Hosts’ guide for running LifeStory
Hosts’ guide for running LifeStory

LifeStory is a ‘pick up and go’ evangelistic course driven by stories. It provides space for people to explore their own story and discover how Jesus’ story, as revealed in John’s Gospel, connects with theirs.

There are 2 videos for each of the 5 sessions, looking first at ‘our story’ and then at ‘Jesus’ story’. We each have a story and the ‘our story’ video helps people explore an aspect of our lives, engaging our heart as well as our head. People are then ready to look at ‘Jesus’ story’ and discover how his story connects with, challenges and fulfils their story. Ultimately, LifeStory invites people to begin making Jesus’ story their own story.

A note on the pilot

Thanks for getting involved with LifeStory at this early stage! The version of the resources you have now aren’t the final version – we’re testing them out so that we can further develop and improve the final resources for launch in 2022. Your experiences and feedback are vital for developing LifeStory to its full potential.

We’ll be sending you a few surveys about your experiences with the course, and welcome any other comments and feedback you have, so we can make LifeStory as effective as possible at introducing people to Jesus’ story.

There is no expectation of confidentiality – please do spread the word about LifeStory to others who might be interested! But we do ask that you don’t share, publish or reproduce the materials except as needed to run the course – if others would like to use or preview the materials, please put them in touch with us on lifestory@ivpbooks.com.

What makes LifeStory unique?

LifeStory devotes proper time to helping people explore their own lives and beliefs. We want to encourage a culture of meaningful, respectful conversations between believers and unbelievers that will continue beyond the end of the course.

Stories engage people’s hearts and heads more effectively than merely stating propositional truths. For this reason, each episode invests time in retelling an encounter Jesus had or a story he told. We want the true stories from John’s gospel to come alive!

There is no expectation that guests will do extra reading outside of the LifeStory sessions but it is our hope that having shown people Jesus their appetites will be awakened!

Who is LifeStory for?

How do I run LifeStory?

LifeStory has been created with a variety of contexts in mind and can be used just as easily by a Christian plus an unbelieving friend as by a group. All you need is to download the films and have a copy of John’s gospel and the handbook.

Whether with a group or an individual, dialogue will bring the course to life as people hear and respond to others’ ideas and stories. Even if your friend chooses to do the course online, rather than in a pub or coffee shop, make sure you are available on the phone or to meet and discuss at a later date.

Accessing the resources

In order to run LifeStory you will need the following things:

Hosts (not leaders)

At the heart of LifeStory is the invitation for people to explore and share their stories and to see how Jesus’ story connects with them and challenges their perspective. Therefore, it’s important that LifeStory has hosts,not leaders. The host should see themself as a guide – welcoming and facilitating discussion – not a teacher. 

Wherever possible the host should encourage people to share their own perspective or stories, even when they disagree. The host should reflect questions back to the group or encourage thoughtful engagement, rather than rushing to present the ‘right’ answers. Sometimes a host may need to point guests towards an answer, or gently steer a conversation back to the main issues, but generally they should help people to discover truth themselves.  Allow the guests to learn from each other as well as respectfully disagree with one another.

It would be beneficial if the host reads the passages in advance and considers what John is communicating through his words. However, they do not need to be experts on the text — we trust that God’s word will speak for itself. LifeStory is a resource that anyone can pick up and use. If the host is keen to prepare more they may find the LifeStory book useful as it covers the same material as the course but in greater depth. The LifeStory book is also written with unbelievers in mind and the host could direct hungry members of the group towards it.

Venue and food

Take time to consider where your guests, not Christians, will feel most comfortable. It is both a kindness to them and will also lead to better engagement with the course. While a room in a church building may be good, a quiet corner of a restaurant/pub/clubhouse or hired venue may be better. We hope you will use LifeStory in lots of different settings to suit lots of different people.

Also consider how food could help put people at ease and promote conversations. For certain characters and backgrounds the prospect of a sit-down meal, however informal you may consider it, can be daunting. Whereas a bowl of chips from the venue, or a simple plate of biscuits, feels less intimidating.

Running the course online

It does tend to be much easier to have group discussions in person where you can more easily contribute and pick up non-verbal cues. However, there are advantages to meeting online, not least in being able to go through the course with someone who lives miles away!

If you are running the course online, be aware that people can easily drift out of the discussion, talk over each other, or feel disconnected, so try to find ways of regularly inviting people to share their ideas and contribute if they’d like to.

Language sets the tone

Beware of ‘Christianese’! – using words that only Christians (and not even all of those) would understand. For example, while we do talk about ‘sin’ in LifeStory, we also use different language to describe the same thing: ‘rejection of God’; ‘worshipping other things’; our ‘mess’, ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’. Where you do use a more ‘Christian’ word, take time to explain what it means.

