the next day, 16 of the 20 people had visited his personalized site.

“It makes you want to share more,” he said. “The real challenge is day-to-day, recognizing the opportunities to share the story of the Gospel in the context of this broader story.”

Robinson encourages believers to go to the same person to get a haircut or go into the same gas station to pay for your gas.

“Pay at the pump kills evangelism,” Robinson said. “We are in such a hurry, Christians are cutting themselves off from the world. We, of all people, should be winsome.”

Spreading ‘The Story’

When J.D. Greear of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., recorded a video with David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., about The Story materials, McCorkle said it went viral. A tweet from Platt was shared at least 2,000 times.

“We were very fortunate that we were connected with key people,” McCorkle said.

At this point almost 600,000 booklets have been distributed in English, Spanish and German.

“The Story has really developed into something far beyond what we ever thought,” McCorkle said. “We’re actually characters in this drama. We’re actually living in The Story.”

Earlier this year, “The Story English Standard Version Bible” was released. Contributors include Robinson, Reid, Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin and several seminary professors.

Part of sharing The Story is learning your part in it and how to tell that to others. “They’ll never really learn it until they craft it themselves,” McCorkle said.

Knowing the basic themes of creation, fall, rescue and restoration will help people engage others with the Gospel, he said.

“They will really see that this Gospel flows along a plotline,” McCorkle said. “You can draw a person into it if you share it in a narrative form. That’s how Jesus did it. The story of Jesus is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point.”

Teaching ‘The Story’

Both Robinson and Reid are using The Story materials to teach their students –- pastors, youth leaders or other church staff, missionaries and lay volunteers -– at Southeastern.

Before last year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Robinson took 24 students to participate in Crossover New Orleans, a ministry push leading up to the annual meeting. Those students saw more than 150 people come to faith using The Story training.
Dianna L. Cagle is assistant managing editor of the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, where this article first appeared.

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