The biggest day of football of the entire year isn’t really about football, at least for many people. So what’s the best part of the Super Bowl for so many? The commercials. When asked if they preferred watching the game, experiencing the commercials, or enjoying the half-time show, millennials in particular chose commercials. And it’s not hard to see why. Postmodernism, under which millennials have grown up, places huge emphasis on media-driven stories. People don’t want raw data or flat explanations. They want a story—a compelling tale about something that matters in the real world. And what are commercials if not stories? They are visual depictions of the stories we value today.
It’s not just millennials who are hooked on stories. Brain science is starting to produce evidence that all of us are hard-wired to love good stories.When we hear character-driven stories, our brains produce oxytocin, a neurochemical that, in turn, produces empathy, cooperation, and behavioral change. When we hear a person’s story, we begin to connect with that person emotionally. We are open to persuasion. We might even change our behavior based upon our new understanding of life. This fact is shocking: someone’s brain actually changes as a result of hearing a powerful, personal story.
This is good news for us as we begin our journey toward crafting and sharing our own stories. It means people are hard-wired to want to listen to our stories. It also means real change is possible in someone else’s life if they listen to our stories. It means we, as ordinary as we feel we are, can catalyze major life change in another person’s story. It means that sharing our stories is more important and powerful than many of us know.
Culturally speaking, there’s rarely been a time in history when people were more interested in individuals and individual points of view. Conformity is looked down upon; diversity is valued. Filmmakers, singers, artists, entrepreneurs, and leaders all seek to add their own individual perspectives of the world to the grand cultural narrative that we, collectively, are creating. In the momentum of this cultural phenomenon, you can be even more confident that your individual story matters. Your voice is welcome. All you need to do is be faithful to tell it.
The apostle Paul stumbled upon a similar cultural situation in the city of Athens. Luke tells us in his account that these “Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). They valued diverse voices and wanted to listen and learn from others. Paul used their openness as an entrance into the gospel, sharing his own knowledge of Jewish history as well as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 17:22–31). Even though some scoffed at his faith, others said, “We want to hear you again about this” (Acts 17:32).
Like Paul, we have the opportunity before us to speak the truth into a culture that likes to hear individual voices. We have a chance to articulate our personal journeys to those who enjoy listening to new ideas. We have a chance to tell our stories and how they fit into the grand story of Jesus.