Discussion groups

Let’s honour our promise that people won’t have to join in the conversations if they don’t want to. Someone may be silent in session one but feel comfortable enough to speak by session three. However, if they’re put on the spot in session one, they’ll never make it as far as session three! Some guests may also prefer to listen during the sessions but then speak to or message their friend on the drive home. The host should give everyone the opportunity to speak if they’d like, without putting people under pressure to do so.

Many promising discussions have been sabotaged by a well-meaning Christian who doesn’t like silence or just wants to talk about Jesus! Bringers may need encouragement beforehand to be attentive listeners who engage thoughtfully with people without trying to correct every misunderstanding or wrong idea. This is particularly true for the first discussion, where we really want people to explore their own ideas, and the stories of our culture, in order to help unbelievers see the goodness of Christ and our need of him. You may have to occasionally say something like: ‘We’ll think about what Jesus has to say in a minute, but let’s stick with the issues raised in the first film for now’.

More to the story

‘More to the story’ isn’t another name for homework! There is no expectation that guests will go through them in-between the sessions and hosts must be careful not to give that impression. They are to help direct those who are keen to think more about Jesus.

What is the format of LifeStory?

Hosts use the same handbook as guests and a session should be as simple as following the outline in the handbook. That will mean that after a warm welcome in session one each session should run as follows:

Previously in LifeStory

Time for guests to raise anything they’ve been thinking about since the last time you met.

Introducing the session

This question will introduce the topic, help to put people at ease and give the host a bit of an insight into where people are coming from. For example, in session four a guest might share about the death of someone close to them, which would then help the host to shape the tone.

Film 1: What’s your story?

The presenters introduce the question and explore how it connects with our everyday lives. This first video raises lots of questions but doesn’t give any answers.

Things to ponder

The questions should help people contemplate and discuss the story they believe about their lives. They also seek to set up tensions to be discussed between our lived experience and common stories in our culture. It sounds counter-intuitive, but don’t rush people to Jesus and the answer he gives — we’ll get there! Allow people to really connect with the issues, and see the tensions, so that they are ready and willing to hear Jesus’ response.

Reading

Try and find someone who reads really well and can bring the narrative to life! While the passages may be familiar to Christians, they are probably brand new to unbelievers so you may want to give people a few moments afterwards to quietly look over it again. Encourage people to interact with the text by circling and underlining in their copy of John’s Gospel.

Film 2: Telling Jesus’ story

The focus of this film will be telling the story of an encounter or event from John’s Gospel. The biblical text is narrated in an engaging way, letting the story speak for itself. Having told the story the presenters link it back to the issues raised in the first film. For example, we’ll see in session one that knowing and being known by God is the Christian basis for our meaning and purpose in life. The film ends with questions about what difference Jesus’ story could make to your story.

Things to ponder

This discussion time will ideally be focused on the narrative of the passage from John’s Gospel (not on the video). Where they can, the host should gently keep steering the conversation back to the text. The questions are still quite broad in order to encourage discussion, but the aim is to keep the gospels open and allow people to engage with Jesus’ life and words. 

Host officially closes the session

Even if people want to stay on and chat longer, it is good to officially end the evening. That enables people who do want to go to leave guilt-free! That may mean that all the conversations end, but that’s ok — better to leave people wanting more than feeling trapped and unable to get away!

What does each session of LifeStory cover?

SessionOur storyJesus’ storyBible Passage
1: Who am I?Who are you? Where have we come from? And how can we answer these questions?Jesus is the Son of God who reveals our story: we are created by God to know his love as his childrenJohn 1:1-18; 20:30-31
2: What am I living for?We spend our lives chasing after a satisfying and fulfilling life, but we never find it, and end up enslaved to the things we worship.Jesus is the Messiah who came to offer us the (eternal) life we long for, as we worship him. John 4:1-30, 39-42
3: What do we do with our mess?We all live with the shame and guilt of our failings, so we want forgiveness. But we also want a world of justice, so where does that leave us?Jesus died on the cross to remove our guilt and shame through his death in our place, so that we enjoy God’s forgiveness and life.John 3:16-21 & 19:1-22
4: Where do we find hope?We live in a world of decay and death so we look for signs of hope that the future might be better… but with no basis for such confidence.Jesus’ resurrection gives us certain hope of the end of decay and death, possible only through his own death & resurrection.John 11:1-44, 20:11-18
5: How should we live?We all want freedom to be ourselves, in a society where everyone flourishes, but we also want a world with boundaries — so who gets to decide the rules? Which voices should we listen to?We should listen to Jesus because he demonstrates he has God’s authority and is also utterly for us! In him, and with his family, we find the life and freedom we were made for.John 10:1-30

What resources will be available when LifeStory is released in full?

The videos and discussion questions will be freely available on the website. They will be supported by other products available to purchase to help churches and other groups run the course, which might include the following (subject to confirmation – let us know what you’d most like to see!):