A friend vividly remembers the Sunday when a member of the congregation interrupted the sermon by shouting, “We don’t want to hear any of your stories”. Startled, the preacher tried to start again, only to be interrupted by the same complaint. This parishioner wanted his doctrine straight, not watered down with any stories.
Times have changed. The 2012 denominational study, Spiritual and Social Trends and Patterns in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, reports that “contemporary learning modes are strongly associated with healthy congregations.” These contemporary learning modes include storytelling by the pastor and others, as well as children’s messages, video clips and testimonies. The evidence suggests that we do want to hear the stories after all.
Pastors and congregational leaders should pay attention to this. The report suggests that employing contemporary learning modes more frequently would be a good start for congregations that want to be healthier. Classical leaders can also pay attention. At this summer’s synod delegates seemed eager to share stories of how they first encountered the Christian Reformed Church or how they experienced issues being discussed. At a recent classis meeting campus pastors told stories of encounters with students and a church planter spoke of how her church’s determination to be the hands and feet of Christ turned into an epic journey to find a pair of shoes that fit a man who’d dropped into their ministry centre. Stories like these remind us of the reasons we meet, and can illustrate the values that inhabit healthy ministry. A simple act of kindness became an epic because a man needed shoes and a church planter needed to respect what the man was able to contribute to his shoes.
Stories like these can be powerful, but often they are unplanned at major assemblies. Sometimes they are an afterthought. The stories I just mentioned were told because that day’s classical agenda was light. We felt like there was time to listen to stories. But, perhaps inspired by those stories, this classis is planning to make storytelling part of a discernment process. This classis has a commitment to church planting. To discern where fertile ground for the next plant might lie, the Home Missions committee plans to tell some stories from both established and existing church plants and then let delegates dream about where stories like these might be repeated in their local settings.
That is one way storytelling might be part of the deliberations at classis. Perhaps you can think of others. If so, let us know. We do want to hear your stories.