The home I grew up in as a child had much of its roots in West Virginia and Virginia. One of the things that bled into our home because of that cultural history was story telling. Over and over again around our dinner table was always story telling. Their were stories about miners, rogues, moonshine, and turn coats from way back. Every night we revisited stories that brought our sense of family our "Overton-ness" deep meaning. Many of the stories dealt heavily in humor and in mischief. Like the time my Dad and 5 friends stole a mail truck in high school to get cigarettes a 3 in the morning. Or my Mom would talk about the compassion of her Dad when she skipped school one day and found him saying with a wink and a grin from underneath his silver hair, "I am finally glad you broke a rule, please don't do it again." I knew at a young age that this was a gift of my family. I recall vivdly that in 5th grade while other friend's year books were filled with lines like "Have a bitchin summer!", an acquaintance of mine wrote, "Keep telling those awesome stories man."
It's these stories, and the One great Story, that combined to create a kind of narrative of deep meaning in our house and I think that story telling is at the heart of any kind of social entrepreneurship. There is no way to get any crazy idea off the ground unless it is combined with a good story. In my experience with what I am building here in Vancouver, Wa. I have begun to cherish even more my family's gift of good story telling. I feel at times I have told the story of what I am doing and how it came to be several thousand times. And it is exhausting work. But the reason that it is so exhausting is that it is such a good story to tell. But, the reason it works is that people truly long in our world (I think) to be caught up in something bigger than themselves. They want to suffer for something good. Stories help people to do that. So as we are thinking about launching anything new, we better be able to tell a story about it that invites people into our adventure. Here are some thoughts:
1. Humor: Humor is like the intermission at a play. People love a good idea, but it is 10 times better with some irony, poking fun at self, and pointing out the absurd in life. No matter how good a play is, people need a break in the action. Your story better have some funny (see my first post on when I mowed a lawn "professionally" for the first time).
2. Passion: Passion at its root means, "to suffer". If you didn't suffer for your enterprise and can't call others to suffer for the idea that you think is so good then forget it. I tell my students regularly that a significant part of the Jesus life is NOT about finding something to live for. It is about finding something that is so good that you would die for it (Luke 9:24). It's at that intersection that meaning and life tend to spring up.
3. Zeal: This is different than "passion" which has to do with suffering. A good story should be told with at least some zeal. It need geist, gusto, and elan. Even a sad story when it pivots to its telos should be delivered with some zeal. People's time and attention span come at a premium these days. If you don't care enough about your idea or vision that it doesn't come bursting forth from you like new wine in old skins than you are wasting their time. I always think here about the time when David Hume the Scottish Skeptic got up early one morning to hear George Whitfield preach. Someone saw Hume in the crowd as Whitfield was belting forth and said, "David, why are you here? You don't believe this." Hume's response, "No, but HE does!" If it's worth telling, tell it as though it must be told.
4. Resonance- Every time I have told the story of what I am working on I can see the light bulbs going off for people. It's like a flash bulb Disney parade. If our stories don't easily connect with the stories of a good number of others than whatever our entrepreneurial idea is might not have the legs to run. It's a clue that tells us we are on to something.
5. Transcendence- This overlaps with passion a bit, but the story has to get us to a higher or deeper truth about life, faith, or something! I almost never tell folks about lawn care when I talk to them about the stuff that I am working on. I don't usually talk about youth ministry either. What I talk about is the experience of teenagers and what they are wrestling with and how adults have an obligation to help them navigate the world we have created for them. I talk about kids coming alive! I talk about the higher purpose of these project. People not only will listen to that, they will go after it.
These are some things that help me as I share stories, work on projects, and even as I preach my sermon. I hope they help you as you hatch crazy ideas worth dying for.