Leading with Story Pt 4: Leading with your own Story

This is Part 4 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

I have been developing the idea that story is not just a part of preaching but could also be thought of as the essential material of leadership. Here is a key to doing that: Leading with story begins with your own story. You will always have trouble being a Story Pastor if you do not understand your own story. Your story not only shapes who you are and how you approach things, but it can also help you develop other stories. Let me explain how that works.

the story of my life

As a Story Pastor you are always crafting and working with lots of different stories—the church’s, the individual members’, the community’s, God’s… There is always a danger that you can lose sight of your own story in the midst of these other stories. You can lose your own distinct calling, passion, conflicts, and successes. This can be dangerous for a few reasons. Your identity can become too tied to that of those around you. If this happens then it will warp how you feel about yourself and your work and how you find and follow God’s call for your own story. As Christians, we believe that our jobs are never just our jobs but also they are callings. They are part of who we are and part of our stories. Yet we must be careful that they do not consume our story. Our calling is a part of us but it is far from the whole of us.

Not only can you lose your story in all these other stories, but if that happens you will lose one of your best insights into understanding the other stories around you. The story of the church has to be discerned and written as a community since it is a conglomeration of the people. It is much easier to discern and follow your own story because it is simpler. If you can understand your own story, then you can have clues as to the larger story of your organization. You can begin to ask questions that help you compare and contrast what you are feeling to what is going on in the larger story. What excites you about a new idea? Why don’t you like this person? Where do you feel that you are on purpose or not on purpose in your organization? These kinds of questions can be hints as to the larger story and how to write the next chapter, but they can only be discerned if you have enough distinct understanding of your own story to compare the stories and know the differences.

It works well when your story and your church or organization’s story are at least parallel. Sometimes, however, the plotlines begin to separate. This could be a sign that one or both of the stories are not right and need to be written. The point where your story and your congregation’s story begin to diverge can also be a sign that God may be calling you somewhere else. You can only see this if you have a clear picture of your own story.

One of the other images that I like for the Story Pastor is the idea of a story-weaver. I think that pastors and leaders weave all of these stories with God’s story to create a tapestry of a Church’s story. I think that God’s story and your story form the base of the pattern. As a pastor, I live closest to those stories. The other story-strings take a lot of time and group input to develop, but I can study God’s story and reflect on my own story daily.  I am not saying that you have to be constantly telling your story to your people, though you should sometimes.  But you do need to know your story and use it to inform your storytelling.

If you have lost your personal story in your work then I suggest a few things:

  1. Answer some reflective questions: What stories of your life have defined you? If you wanted someone to know you, what stories would you include in your bio? What is most important to you in your life?
  2. Dive into a pastoral biography or a Biblical character and see what of their story resonates with you.
  3. Ask a good and honest friend from outside the stories you are consumed in to help you. Find out from them how they see you and what from your story they see as defining for you.

What other thoughts do you have on leading with your own story? Why is it important? What makes it difficult? How do you do it consistently?

Leading with Story Part 2: We are Storied-Beings

This is Part 2 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.NathanandDavid

The king had not been honest. He had worked the system to have a man killed so that he could have the dead man’s wife. How could the prophet confront the king without being killed himself? He told him a story. He engaged the king in a story about a man who stole another man’s sheep. When he got to the end the king was angry and the one who had stolen the sheep. “You are the man,” said the prophet, and the king could hardly reply. He was caught by a story.

This is my own rendition of the exchange between David and Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. It shows the power of story. Story has the ability to get past the barriers of our opinions and positions. A story has the power to shape values and spark action. A shared story can create a group or family. Conflicting stories can breed hatred and wars.

If I asked you who you were, you might start with a few facts—name, age, job, birthplace… But pretty soon you would have to start telling stories about your life. Why is that? I think it is because we are fundamentally storied-beings. Our stories define us. We live to create and tell stories. We naturally tell and hear stories. As children we learn the welcome of “Once upon a time” and the invitation of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” If something happens to us we are driven to tell others. This is why Facebook and Instagram has become so popular: we can all present the stories of our lives through pictures and status updates.

