One of the big things you hear about and read in church growth articles is the power of personal stories to reach and integrate people. If you looked at many church promotions you’ve probably come across a tagline similar to this:
Everybody has a story; we care about you, we want to hear your story.
And certainly, because we have the love of Christ, we do care about people and their stories.
Christopher Booker, in his book “The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories” proposes that there are only 7 kinds of story plots.
Overcoming the monster, The quest, Rags to Riches, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, Rebirth
Christopher believes that every story we’ve ever read can fit underneath one of these categories. Now, whether there are 7 categories or 17 is not important, what is important is that all the stories, written, read, heard and told, can probably be organized under a few basic headings.
It is who we are. It is human nature to think of our lives in terms of stories.
The problem is that these stories can become concrete categories of definition into which we force our lives. This can become a situation where we unconsciously define the events and conditions in our lives by the characteristics of the story plot we have assumed upon ourselves.
There was a study done where people were asked to describe their lives.
51% said, "My life is a journey."
11% said, "My life is a battle."
8% said, "My life is a novel."
5% said, "My life is a play."
Very few people said, “my life is a life,” although this might be the better answer. But, I think you can see some of what Christopher Booker is referring to in these responses.
When we assume this plot line we begin to live out our lives as some kind of caricature of this self-imposed story in which we imagine ourselves to be living. Everyone has seen the guy with the camo painted pickup –he is living out his story. A young person in university wants to be perceived as an intellect and the professor they admire identifies themselves as agnostic or atheist. In response, this young person who desires to be thought of as an intellect then begins to also identify as an agnostic. No, they haven’t truly thought the implications of their claim. They haven’t asked and answered the hard questions. They are simply trying to be that character in the story of their life.
This story plot fuels so many of the life choices: habits, routines, activities, clothing, hairstyles, tattoos, automobiles, homes, etc. –even relationships.
The stories we tell about ourselves, the settings, the adjectives, are influenced by the story plot we think we are in and the character we think we are in that story. Again, it is part of the human condition to think of our lives in terms of stories.
But, what happens when our chosen story plot limits us, influences us to make foolish decisions, encourages self-destructive behavior, ruins healthy relationships— or even worse, keeps us from connecting people and ourselves to Christ in real and powerful ways.
Some of the hardest work in ministry is avoiding and helping others to avoid the story plot paralysis.
I am a planter overcoming the monster of the established traditional church.
I am on a quest to do ministry as no one has ever done it before.
Our story is a story of rebirth
What happens when the “monster of the established church” does more for God in ways we can’t? What if no one joins “the quest”? What if there is no “rebirth”? Does that mean we have failed? Does this mean our life lacks meaning? Not only can this artificial story plot wrongly influence us, it can become a source of unnecessary pressure and discouragement. Why are we seeing so many pastors leaving the ministry? Why is there an increasing number of suicides and moral failures being reported in large and small ministries? Satan uses our self-imposed expectations and pressures to break us—Satan is, in fact, the accuser of the brethren.
How about, instead of overcoming the monster, finishing the quest, or going from rags to riches we simply seek to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ with no other governing force than the glory of God—no other expectation than the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Why can’t it be acceptable, and notable, that ministry is organic, sometimes messy, and often ordinary rather than assuming some artificial story plot in which we are the main character. Why don’t we instead, look to Christ, and enter into His story where He is everything!