What Johnny Cash Can Teach Us About Storytelling


What Johnny Cash Can Teach Us About Storytelling
One of my favorite development blogs is Future Fundraising Now.  It’s always chock full of simple tips and great ideas. A recent blog post “7 Videos that Can Make You a Better Fundraiser” is particularly good.

"Walk the Line" Audition Scene (used with permission CC license)

A clip that caught my eye was from the 2005 movie “Walk the Line” starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash.  Now my dad was a great fan of Johnny Cash and I grew to love him too. Cash was a man with a life of great highs and lows. He’s a rebel with a story.
In this particular clip, Cash is at an audition with a record producer. The scene opens with him laconically singing a gospel song. Frankly, it’s boring. The producer stops Cash in the middle of the song and tells him that he wants to hear something else – something that isn’t gospel.  Cash is offended. He wants to know what’s wrong with the song.
I don’t believe you. We’ve already heard that song a hundred times, just like you’ve sung it.”  He goes on to challenge Cash, “If you had time to sing one song that would sum up your life…what would it be?...Would you sing something different, something real?…That’s the kind of song that truly saves people.”
And Cash does sing something different. Out of the depths of his soul he begins singing “I hear the train a ‘comin. It’s rolling round the bend. And I ain’t seen the sunshine since, I don’t know when…” And the legend, Johnny Cash, is born.
With that producer’s harsh critique: “I don’t believe you” – the key to storytelling is revealed:

  • Say something different.  Tell the Gospel story in a way that surprises you and your congregation. Say something that moves you.
  • Say something real.  Be authentic. Witness to the power of the Gospel.
  • Say something that truly saves people.

Jesus is the master teacher of storytelling.  But He didn't mean for the story to end with Him.  In fact, His story means that our story can begin.  That’s why telling the Gospel story in a new way and hearing testimony from you, or from someone in your congregation is so important. 
Our world would have been a much quieter place if someone hadn’t pushed Johnny Cash to tell his story in a genuine way.  Most of you are in a storytelling pulpit every Sunday. That is a gift that shouldn’t be squandered. Say something different. Say something real. Say something that truly saves people.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. She wants those of you who don't know Johnny Cash's music to get schooled. Pronto. Her position with the Conference is funded through a  generous grant from the Collins Foundation. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.

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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.