Shaped by the Story - Helping Students Encounter God in a New Way By: Michael Novelli 176 pages Published by Zondervan/Youth Specialties
OVERALL - I am really excited about the approach to teaching/learning/forming/creating community outlined in this book. This is NOT a PROGRAM but rather the outline of a PROCESS for approaching Scripture called "storying". What is truly fabulous about the book is that Novelli walks you through step by step and provides a wonderful set of resources as well. There is a DVD included that actually shows you a youth group using the storying process, there are several appendices with lots of great ideas including a personal favorite Lectio Divina. PLUS there's a web site with more resources, ideas, and help all of which are free. Storying falls into that category of "Everything old is new again". It opens Scripture up in a way that the early church would have understood but also in a way that 21st century young people can get involved with just as easily. It requires no fancy equipment or any extensive training regime. You could have the storying approach up and running in very short order.
As a lifelong storyteller and long time youth minister I have say this is a book that really got me excited (with one notable exception, see below). Novelli has done a thorough, in depth examination of storying in this book. You'll understand the history, the underlying concepts and the process itself by the time you're finished. That's no mean feat in only 176 pages. What you find at the end is something that is a serious challenge to how we've approached Scripture in the past and an exciting possibility for the future.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Storying is a way of getting deeper into Scripture. Novelli talks about the need to realize that it's not about us integrating God's story into our lives but integrating our lives into God's story. In many ways I think storying is a further growth from the Lectio Divina concept. We all know the stories at the surface level but may feel intimidated to dig deeper. To do that the author notes that we're going to have to be open to approaching scripture a little differently than we have in the past. I can only imagine how some people will react to comparing the Bible to a "wikistory" or a web "mashup"! Storying takes the youth leader out of the role of leader and into the role of co-learner. It offers the young people ways to interact with the individual stories of scripture (what Novelli refers to as the narratives) that are help them work towards a deeper understanding. A storying session goes through 7 elements - Build community, Review previous stories, Prepare for imaginative listening, Narrate the new story, help the group Retell the new story, Discuss the story, Connect the story to our own stories. If that sounds complicated you'll quickly discover that it's really not. This can be done very effectively with a minimum (but absolutely necessary) amount of preparation.
RESERVATIONS A little one and a big one. Little one first. Novelli really pushes hard for a very straight forward way of narrating the stories. He recommends against using humor for example. There's absolutely nothing wrong with his approach. But. I've told stories all my life, even made a living doing it. And so I'm not willing to give up any potential tool. Getting away from the straight forward style of the book means you have to prepare more carefully and work harder. Under the right circumstances going a little farther can be magical. Under the wrong circumstances it can be a total train wreck. I just wanted to note that small difference.
The big difference has to do with an entire chapter. Chapter 5 "Communication Revolution" cites a large number of statistics outlining the change in how all Americans deal with media. We don't read as much as we used to. We rely more on electronic media for entertainment and information. I don't dispute any of that. Unfortunately Novelli cites at least one source that is seriously suspect. It doesn't offer original research but is an extended listing of other sources. At the very beginning however the web site notes that it quotes some material that it has no source for, and that some of the "source" links in fact do not take you to the statistic cited but only to the organization or person who is the supposed source. I followed several of them and could not find the statistic cited. What I did find on the web site were statistics that appeared to contradict each other. It detracts from the case being made. Given the excellence of the rest of the book I found this chapter disturbing. If you're willing to agree that our youth approach media, literature, information differently than we did at that age (and it's indisputable) you really don't need this chapter. Frankly it comes off as alarmist and I just don't see the need. Skip the chapter and you really won't lose a thing.
RECOMMENDATION I give this book a strong endorsement for any youth group starting with middle school on up. This could work very well with adult groups too I think. It gives you all the resources you'll need to get started, it's well written, and it's clearly "real world" workable. It's well worth it's $30 purchase price.