Story is such a buzzword lately. It even has its own conference.
But that’s OK. As a writer, I’m partial to the concept of story. I like it. Especially when a book like Tell Me a Story: Finding God (and Ourselves) Through Narrative by Scott McClellan comes along. It looks at life as story and offers inspiration, encouragement and motivation to be worthy storytellers. It’s a great little (only 132 pages) book that condenses and summarizes a lot of the disjointed, buzz worthy and overdone thoughts about story that have floated around in the past few years and shares them in a concise, simple and powerful format.
One of the central ideas is that without conflict, you have no story. Our pain, hardship and suffering is what makes the stories of our lives so engaging. Nobody likes a movie where everything is easy. Even in a superhero story where they have super powers to overcome conflict, they still encounter something beyond their super powers. That’s conflict, and it makes things more interesting.
Here are three quick lessons we can learn from Tell Me a Story as church communicators:
1. Acknowledge Brokenness
This is lesson number one for church communicators. It’s tempting to tell an easy story: If we just come to God, everything will work out. But life isn’t like that. Doing away with the conflict makes for an uninteresting, unbelievable and uninspiring story. The redemption is necessary. As McClellan tells us:
“Church culture and our pride may both encourage us to downplay conflict in our stories, but we must resist.” (90)
He even adds no greater an expert on story than J.R.R. Tolkien: “There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall—all stories are ultimately about the fall.”
As a church we need to be up front about our conflict, our sin, our brokenness. Our communication must acknowledge that brokenness in order for redemption to have any meaning.
2. Tell the Story
Dr. Karyn Purvis has a theory that today’s soldiers are suffering from an explosion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in part because of their inability to share their story. In World War II soldiers witnessed many of the same traumatizing events, but before returning home to “normal” life they had weeks to decompress with their fellow soldiers, swapping stories over late-night card games or the like. In contrast, today’s soldiers can go from the front line to the home front in less than 24 hours. They can plug in to iPods and check out from the world, missing the opportunity to tell their story, to decompress, to deal with the horrors they’ve experienced. The result, as Purvis suggests, is greater levels of PTSD.
It’s certainly not the only cause of increased PTSD, but it’s an intriguing theory. Telling stories is healing. It allows us to understand what happened, good or bad, and come to terms with it. It’s why I have fond memories of my grandpa’s funeral—we sat around telling stories about our dearly departed.
And more than just telling stories, we have the story to tell. The gospel is the greatest story ever told. It’s not a mere logical proposition: accept Jesus, get into heaven. No, it’s more than that (and we lose something when we reduce it to mere proposition). The gospel is a story we enter into, a story we’re a part of, a story we contribute to as we live out our lives. That story is powerful. It’s healing. It’s redemptive. It’s life changing.
As Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”
3. Story Is Lived in Community
Finally, McClellan tells us that story is to be lived out in community. In church. These are not individual stories that we live alone. They’re interconnected and they find their true power when we come together. Frodo didn’t set out for Mordor by himself. He had the entire fellowship. The story gets better in community.
So as a church, what story are you telling? Is it a small story of events and activities or is it a grand story of redemption? Are you sharing the testimonies, the challenges, the tragedies and the triumphs that are happening every day within your congregation? Those are the stories we need to latch onto, because those are the stories that illuminate the grander story, the gospel story.
Through it all we need to remember that it’s not our job to change the world. And that’s a relief:
“All you’ve been asked to do is be a witness, to tell your story in whatever time and place you find yourself. You’re not responsible for leading an ideological conquest of the West.” (112)
So, as Makoto Fujimura asks and McClellan echoes, “What do you want to make today?”