Every family of God needs to tell their campfire stories (see Telling Your Congregation’s Campfire Stories).
Campfire stories are positive stories. They speak of the best of what your sacred family of God has been able to accomplish, along with the values, systems, and God-given vision that contributed to this ministry moment.
We can call our congregation’s campfire stories small church or small “c” stories. These stories are essential, but they reflect only a tiny part of God’s kingdom work and God’s kingdom stories.
Because our small “c” stories are limited to a particular time and place, they can limit our vision of what God is about in redeeming and restoring all creation. So while small “c” stories are crucial to our life as God’s new creation people, they are not enough. We must also tell big Church or big “C” stories around the campfire. Big “C” stories reflect God’s story for our congregation and move us to imagine new ways to live out God’s story.
Big “C” stories are powerful because they root us both in Scripture and in church history. The Bible is the first place we look for our Big “C” stories. What are the positive stories in the Bible that align with your God-given values and call? What stories live God’s call more deeply and bring you into new territory?
We can imagine that some of the best-known stories can expand our imaginations as we apply them to God’s call on our congregation.
- The story of the lepers who saw the day of good news and knew they couldn’t keep it to themselves (2 Kings 7)
- The crossing of the Jordan to enter the promised land (Joshua 3-5)
- The parable of the sower (Matthew 13)
- Jesus comes to Jerusalem as king (Matthew 21)
But perhaps some of the most powerful stories are hidden. We read these unremarkable words in Romans 16,
“I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.” (Romans 16:22–23 NIV11)
The words are unremarkable but the story is breathtaking. Typically, in Roman society, only the first male child received a name and was highly valued. Not only that, but about 25% of the people in Rome were slaves.
Tertius, according to Andy Crouch, fits both of these categories. His name means “Third.” Most likely referring to being the third male child born in his family. His role as the writer of the letter marks him as a lower-caste person, probably an enslaved person.
But Paul allows this enslaved person to send greetings and to sign his name. It is a radical move in the Roman world. But not only does “Third” get mentioned, but so does his bother “Quartus,” which means “Fourth.” To add to the wonder, Third and Fourth are staying with and sharing the table with Gaius, who is a nobleman. This quiet story turns Roman society upside down. When we tell and understand these quiet stories, they can influence how we live out God’s call.
Big “C” stories are not limited to stories from the Bible. As a faith community, we want to be rooted in church history and find campfire stories in history. We desire to hear stories of those who have lived out the faith well. Stories come not just from the western world but from across the globe. Stories that cause us to marvel. Like the stories told by Rodney Stark in histories of the Christian faith. Here, Stark quotes Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria. He wrote a pastoral letter to his members, extolling those who had nursed the sick and especially those who had given their lives in doing so:
Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead... The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that in death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith seems in every way the equal to martyrdom.
Big “C” campfire stories. What are the Big “C” stories you are telling around the campfires in your congregation? How are those stories leading your sacred family to live out God’s call?