Making room for stories in Christian formation

My senior year in high school, a classmate of mine developed an ovarian tumor that would kill her before the year was out. We were in a number of classes together. First she came regularly, then irregularly, wearing a wig, then not at all.

One of these was our Government/Econ class, the last class of the day. Our teacher himself had had a rough year, breaking a hip in a cycling accident. We were seniors. We were grieving. We were halfway out the door. And our teacher did something truly incredible. He read us a story.

Actually, he read us a novel, The River Why, but it was full of stories and it was perfect for us where we were. I vaguely remember that we covered the basics of what we needed for Government/Econ, but what I remember most vividly was sitting in that second floor classroom, listening to Mr. H. read the tales of Gus and his fly fishing family.

Stories form usAs I wrote about last week, we don’t outgrow stories. Stories are not childish things. As we seek to make meaning in our world, one very important way we do so is through stories: stories about who we are, how we came to be the way we are, what is important to us, what we value. I don’t think it’s too strong to say that stories form us, which is why I think it is so imperative to not lose the place and hold of stories in Christian formation.

Here are a few ideas of how we can share stories as part of our ongoing work together as people of faith. I would love to hear your ideas as well.

In Worship:

Do not assume that just because the Scriptures are read aloud that people were actually able to take in the story. One thing I have learned is that it is often a very good thing to begin a sermon by retelling the story that people have just heard. Telling it in your own words allows people who may have tuned out during that particular reading to hear it in a new way, or to settle into it more deeply.

In Leadership:

Start your meetings by asking the group “How has our church made a difference this month?” and see what stories emerge. You will undoubtedly need to plant the seed ahead of time, but by getting people to look for the stories, I suspect they will begin to see how the work they are doing on behalf of the congregation relates to the ministry and mission being done by its members.

In Bible Study:

Engage in theological reflection by asking people – youth and adults – how the story in the Bible connects with their own stories in their lives. Who do these Biblical characters remind them of in their daily lives? Does it bring any experiences to mind? How does the Bible story connect with their story?

In Baptismal Preparation:

Ask parents and godparents what were some of the formative moments in their faith life. See if they can find any patterns, or what that might suggest to them in how to see that the child they present is brought up in the Christian faith. For those seeking baptism for themselves, ask them to share their own story, either just in preparation or, perhaps more powerfully, to the full congregation.

In Confirmation Preparation:

We’ve blogged quite a bit about mentoring, which is another great place for people to share stories: confirmands to talk about their current experiences, and mentors to talk about experiences in their own lives that might illuminate them or answer their questions. As Confirm not Conform users know, the iConfirm service is an incredible place to listen to the stories of confirmands as they teach on a passage of scripture, tying the passage they have chosen to their own lives.

These are just a smattering of ideas. Note that for many of them, what’s important for us to do is to listen to the stories. One of the reasons stories are so powerful is that they are an amazing opportunity, not only to make sense of our lives, but to connect with one another. That happens by being willing to share and being able to listen. It is a time of mutual learning, not dependent upon one leader’s expert knowledge. Instead, stories show that we all have important and good news to share.

There are so many stories in our congregations, and I believe they have incredible transformative power. My wish for you is that you will encounter even one of them this week.