The Story that Shapes Us: Looking Back and Looking Forward
Above; A Parallel Start Begins: The Ordination of Eliseo Morales Jr. at Morningside Presbyterian.
I began this year blogging about how humans are story-telling animals and how the stories we tell have the power to change lives. I challenged us to think about how some of our stories compete with God’s story, and how, if we are not cautious, we can allow our stories to discredit God’s power to transform and make new.
In my next article, I shifted our focus to three congregations whose engagement with Christ’s story led them to make bold changes for the sake of their neighborhoods and society. These congregations exemplified what John the Baptist proclaimed when he heard of Jesus’ ministry, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Other congregations have followed the same path. I think of Morningside in Fullerton with their “parallel start” and St. Paul in Anaheim hosting our presbytery’s fastest-growing new worshipping community, Amazing Grace. These weren’t pie-in-the-sky or Disney-type stories, but stories that acknowledged the difficulty and even pain involved in being a faithful church.
With their habits, money, and property, congregations in our presbytery are choosing to tell a gospel-shaped story, one that “points beyond themselves to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus” (paraphrased from the Book of Order, F-1.0301).
A Shocking Claim
I can think of no better description of the “Church’s Calling” than the one found in F-1.0301.
Just before the line I quoted above, the paragraph says, “The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.”
This statement reminds me how radical the Church’s preoccupation with God should be and how loosely, in comparison, the Church should consider its survival. We are called to demonstrate Christ’s gifts, but we should do so with a sense of selfless abandon, of risking our own existence because it is what obedience requires.
Taking Risks for God
I mention this now because our presbytery’s leaders are preparing for our final Presbytery Gathering of 2019. A major theme that will be lifted up is our effort to start new worshipping communities through Cyclical and SCT’s NWC Network Team. Our worship will be led by members from five of our new worshipping communities. We will feel their energy, be inspired by their vision, and catch their enthusiasm. These fresh expressions of church could not have happened without risk.
Thankfully, God’s story isn’t “either-or.” The risk-taking attitudes, postures, practices and skills new worshipping communities need to launch a church are also the very ones needed for revitalizing plateaued or declining congregations. Through traveling together and growing the Church together, we learn from and encourage one another.
As I look to the future, I’m excited about the direction our presbytery is headed. I’ve often felt that we have tapped into only a small portion of our stories, so I was heartened when the theme of “Presbytery Voices and Conversations” was adopted by Presbytery Council.
I suspect that 2020 will give voice to stories that we’ve never heard before, ones that we need to hear in order to live into the fullness of God. If we are honest with each other—and I pray we will be—we will hear stories of lament and rescue, of God’s faithfulness and victory, of challenge and consolation.
Stories Wake us up to God
In a previous post, I described how nurses rubbed my daughter alive when she lay in silence after her birth. I believe our role as Christians is that of rubbing the world alive to the love of God in Christ. I now realize how important it is to do that with each other as well.
Sharing our stories is one way we do this. As we take risks together and share our stories in the coming months, I suggest we keep the following passage from Paul in mind, as I believe it provides a good posture to tell the best story ever and live into it with our whole hearts, minds, and strength.
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:9-14).
Keep telling and living the good story.