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.
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;