Sharing Our Stories

January 7th, 2020
This article is featured in the Intentional Spirituality (Nov/Dec/Jan 2019-20) issue of Circuit Rider

In a world where organized religion has a reputation of misconduct and irrelevance, ministry leaders have the unique task of earning respect and authority in the public sphere. The Barna research from 2013 feels current even today, claiming that sixty-four percent of Americans say they think pro-athletes have more influence in American society than do professional faith leaders. But we face more than irrelevance among non-church goers. Our own congregants have rich information and resources just a click away. What do ministry leaders have to offer when congregants can listen to the world’s best preachers by podcast? How do ministry leaders build relationships with their congregants when personal crises can be advised through TED Talks or video-chatting with your therapist? Anyone who pays a small fee can be online-ordained to perform wedding ceremonies, something that used to be exclusively pastoral work. 

Spiritual “nones” find little reason to engage with churches; even church-goers are finding that it is easier and easier to get their spiritual needs met through other means than the church. In many ways, it is harder than ever for ministry leaders to connect in meaningful ways. Our challenges can be demanding, but we do have something unique to offer: our intentional, spiritual storytelling. 

Storytelling gives us the opportunity to share a little about something that happened this week in our life — something relatable, something seemingly mundane at first. We can then take that relatable story and use it to teach or reinforce a theological concept. This can have three positive outcomes.

The CEB Storytellers Bible. Order here:

First, the listener is more closely connected to our lives: They learn little nuggets of information about our neighborhood, our favorite food, our vacations in a way that makes us seem more approachable and human. Secondly, we have a moment to proclaim the Gospel. We not only proclaim that there is Good News in general, but specifically that it is right before our very eyes in our daily coming and going. Finally, we teach and model the practice of viewing the world through God’s eyes, eventually making it possible for others to begin to see their own lives with a new perspective.

It would begin with pausing to reflect and ponder at the end of the day. What are the moments that touched you, seemed different or odd in some way? It’s predictably easy to see God’s handiwork in a beautiful sunrise or the changing colors of autumn. But what about considering the way a friend brought you a casserole when you were recovering from surgery? Does it remind you of God’s promise of provision for the Israelites — manna, new each and every morning as they wandered in the wilderness? Perhaps you catch a glimpse of God’s unfailing love when you remember the Lost Coin Parable after finding a valuable you thought was gone forever. We must look for these stories with an intentional eye, listen for them with an intentional ear.

Sharing stories that illustrate concepts like grace, forgiveness, unconditional love, and healing can have a remarkable impact on those around you. You see, at the root of our human condition is the fear that God exists out there somewhere, far away, sitting on his righteous throne up in the heavens and that we are just messed up humans who will never be good enough for all God’s holiness. When life is hard, it can feel like God is some abstract concept we read about, or a genie who might choose to grant us three wishes if we earn them with good behavior. But the truth is, God is close by. God took on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) to do whatever it took to show the depths of God’s love. And in nearly all his preaching ministry, Jesus used stories to communicate about that same love. Even when we say we believe in a benevolent, relational God, it can be hard to see that God. What an amazing privilege we have, as ministry leaders to illuminate the evidence of those holy moments and bring hope-filled anticipation to the eyes of our audience! 

In newsletter articles, social media posts, sermons, Bible studies, each avenue gives us an opportunity to show that we have something distinct to offer the world. When faith seems nebulous or shaky or filled with questions, our community members can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their leaders will guide them with purpose, guide them back to faith in a God who is as close as their very breath, present and trustworthy.

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