Four Characteristics of a Great Storyteller

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There are certain characteristics that we look for in artists who want to serve on Story Team. We believe these four values help us to tell the most honest and compelling stories that we can tell.

Creativity

Our artists have to be creative. They have to be talented. We live in one of the most art-driven cities in the country, and we as a church, we have to create art with excellence. For too long the local church has been known for terrible music and art, and it’s time for us to change that. We have to earn the respect to be heard by someone who doesn’t know Jesus, and one way we can do that is by creating excellent art in the church.

We know of many stories of people who come to The Austin Stone who don’t know Jesus, but they keep coming back because they like the music. Our worship leaders and bands create music with excellence, and it’s winning the hearts of the lost. I want to do the same thing with the stories that we tell.

Trustworthiness

Our artists have to be trustworthy. When we enter into a story, we have to win the trust of the people whose stories we are telling. That’s the only way to get to the real heart of the story. That’s the only way to get to the story behind the story.

We do this by meeting with our subjects before we even pick up a camera or pen. We do this before we even do an interview. We ask every writer, photographer and filmmaker to meet with their subject first over coffee or lunch. It’s just a time to get to know them, and for them to get to know us. It’s a time to build trust.

Ever since we started requiring our artists to do this, our stories have gone to another level of honesty and transparency. We have been able to publish some written stories lately that deal with abortion, suicide, and mental illness, and the only way we can do that is by earning the trust of the people.

Discernment

Our artists must have the gift of discernment. We have to be in tune with the Holy Spirit whenever we enter into an interview of any kind. As storytellers, we have to know when it’s appropriate to put the camera or pen down. Sometimes in an interview, we will cut cameras and just be a friend to the person. We will stop what we are doing and just be someone who cares, someone who can hear them out, and pastor and point them back to the gospel.

We care more about the people in our stories than the stories themselves. In order to care for our subjects, we have to be able to discern their situation, and then react accordingly. We have to be able to discern what the person is saying, and then ask questions in regards to what they are telling us. We have to be able to discern the story behind the story, and then ask questions that get to the real heart of the story.

When it comes time to finally start writing the story or editing the films, we have to rely on discernment again. Just like our preaching pastors spend time praying and asking God for direction for their sermons, we must also spend time praying and asking God for direction in our stories.

We feel the weight and responsibility of having to take hours and hours of content and distilling it down to a 5-10 minute story. The only way we can do that is with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Empathy

To be great storytellers, we must have the gift of empathy. We have to be able to understand and share the feelings of another. In this case, it’s the person whose story we are telling. We have to be able to feel what they are feeling, and then translate that over a given medium so that the audience feels the same emotion.

Storytelling, at the end of the day, is crafting emotion. We tell stories to engage our emotions. Every story that we read, listen to, or watch leaves us feeling something. Storytellers must craft a story in such a way that they lead the audience to that feeling, and it’s our responsibility to do that with integrity. The only way to do that is with the gift of empathy.

Feature image by Jordan Vonderhaar

Steven Bush

Steven Bush is an Artist Pastor, Filmmaker and Carpenter who lives in Austin, TX with his beautiful wife, Maris, and two beloved children, August and Wyatt. He serves as the Lead Storyteller and Director of The Austin Stone Story Team.

Steven and Maris have dedicated their family and lives to serving the fatherless generation. Starting their family through adoption, they now serve as active foster care parents. They believe that gospel justice begins at the family dinner table. Their belief is simple, but impacting — “A shared table is a shared life.”

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