Witnesses in court swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Preachers should swear a similar oath before witnessing in church: “I will tell the story, the whole story, and nothing but the story.” Especially if they want to engage young adults.

Perhaps you think this is awfully postmodern of me, swapping story for truth. It possibly is. But before you sigh and stop reading, don’t.

I’m a young person and young people are postmodern (although often unwittingly and certainly not exclusively). I suppose we could apologise for the inconvenience of this – it sure makes ministering to us a little different. But we can hardly help it. We were born in the postmodern era and, last time I checked, had little choice in this matter.

Christians could waste time pretending to live in a golden age of pre-postmodernity. Or we could clamber into reality and claim it for Jesus (even if this means accommodating for alternative appetites in our teaching). I know what I’m choosing.

Which reminds me: I don’t think truth is bad. Don’t worry. I just think that if you want your church’s kitchen to nourish young disciples, you need chefs who will serve the story. And what story would that be?

Not the tale of the-time-your-two-year-old-mistook-rabbit-poo-for-chocolate-which-reminds-us-that-humans-look-at-outward-appearance-while-God-looks-at-the-heart.’ That’s cute, kind of. But it’s not what I mean when I say use storytelling in your sermons to engage young adults.

We want the story of the God who loves.

The story of God’s good creation corrupted by rebellious creatures; of continued disobedience met by uncompromising grace; of God’s scheme for salvation climaxing in Christ Jesus; and of joy unending as God hangs with His people in the new heaven and earth. The story of blessing beating sin and bursting its way through creation.

The story of the gospel, basically.

You don’t have to look hard for this story. It seeps through each sentence of scripture. Which is good, because it means we don’t have to struggle to squeeze every single act into every single sermon.

If we’re preaching from the Bible, then we’re sharing God’s story. No frills or formulas necessary; no chopping chapters into three-point chunks; no distilling verses into abstract absolutes. Only a trust that each passage plays its own part in the epic of scripture.

If we keep our sermons true to the form of our passage, then we’ll share God’s good news without breaking a sweat. Preaching a proverb? Preach the proverb. Assigned the opening of a letter? Preach the opening of the letter. Stuck with the section on God’s judgement? Preach God’s judgement.

Preach every passage as it comes, so that God’s story can shine through.

Young adults will eat this up. We’re not interested in ready-made, three-course microwave meals. We want food that is authentic: prepared with care, true to its recipe, leaving us wanting more.

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The good news about serving the story is that the story is true.

We needn’t worry that we’re swapping story for truth, because we’re telling a true story. We’re not chucking truth out, just changing the way we tell it.

Instead of asking people to assent to an abstract truth and then act accordingly, we’re inviting them to enter God’s world and take part in His story.

Why does this matter?

Because stories sketch reality. They describe worlds and show how they work. And you and I and every other human being live in line with the tales we tell ourselves. From Bill Gates microchipped me!” to I’ll never amount to anything,” to My cat wants to kill me.” Every narrative we nod our approval to changes the way we interpret the world and interact with others.

And so does God’s story.

When we enter the world of scripture – whether by hearing it preached, reading it in private, or embodying it in public – we slip into the reality of the God who reigns. Once we’re there, we learn to become God’s people in God’s world, working with God’s Spirit to complete God’s plan.

The story is therefore invitational and formational, as well as true. Invitational, because when we hear God’s story we’re invited to stay in His reality. Formational, because once we’re in God’s reality, His story shapes us into who God’s people should be.

And most of this happens beneath the surface. Story is subversive.

When faced with a naked claim to truth, we’re suspicious. Who wouldn’t be? It’s unsettling. But God’s story works behind the scenes, always challenging, always confronting, always comforting – and only once we’re sucked into the story and absorbing its insights do we realise we are being challenged and confronted and comforted.

While people might go on to reject God’s story or add their own inappropriate spins to it, at least they get a chance to see what a world where God reigns looks like.

Meanwhile, for those who accept God’s story, we become actors in God’s alternative script. We live life with God, on His terms, with His people, fighting for justice, loving neighbour as self, bowing before King Jesus – and much more.

This is why we must serve young adults the story: to respect the biblical texts, to invite interaction with the gospel, and to form communities centred on God’s re-creative goodness.

Tell the story, the whole story, and nothing but the story. God will do the rest.

God’s story works behind the scenes, always challenging, always confronting, always comforting – and only once we’re sucked into the story and absorbing its insights do we realise we are being challenged and confronted and comforted.