Why the Bible is not “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”

I have heard people acronym that the B.I.B.L.E. stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” But that description bothers me for a number of reasons.

First, is it really basic? If it is so basic, why do we have so much trouble understanding it? Why do we so often disagree on a fundamental level about what it says or what we should do about it? The Bible is actually a very complicated library of books that tells stories to get its point across. It is not basic.

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Story and the Order of Worship

            Throughout much of church history, and still in the Catholic tradition, communion was the climax of the worship service. In fact, in the early church those who were new to the church community were dismissed before the sacrament. People were known throughout history to stand at the doors or look in the windows just to catch a glimpse of the sacred bread.

            The early church generally followed a very simple outline for worship. They gathered in someone’s home, greeted each other, and ate a meal. Sometimes later in the meal or after the meal, an elder in the community would tell a story of Jesus or from the scriptures and give insights into the passage or event for the community. There was a collection for the poor—at first for Jerusalem but later for their individual communities. Then the sacred meal was taken before they left. Continue reading

The Soundtrack of the Church

In any movie or TV show, the soundtrack is tremendously important. The songs chose for the background of the story set the tone for the movie. In many ways, they are critical to the story. The best soundtracks tell the stories themselves.

Let’s think about the famous soundtrack of Star Wars composed by John Williams. This soundtrack is instantly recognizable and immediately takes the mind back to the story. We recognize the theme song, and we automatically think of those credits scrolling across the screen off into the distance in space. That song has a grandeur and excitement to it that sets the tone for the whole movie.    

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Churches with Writer’s Block

People and organizations are living stories. Since live moves in days and season, it can feel like a movie or a play. Normally, the story naturally moves as we accomplishing things, try things, and learn and grow along the way. Sometimes, however, the story stops. As Graham Standish puts it, a church can get “something akin to writer’s block.”

Numerous obstacles can stop the story. Sometimes the church has conflict or crisis that consumes the story. Sometimes the church fails at writing the next chapter and loses their confidence to keep writing. Sometimes they are so focused on all their problems that they can’t see any way forward. Sometimes the church cannot agree on what the next chapter should be. Continue reading

The Story Pastor: The Heart of Story

I am writing a book called The Story Pastor talking about how to think about ministry in terms of story. I plan to blog a few paragraphs every week for a while to see how people responds to the ideas. Here I talk about the heart of story:

The heart of any story is the journey of this protagonist. In the beginning, they are in one place. They go through the middle of the story which is filled with challenges. They then have a final battle or effort that reveal them to be different at the conclusion. This is why the three-part structure is so important. It marks the different stages of the transformation of the protagonist. The story is never about the journey that the character goes on. It is always about the journey that the character’s character goes on. It is about the transformation of the protagonist. Rocky always must get stronger. James Bond always must push himself to the brink. Marlin must get over his fear of the ocean to find Nemo. This transformation is often called “the story arc.” Continue reading

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?