TV scriptwriters know the power of a back story. They create a character, like Sawyer on Lost or the Doctor on Doctor Who, who is mysterious and inscrutable. Then they reveal, week by week, bit by tantalizing bit, the formative events in that character’s difficult past. And that, scriptwriters know, is what makes us care.
Every person in your congregation, young and old, has a “backstory.” It’s composed of a lifetime of joys and disappointments, struggles and healings, insights and doubts, failures and triumphs. It’s what makes us who we are.
Writer Daniel Taylor tells about the power of learning the backstories of the adults in his church when he was a child:
There is something appropriately moving about a group of simple people coming together to get help for their often difficult existence through sharing the common story of their faith as it works itself out in the individual stories of their lives. I can remember even now the sense of awe and gratefulness I would feel as I, a child, watched from a dark corner while the adults in my life made themselves vulnerable before God and each other.
Before this they lived in a world outside my own, above and beyond me in every meaningful way. In thirty minutes they would be in that world again. But in the brief moment of their story sharing they would become real and human and knowable. He was no longer the Sunday-school superintendent whom you dodged when cutting class. He was the man weeping because his brother had survived the surgery following the car accident. She was not the woman who sold you doughnuts at the bakery. She was the one thanking God for the $25 Christmas bonus so she could pay the rent.
Separate individuals—more or less dull, with the usual shortcomings and pettiness—transformed for a moment by the power of shared stories. (Tell Me a Story, Bog Walk Press, 2001, pp. 95-96.)
But even though we know the power of story, all too often we hide the low points of our backstory from others, even from those in our faith community. And by doing so we build walls, intentionally or unintentionally. Walls between young and old, men and women, black and white, rich and poor. Walls that Jesus came to demolish.
In Faith Formation Ministries’ new online Faith Storytelling toolkit, we’ve collected dozens of ideas for weaving storytelling into the life of a congregation. Telling and listening to faith stories can dramatically transform your worship services, youth groups, Sunday school classes, and fellowship times. Somewhere in this toolkit you’ll find an idea that can light the fire of storytelling in your faith community.
How has faith storytelling changed your congregation’s life together? Tell us, and your fellow CRC churches, all about it!