Tomorrow’s church – Part 4: Connecting through story.

Her voice started to crack, and she paused and looked upwards, blinking back the tears.  I held my breath as she searched for words. They trickled slowly at first, then overflowed as she shared the pain, the abuse. Her voice was low and flat – we leaned forwards in our seats to hear her. My gut knotted within me as I thought of my child, of any child, going through the traumas she described.

When Maria told the community the story of her childhood, we opened our hearts to her and shared in her pain. When Thomas told us his ex-wife had given him access to his kids again, we rejoiced with him, knowing how dearly he loves his little ones. When Frank shared the story of God unexpectedly supplying him with a pair of bright orange shoes, we laughed along with him. And when Linda was stressed with financial struggles, more than one person quietly found a way to help her out.

At Fresh Start Community, we start every meeting with an invitation for people to share what God is doing in their lives. It’s a very intentional decision to create a worship space by storying with one another. Here are a few of the reasons we choose to start with story.

STORIES SET THE MOOD.

Everyone comes to the meeting with a variety of pressures, joys and emotions. We don’t want to ignore them or suppress them. By giving people the option to share, we can deal with the issues that are here and now, in real-time – not distant and theoretical issues. We set the tone for the rest of the meeting to encourage openness, honesty and acceptance. We cut through the pretence and start being real with one another.

STORIES CREATE COMMUNITY

The testimonies shared in our community are different from the ones you usually hear in churches. For one thing, they’re unfinished. God hasn’t fixed up all the problems, there’s no handsome prince, white picket fence or resolved hurt. The stories are often raw and confronting – not able to be smoothed over, ignored or answered with a single Bible verse. They are unplanned and spontaneous – they spill out of the present moment, not structured carefully to deliver a mini-sermon. Everyone is invited to respond and to minister to that person. When the individual brings their story to the group, the whole community becomes richer for it.

STORIES ALLOW MINISTRY

Sharing our stories is an act of confession. Open confession leads to open forgiveness. Acceptance leads to healing. When we sit in rows, unable to share with each other, the power of our love and acceptance is withheld. The opportunity to minister and heal is missed. Hidden love is a cheap love. As God’s people, we need to extend our love and forgiveness to others, just as Christ did for us. When we respond to each other’s story, we extend God’s love to them, and provide connection and healing.

STORIES ARE A NATURAL LEARNING TOOL

Our brains are designed to process life through stories. We tell stories to make sense of our experiences. We understand and learn more through stories than through any other spoken or written medium. Just ask the greatest professional storymakers of our generation – marketers. They know how powerful stories are for engaging our interest, attention and response.

STORIES OPEN US UP

We all connect with story because we are all living in the midst of our own story. We all have a setting, we are all characters in the story of life, we each have struggles, and we long for resolution. Other people’s stories help give our own story grounding and context. Stories promote empathy and understanding of people from other backgrounds, as we come to realise that what makes us the same is greater than what makes us different. Stories open us up to feeling deep emotion and empathy. Stories open us up to God’s story.

STORIES ARE A FORM OF WORSHIP

Sharing our stories and responding to each other is a powerful way to connect to each other and see God at work in us. In the messiest moments of our lives, God is present. We don’t have to wait to be perfect to begin to worship Him.

Have you experienced the power of storying with one another in church? Are there any more reasons you can think of to share our stories with each other?
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This is the fourth post in a series of 12, titled “Tomorrow’s church: A new formula for a new era.Subscribe now or follow me on Facebook so you don’t miss any posts. I’d love you to interact and discuss the ideas in these posts, and share your experiences. “Connecting through story” is one of 9 adaptable strategies churches can use to change church culture from within. The next post will be about the importance of sharing food when we meet together as God’s people.

The following posts in the series are now up;

15 thoughts on “Tomorrow’s church – Part 4: Connecting through story.

  1. Its a rare treat to hear someone speak of the church as storied, and I am refreshed, remembering lately that many years ago, our small fellowship started out living in that reality.
    I was introduced as a new convert at 17, before I understood how divided the church is, to the concept of the entire church thru all time being the 42nd generation of Gods children. Mat 1 lists 41 generations if u count them up, but he totaled them as 42. Its a beautiful picture hiding in the open scriptures, of the symmetry of the church and Christ as one generation, and more profoundly, the last one. We are not living our story, but His. Ive often wondered if the etymology of ‘history’ was rooted there.
    Satan has eviscerated the church living as if in one timeless narrative, thru our own leaders who conquered us, from thinking and acting as one, because we are one. There is only one narrative to the kingdom, and that the life of God, in Christ, who is Head and Body together. If we build on that premise, talk like that and disciple like that, Jesus will ‘parousia’ among us in, because we will of necessity, abandon our own storytelling to tell His. The proof that a leader is ordained of God, for me, is that he or she begins with this premise and architecture for building and growth.
    As far as I’m concerned, sadly, there are very few leaders in the church in the west today. Your post is leader worthy. Thankyou.

    • Hi Greg,

      I sure wish that the church was perfect, and lived the reality of the headship of Christ in every aspect. On the other hand, God always knew we humans were imperfect, and he chose to leave us this gift and responsibility anyway, knowing we would stuff up along the way – not just the leaders, all of us. Sometimes I wonder why he allows our messiness to be his vessel – but he does allow it, and I believe he takes pleasure and glory from our attempts to reflect him and worship him.

      We’re never going to get “church” right in this lifetime or any other. God loves us anyway. In the end it’s all going to come out alright, through Him. That’s the hope I’m living by.

      Thanks for your comments,

      – Kathleen

  2. When it comes to story telling or stories, I must be a freak! I have little use or maybe it’s little patience for stories. I want to hear truth. Just make a proposition or state a fact. Get to the point! In fact, when I’m reading books, which I do a lot of, I greatly dislike the “story” fillers. Like I said, I must be a freak.

    Is there anyone else like me out there reading this post?

    I will say, that twitter has probably spoiled me. I sometimes wish that everyone had to limit themselves to 140 letter expressions. I kidding… sort of…

    I will also say that I’m extremely adept at getting the point of the story before it ends. My ability to recognize an analogy in the making is so fast that I often tune out others while their thoughts are still in play. Maybe I have a tumor, I don’t know. Am I a freak?

    • Hi Miguel,

      I’m curious – do you feel the same about non-fiction and fiction stories? I know a lot of people who couldn’t be bothered with fiction at all. Even in non-fiction, too many “stories” to illustrate a point can be irritating. I also know what you mean about losing focus when other people are talking for too long and not getting to the main point. You’re not the only one.

      The storying I’m talking about is people’s testimonies of what God is doing in their lives. Sometimes they don’t come straight to the point. Sometimes it costs something to listen, to stay present and to respond in love. The real, deep level listening isn’t always to the words of the “story” – it involves listening to the emotions, listening to the way they tell their stories, and listening to the Holy Spirit. That kind of listening and acceptance can change people’s lives.

      I’m less interested in fairytales than I was when I was younger – but I hope I don’t lose interest in the complex narratives of the lives around me.

      – Kathleen

      P.S. I’m sure you’re not a freak. And even if you are, I’m pretty sure God has a soft spot in his heart for freaks. 🙂

    • Miguel,

      How do you feel about the parables of Jesus? They engage both the intellect and the soul. By engaging with stories and reflecting on them we are open to being changed.

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