I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins - Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine...
I knew exactly what he was going to ask me. It was bedtime and I was home, so the question was inevitable. The boy with the huge blue eyes and big gap where his two front teeth should be reached up and grabbed my face with both hands. "Daddy...magic TV?"
For the past year or so Conner, Micah and I have been on a journey with two young boys named Steve and Crazy. Steve is very tall and Crazy is very, well...crazy. They live in a special house. In this house there are lots of rooms and in each room there are lots of tv's. There are big tv's and small tv's. Black-and-white tv's, color tv's and rainbow tv's. There are rectangle tv's and round tv's. There are flat tv's and fat tv's. There are tv's that hang on the wall and tv's that sit on a table. But there is one tv more special than all the others. In fact, you could say that its a magic tv. You can't find this tv if you're looking for it...and actually, you can only find this tv if you aren't looking for anything at all. But, whenever you watch this tv you find yourself inside the story. (Micah named this unchanging part of the story, "the commercial." Conner loves it and Micah always wants to skip it and get to the good part.)
Each night Steve and Crazy watch a show - sometimes its a cartoon that Conner and Micah enjoy, like Phineas and Ferb, the Backyardigans or even the Smurfs (yep, our boys know about the Smurfs). Sometimes its a show about dinosaurs, ninja's, jungles, outer space or a combination of several. And each time Steve and Crazy must help the characters in the show finish the episode. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes things are just plain silly. We never know what's going to happen (seriously, I make it up as I go).
Crazy never says anything that makes sense - he is crazy after all. Micah usually has some random statement that he wants Crazy to say...and since it doesn't make any sense its usually pretty easy to fit it in!
These stories can be exhausting...how many different plot lines can a guy come up with after all? But I keep telling them because Conner and Micah truly love Steve and Crazy. Sometimes I get Conner to tell the story and I'm always amazed at how he already understands that a story has a beginning followed by some sort of crisis with twists that don't get resolved until the end. Micah hasn't been willing to tell any stories yet, but he has completely outlined several plots for me...
It had been a while since I read it last, so last night I looked back over Roxburgh's book The Missional Leader in preparation for our class discussions today. I'd forgotten just how good of a book it is - if you are a church leader considering ways to encourage your church to take seriously the call to actively live as the missionary people of God in your community, I highly recommend this book.
One of the passages I'd previously highlighted grabbed my attention. In it the author is describing the value and purpose of narrative in forming community.
A narrative has several characteristics. It comprises a story that is moving somewhere; it gives a social group a story that tells where it is going and what the group will look like when it arrives. There is purpose and quest within the narrative calling a group in a specific direction and toward a particular goal...Because narrative creates and sustains social community, it's the glue, the atmosphere of all social life. The key to innovating missional community is formation of a people within a specific memory and narrative. - The Missional Leader, 70-71.I love that first bit - it comprises a story that is moving somewhere. I remember as a grad student at ACU and while preaching in New Orleans I was a part of several discussions about "narrative preaching." There are a number of folks who have a low view of the idea because they see it as "watered down." I was convinced then and remain so that this is primarily due to 1) bad examples of the narrative style and 2) misperceptions of the purpose and function.
For those that don't know distinctions between preaching styles, the traditional approach that many of us grew up hearing was expository preaching - the preacher takes a text of Scripture and "expounds" or teaches through it. Intro, 3 points, a poem and an invitation was typically the week-in-week-out format, at least in our Church of Christ circles.
Changing anything, even the format for your sermon delivery, usually results in a spike in the corporate blood pressure of a congregation. So when some preachers began telling stories with no acronyms or "that leads me to my next point" many people began to fear that the Bible was no longer being preached. And sometimes they were right.
Narrative preaching or proper use of narrative in general, is not meant to be merely the telling of entertaining or warm fuzzy stories. That isn't to say narratives aren't entertaining - in fact good storytelling is at the heart of most things that are truly entertaining.
However, a good narrative sermon tells a story that is moving (and moving us) somewhere. It connects with something lodged deep within us and by drawing it out, draws us into the story in such a way that we suddenly look around and realize we are no longer in the same place we began. Many of the great truths in scripture are revealed through powerful narrative and we, as the people of the Story are invited to find our place in that Story with each fresh retelling or rereading.
And this Story we find ourselves in is a grand epic that is greater than any of the stories that our culture attempts to lure us into.
Stories, even silly stories like the Magic TV, shape us and teach us about reality. They help us form our identity and make sense of things which at first glance seem like chaos.
When it comes to inspiring a community to begin moving together toward some goal beyond passive consumerism, story isn't the whole answer, but it plays an important role. If we want to call people to something bigger than themselves, we will do well to become better storytellers.
Often Steve and Crazy do things in a way that would seem strange to many people. They model for Conner and Micah a radical new way of living. This weekend I witnessed something in my boys and I wonder if it is directly attributable to the stories of a guy that is tall and a guy that is, well...crazy.
The boys and I went and played putt-putt for the first time. When we were finished we went into the nickel arcade (50 cents for half an hour of fun? I can do that!) Several of the games gave tickets - the kind you can trade in for cheap junk when you're done. We didn't really have enough to get anything so I suggested that maybe there were other boys and girls there who could use them more than us. I didn't really expect the response. Micah, my 4 year old, immediately began tearing off groups of 6 or 7 tickets and asking other kids if they would like them. "I want to make sure everyone gets some, Dad." Conner gave some to a couple guys and took the time to explain that yes, he wanted the tickets, but we didn't have that many and this way they could get an even cooler prize.
My kids are awesome. I think this story makes Jesus smile...and its a story that is definitely moving me somewhere.