Last week I heard a great story about a new church in Glasgow that is mostly made up of Muslim converts to Christ. I heard another good story about an innovative church plant in Aberdeen and a memorable account of a church in Fife reaching out to migrant agricultural workers.
I heard all these stories at the Baptist Assembly. Over the two days in Motherwell I also benefited from some excellent Bible teaching and enthusiastic worship, and I had many stimulating discussions with friends from around the country. But I was struck again by the power of story.
The stories of God working in and through his people made a deep impact on me. I have not forgotten the teaching, the worship and the discussions, but the stories have affected me more deeply. Why is that? I guess it’s partly because they are testimonies, stories owned by someone who is saying ‘This really happened; I’m a witness to it.’ And it’s partly because they are told by people like me and so they increase my expectations of how God can use me.
Much of the revelation God has given us in the Bible comes in the uniquely arresting form that is story. The Old Testament people of God defined themselves by the great stories of Creation, Exodus, Kingship and Exile. The earliest followers of Jesus made it their business to treasure, preserve and retell the stories of how God’s Messiah had lived, taught, died and risen again.
Our churches today are formed by stories we tell and retell. Primarily these are the stories of scripture but also the stories of our own communities. Unfortunately some repeatedly tell the destructive stories of failure, disagreement or broken relationships – not recognising that one definition of forgiveness is ‘to stop re-telling to yourself and to others the story of your hurts’. Thankfully, many more people among us are telling the stories of life, transformation, reconciliation and the power of God at work among us like treasure in jars of clay. These were the stories that made such a strong impact on me at the Assembly.
I believe we can be a movement of story-tellers. We can all encourage and influence one another not by the power of coercion but by the attractiveness of the stories we cherish, the stories we tell and the stories we live.