Justina Chen, The Art of Inspiration: Lead Your Best Story (Seattle, WA: Sparkline Creative, 2016).
Every year, I try to read the Bible through from cover to cover. Even though I’m a minister, I find that it’s not an easy task. I often get lost among the “Thou shalt nots” and “So-and-so begats” and “Woe is mes.” Perhaps you’ve had the same experience as a Bible reader.
What keeps me going when I get bogged down are the stories. Turn any page in the Bible and you’ll come across a well-told story. Some of the stories are historical, while others are proverbs, psalms, or parables. Some have to do with individuals, while others talk about groups. If you pay careful attention, you’ll notice that these little stories make up one big Story about God’s enduring love for the people He created, who have fallen, and whom He longs to save.
Given the prominent role stories play in the Bible, it’s a wonder that church leaders don’t make more effective use of stories. It’s not just that many sermons are made up of three to five dry, abstract propositions. It’s also that church leaders fail to inspire followers by giving them a narrative vision of where the community has been, where it’s going, and how to get there.
Which brings me to The Art of Inspiration by Justina Chen. Chen is an award-winning novelist, story strategist, and corporate communications advisor. She’s consulted for companies as diverse as Microsoft and the Mayo Clinic. In this book, she shows business leaders how to become the chief inspiration officers for the people they lead. Not surprisingly, given her background, inspiration requires leaders to tell good stories.
Specifically, leaders must learn to tell three stories. The “Heritage & Quest” story connects followers to their organization’s past and vision for the future. The “Defining Moment” story requires leaders to be authentic about themselves so that others can understand what makes the leaders tick and why they’re worth following. And the “One Big Idea” story communicates leaders’ unique visions, the thought-leadership they provide to their organizations.
As leaders tell these three stories, they need to make effective use of the tools in the storyteller’s toolkit: intentionality, voice, metaphor, wordplay, and a “magical object,” which is basically a thing or symbol that encapsulates an organization’s uniqueness.
Though The Art of Inspiration is written for business leaders, I found myself repeatedly thinking, Pastors need to know (and practice) this too! We Americans live in a period of time when increasing numbers of people find Christianity not so much false as passé and irrelevant. We can complain about the insidious role of education or the media or Hollywood play in telling falsehoods about the faith. Or we can tell a better story that attracts people and inspires them to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
I’ll close this review with the epigraph that begins the book: “Tell good stories; they have magic to stir people’s blood. Lead your best story, aim high in hope and heart.” Amen to that!
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P.P.S. This review is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com.