Mentoring Through Story

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People often ask me when I began storytelling. It all started at a small Christian college (Pacific Christian College, now Hope International University) while I was serving as an assistant dean. Whenever I was with students, I reached for a story. I found out that a story was a great way to get inside their story, to teach them, and to lift them up with encouragement. If the teaching material and the story connected to one another, this was a bonus! In fact, it created pictures that helped them remember material for a test, a final, or created the hoped for “ah-hah!”.

I also counseled/mentored students with stories. I would be in counseling or mentoring session and ask, “Could I tell you a story that might relate to what you are going through?” The answer was always, “Yes.”

After that moment of a story and the processing of its application came the question, “Could I have a copy of that story?” I’d walk over to our large office copier and make one, knowing I’d connected the student with a word picture for their pain, questions, confusion, processing, or personal growth.

The first time I told the story of “The King Who Waits,” it was at this small Christian college. I’d been asked to speak at Dorm Devos. It was a weekly student-led time of community and a devotional, with an invited guest speaker. It was a real privilege to be asked to speak as this was usually reserved for pastors and professors. Students on and off-campus—residents from both the men’s and women’s halls—gathered (piled into) into one of the large lobby spaces after evening classes, ready for this “sacred-once-a-week-moment” together.

I was asked to address the topic of “How to have an intimate relationship with God.” The more I thought about it, the more I knew it had to be a story that would best explain this relationship. I used the metaphor of a King—a Great King—and a subject coming to visit the King at the end of the day.

To my amazement, weeks later the story was still hanging around in students’ lives and affecting their relationship with God. The preservative power of a story! This touched my heart deeply as a young assistant dean and a blossoming storyteller. And it gave me a push to continue writing stories that could serve as metaphors for our lives.

It’s a pattern used by great speakers (and comediennes). I’m sure you’ve noticed this. The speaker will start with a story, and usually, it’s a funny story. I think they want to hear us laugh so they can relax a little. Any time this opening story is from their life, they have cleverly hooked us—connected our story to their story. They’ve got us. We’re for them.

A good speaker will use story a second time in the body of their material. If they take us back into that first story by connecting the dots to the material we’ve been taught, they’ve become unforgettable. They’ve mentored us with a story!

When I am asked to speak, you can bet I will have a story, or two, or three. If I am counseling or mentoring, I will have a story for this person. I will snoop around and find one.

I was mentored this way, too. My two outstanding mentors—Ray Rood (The Genysys Group) from my masters program at Azusa Pacific University and Gary Bayer from my storytelling and writing—both mentored me by way of storytelling.

The next time you are asked to mentor, counsel, or speak, use a well-chosen story. You’ll be unforgettable… and so will the story.

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