Jesus was a master storyteller, and he could be funny, too.
“We’ve made Jesus so high and lifted up that sometimes we miss how human he was,” says Bishop Richard Looney.
On Nov. 8-9, clergy and lay speakers have an opportunity to improve how they share Jesus and the Gospel through training sessions that feature three pastors in Holston Conference known to be great storytellers.
Bishop Looney will be joined by the Rev. Charles Maynard and the Rev. Kim Goddard at the “Ultimate Storytelling Conference,” a training that will be offered online through Zoom as well as in person at Dublin United Methodist Church in Dublin, Virginia.
The conference will be conducted in Southwest Virginia to help make it more accessible to church leaders in that area, said the Rev. Kim Goddard, superintendent of the New River District.
Clergy will receive 1.0 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for the training. Certified lay speakers may also apply for recertification by participating in the training, provided they purchase and read the book, “Dancing with Words” by Ray Buckley, Goddard said.
The idea for the Nov. 8-9 training was sparked when Looney preached four nights this past July at Robert Sheffey Memorial Campmeeting in Trigg, Virginia. While Looney stayed overnight in the home of the Rev. Kim Goddard and the Rev. Jim Goddard, they all decided to collaborate with Maynard to create an enjoyable and informative learning event.
“We all know we’re going to have fun, and we hope people will have fun with us,” Looney said.
Looney is a retired United Methodist bishop who was born in Hillsville, Virginia. He now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Maynard is an author and former district superintendent, now serving as pastor of generosity and traditional worship at Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“Storytelling is important because it is the way that Jesus communicated -- through stories, the parables,” Maynard said of the upcoming conference. “In Luke, more than half of Jesus' teaching is in stories. The way we remember is in stories. People connect with each other in stories.”
Maynard has been invited to speak and to lead storytelling training throughout the country. One of his most recent books is “Tidings of Comfort and Joy: New Stories of Advent and Christmas” (2019).
This year, Looney’s first book, “The Fun of Being Looney,” was published, sharing stories of humor in his own life as well as in the teachings of Jesus. Using humor to share the Gospel will be part of his presentations during the “Ultimate Storytelling Conference,” Looney said.
“When the disciples asked who was the greatest among them, I imagine Jesus kind of smiled when he said, ‘If you don’t act as a child, you might not get in,’” Looney said, referring to Luke 9:46-50.
Preaching was meant to be a joyous experience, although you might not know it by watching some speakers in the pulpit, Looney added. “I’m amazed at how hard people can work on a sermon and then they don’t know how to deliver it. We make preaching into such a laborious thing.”
Looney, who served the South Georgia Conference as resident bishop from 1988 to 2000, said he often shared with pastors some advice he once received: “You better learn to enjoy preaching, because people won’t come every week just to watch you suffer.”
The Rev. Jim Goddard noted that storytelling is part of Appalachian culture and heritage (“It’s who we are”). He said he appreciates how his wife, the Rev. Kim Goddard, Looney, and Maynard have all represented Appalachia well in their ministries.
“We’ve got three premiere storytellers right here in Holston Conference,” he said. “We wanted to bring some excellent teaching and passionate leadership right here to people who might not have that experience.”
The Rev. Kim Goddard, who has preached several times at Holston Annual Conference as well as at numerous churches and events, said that each of the three “Ultimate Storytelling” leaders will present 45-minute lectures followed by breakout rooms and mini-sermon demonstrations. Topics will include public-speaking basics, using the parables, and preaching the story.
“We are not ultimate storytellers but we are telling the ultimate story,” Goddard said, “and that’s what we’re trying to do on Sunday morning.”
The conference will be held Monday, Nov. 8, 6-9 p.m., and Tuesday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration costs $15 for both online and in-person participants. Register now.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.
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