Storytelling coach and Samaritan member Emily Gehman spends her days telling stories and helping other people tell theirs because she is convinced everyone has a story worth telling. Her model? Jesus, the Master Storyteller. “Because the Bible is full of stories of people being people and God being God.” Emily recently answered some questions for us.
Samaritan Ministries: You graduated with a degree in counseling but decided you were better suited for storytelling. Why is that?
Emily Gehman: About halfway through my senior year, I sat behind a double-sided mirror watching a counseling session take place to fulfill observation requirements for my degree. I chose the program because I knew counseling would be helpful for any kind of ministry I’d be in. And at first, I loved the idea of walking hurting people through the steps toward healing. But during this particular counseling session, I saw a client who wasn’t really interested in healing or doing the work that healing would require. At some point during that observation session, I realized that I had not been given the spiritual gift of mercy required for helping the range of clients I would encounter in a professional counseling career.
The summer after I graduated with a degree I knew I’d never use professionally, I had an opportunity to meet some people and tell their stories for a small, faith-based publishing house. I’d had a job in the communications department at the college, where I learned journalism and told the stories of alumni and how God is using them in the world. Finally, a switch flipped in my brain — and in my heart. My counseling training made me interested in people’s stories, and my writing skills helped me make those stories shine. At the time, I didn’t even know storytelling was a thing, much less a viable career.
And then God said, “Here, I made this storytelling career for you. You couldn’t have known it, but I did. Because I’m God, and I love you.”
Samaritan: What is “storytelling” and why is it important for people to know how to do it?
Emily: God created our brains to thrive on stories. He even wrote a book of storytelling: The Bible is full of stories of people being people and God being God. Stories are how we connect with other human beings, and it’s how humans have, for centuries, passed down history. It’s not a new thing. It’s simply sharing lives and moments of our lives with each other, and it’s uniquely human. No other created being can tell stories and connect on a storytelling level like we can. Stories have the power to help us understand and care for each other better and, most importantly, share Jesus.
The book of Joshua holds a clear storytelling mandate. Here’s the story: God stops the flow of water while Joshua leads the people across the Jordan river. Then God instructs the people to build a memorial made of stones so that, when the coming generations see the memorial, the people can tell the story of what God did and who He is. Storytelling is a way to remember God and to tell the coming generations of Him.
The woman at the well ran into town and people believed in Jesus first because of her testimony (John 4). The blind man wasn’t sure exactly what happened but knew that he was once blind and then he could see (John 9). Jesus told stories no less than a third of the time He taught in addition to sharing His story daily with the disciples and those He lived with. And Revelation 12:11 says that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, coupled with the stories of the saints, is ultimately what defeats the enemy.
Storytelling is an incredibly powerful way we can tell people about who God is and the difference Jesus makes in our lives. It’s also a community builder, because when we share our stories, we understand each other better and grow closer to each other. We share hope. We share the life and the love and the peace that Jesus offers because we’ve experienced it. And we can bring people together with more grace and love for each other once we’ve shared and heard stories. We find points of connection, common experiences and passions, and encouragement in each other. And when we see Jesus in others’ stories, we can see Him more clearly in our own.
Samaritan: How have you made storytelling a career?
Emily: When I first began working in the world of stories, I’d hear people say, “Oh, that’s cool, but I don’t have a story.” So, my early mission became to help people see is that we all have stories. Even when we don't see them, we all have stories worth telling. As a storytelling coach, I work with people to help them see their stories, and then help them tell their stories in the best way possible. So, I coach people in planning and writing their stories, and I offer editing services to help shape those stories for readers to best connect with them. (Nobody loves the idea of hiring an editor; a more holistic “Storytelling Coach” is less intimidating — and I never use a red pen!) Additionally, I offer workshops and seminars on storytelling in writing, speaking, ministry, (specifically student ministry) and teaching. I also am available as a speaker/Bible teacher, and I absolutely love teaching the stories of Scripture.
Samaritan: Where can we find your work?
Emily: Most of my written work lives at emilygehman.com, but you can also find written stories at shatteredmagazine.net and shattered.biz. I’ve got a couple articles in the annals of Christianity Today, and I also have a podcast called “Your Stories,” available on iTunes.
Samaritan: Finish this sentence: “My mission in life is to ...”
Emily: To introduce people to Jesus by telling His story, my story, and the stories of the saints through the power and art of words.