In a mid-sized church in middle America, a pastor begins his sermon on the suffering of Christ. He describes the heartache of the garden, the betrayal of the disciples and the ultimate anguish of the crucifixion. Throughout the message the congregation listens politely, throwing up an occasional “amen,” or nodding in agreement. But then a certain phrase catches their ears.
Let me tell you a story.
Intuitively the audience perks up, leans in, and focuses.
The pastor begins to tell about the recent deaths in his family and his wife’s family. He tells of a day where the grief was so great, he sought out a solitary spot near a lake to simply “sit and cry.” But then he recounts how an elderly woman spoke to him and reminded him of God’s love. This brought great encouragement and reminded him that God was near, even in his suffering.
From this personal story, the pastor transitions back into the Gospel story, reminding the audience that their suffering —his suffering —is not unfamiliar to Christ and that we can find comfort in His ultimate victory and triumph over death. Emboldened by his own experience, the pastor speaks with an extra dose of passion and an increased amount of compassion. He has lived what he is preaching. And the message rings true.
As the service concludes, there is a palpable sense in the air that today was different. Most cannot pin it down exactly, but all know that this was a message they will not soon forget.
So what was the difference?
The pastor’s personal story and willingness to be vulnerable.
You see, with enough training and practice, anyone can stand before a congregation and preach a message. Likewise, with enough training and practice, anyone can write a book.
It is those who are willing to infuse their preaching or writing with their personal story that will really make a difference. Cognitive scientist Roger Schank says, “Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.”
Let’s take an honest look at your writing. Let’s look past the extensive research and facts. Past the scriptural interpretation. Past the data-driven information. Does your book include your personal story?
There is a reason you are writing on your topic. You have a personal connection to that topic somehow and so your book should be infused with your stories. Doing so invites the reader to perk up, lean in, and focus, just like our congregation above. And like our pastor’s message, your book will be infused with a certain boldness and effectiveness that would be lacking if written by someone who had not lived your story.
Your readers may not be able to pin it down exactly, but they will know it is a message they will not soon forget. And that is the power of the personal story.