Stories make us human and shape who we are. We love the stories of books, movies, and TV shows. Stories captivate us. They also spread like facts do not. We retell good stories. This is why marketing is now storytelling. Some commercials are still about the products and why you should buy them over others. But the really good marketers are the ones who tell stories in their commercials. They often have no words and have few references to the products. Instead, they engage you in a story.storyteller

Ask yourself these questions:
What kind of story do you see yourself in?
What is the story of your church or organization?
How do you interpret your last few chapters?
What do you think will happen in the next chapter?

Leaders have the ability to use story to their advantage, or if they ignore the power of story a leader may find that they are telling stories somewhere else.

Leading with Story Part 1: The Crisis of Pastoral Imagery

This is Part 1 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

Pastors and Christian leaders have a long history of identity crisis. We use a great number of terms like pastor, priest, bishop, or preacher. We have tried on different metaphors throughout history such as priest, shepherd, prophet, physician of souls, pastor, teacher, leader, and counselor. Some of these metaphors are so old that we cannot connect with them without considerable historical work. Others are so wrapped in specific connotations that they represent a truncated view of ministry.

Sheep_with_their_shepherd

Let me give a couple examples. When we think of a pastors as a shepherd we typically mean the specific function of pastoral care. After all, none of us has ever seen a shepherd. We don’t understand what they did when that metaphor was used in the Bible. Shepherding was the metaphor of kings because of the huge responsibility of the task: guide the sheep to different pastures, breed and sell, protect from predators, care for the young and injured, read the weather and the seasons to know where they had to be… The job was so much bigger than we have in mind when we use the term.

Pastors today have been trained to think of themselves primarily as leaders or pastoral counselors. Are these faithful metaphors? Do we lead as a CEO might or do we lead by following Christ? Is it accurate to equate a person’s psychological health with their spiritual health?

It is common to use preacher as a term. This grew out of the Reformation. The challenge is that it makes one function of ministry the defining picture of our work. This is problematic no matter how important that function is.

Maybe every generation or even every individual pastor has to shape their own metaphors. I am still thinking about how that works. But I have observed that our metaphors and identities shape our work and how we feel about our work. If you see yourself as a preacher then you are going to put a premium on the time you spend preparing your sermon. If you see yourself as a counselor then you are going to spend more time counselling people about their mental and emotional challenges.

I think that every metaphor for ministry that we use and live-into for ministry needs to fulfill 2 criteria. The metaphor needs to be faithful to the tradition and the Biblical and historical definition of the work of ministry. The metaphor also needs to be fruitful for ministry. In other words it needs to help the pastor today do his or her work more effectively.

To that end I have been toying and tinkering with the image of pastor as storyteller. Many cultures have had people who officially or unofficially act as storytellers. These people not only told the history of the people, tribe, or community, but they also shaped the ethics, culture, and practices of their particular places. Storytellers today are not like those of old. Today it is the artist, the writer, the director, and the marketer that gets to tell the stories that capture and shape culture.

story road

Doesn’t this kind of storytelling also fit the ministry? Pastors have their own stories, the stories of their churches, the stories of their people, and the stories of their communities. Pastors proclaim what has been called “the greatest story ever told.”

I am planning a dozen or so blogs to explore the idea of Leading with Story. I will look at the growing field of narrative leadership. I will be connecting narrative and story with things like leadership, theology, worship, preaching, counselling, ethics, marketing and hospitality. This is what I am working on in my Doctor of Ministry program and building toward my dissertation. It is my hope that the blog series will help me get things in writing but will also give me feedback and new ideas as people interacts. Please make comments, engage on social media, and let me know your thoughts. I hope that we can help each other in our stories.

Questions for Reflection:
Question #1- What terms do you yourself and the work you do? How does that shape your work?
Question #2- Do you have a particular image that defines your work? Why is that image so powerful for you?