“I’ll give you all the weapons in the world, but if you give me story, I’ll win every time” – Willie James Jennings
“Who gets to narrate the world?” – Robert Webber
Every congregation is telling a story about God, themselves, and about the world. Oftentimes these stories are told implicitly through the actions, values, beliefs, culture, and liturgy of a congregation. Others explicitly tell a story connected to a particular history that shapes their identity. As we tell these stories, we tend to highlight details that harmonize with our interpretations of reality and omit or downplay those details that do not, details which make us uncomfortable or create tension within the community. The result is that we often fail to tell the “whole” story, or even most of the story.
Most of us who are in congregations with a multi-generational history are aware of various good, bad, and ugly parts of our history, especially as it relates to the surrounding community. There may have been active participation in or silent complicity with various forms of marginalization, segregation, dominance, and oppression. So also, those of us in younger congregations can see how it begins to tell a story about itself, perhaps highlighting some voices and ignoring others, unintentionally forging an identity that will create “insiders” and “outsiders.” We simply must practice telling these stories, warts and all, re-framing and re-narrating them as faithfully as possible.
As Willie Jennings reminded us in last week’s webinar, we mustn’t forget that we gentile Christians are rooted in the story of another people. The “old, old story of Jesus and his love” is only ours by God’s gracious love to join us to another story that wasn’t ours. This is a humbling reality, one which should profoundly shape the way we tell the story of our immediate communities of faith against the backdrop of the grand story of the gospel. As we tell our stories with authenticity, they emerge as beautiful stories of God’s faithfulness to deeply and sometimes tragically flawed communities of faith. And as painful as it may be, it’s necessary for the credibility of our witness to the gospel of Christ.
Take a moment and ask yourself…
1. What story is your congregation telling itself about itself?
2. What parts of the story aren’t being told? Why?
3. What story is the surrounding community telling about your congregation?
4. What is the story of the “place” – the history of the land, the people, and the wildlife that preceded your congregation’s presence?
5. How can we practice telling our stories with deeper authenticity and truthfulness, as a witness to God’s grace in Christ Jesus?