We’ve seen some troubling headlines about gender dynamics in the church.
We’ve watched leaders and churches fall—relationships and communities and individuals crushed in the wake.
In times like these, we feel a kind of desperation. And desperate times call for desperate measures.
We want to get to the bottom of it all, figure out how this happened so we can prevent it.
We want statistics.
We get into debates.
We write white papers and shape policies.
And then it happens again. Another headline. Different place, different details, but the same story of brokenness between Christian brothers and sisters.
Storytelling: Putting Imagination Before Implementation
It’s going to sound strange but I think the answer is stories.
Stories seem weak, subjective, unimportant. How could stories ever restore our crumbling Church?
Even if it’s counter-intuitive to turn to story at a time like this, there’s some pretty solid thinking behind it.
Leadership consultant Edwin Friedman’s words from A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix mean as much today as they did when he first wrote them:
[L]eadership in America is stuck in the rut of trying harder and harder without obtaining significantly new results … [We get stuck in] an unending treadmill of trying harder; looking for answers rather than reframing questions; and either/or thinking that creates false dichotomies.
Or as Peter Steinke, a colleague of Friedman’s, put it in How Your Church Family Works:
In periods of intense anxiety what is most needed is what is most unavailable—the capacity to be imaginative.
There’s a good reason why imagination is more helpful than just trying harder. Curt Thompson, Christian neurologist, explains:
When a person tells her story and is truly heard and understood, both she and the listener undergo actual changes in their brain circuitry … The power of story-telling goes beyond the border of the story itself. It moves into the nooks and crannies of our memories and emotions, sometimes gently, sometimes explosively, revealing, awakening, shocking, calling.
In anxious times we need imagination—and stories help expand our imaginations, actually reshaping our brains.
Which reminds me of what Walter Brueggemann has been talking about for years. What’s required is not just telling nice stories from our own imagination. Only by stepping into a prophetic imagination, fueled by the Spirit, will we be freed to break this anxious cycle:
Our own self-concept as would-be prophets is most often too serious, realistic, and even grim. But … the characteristic way of a prophet in Israel is that of poetry and lyric. The prophet engages in futuring fantasy … The imagination must come before the implementation.
Of course, there is a time for implementation. There are actions we should take, decisions to be made to avoid these painful situations. It’s this kind of prophetic, mind-altering imagination that helps us make those decisions with new eyes.Imagination must come before the implementation of something new, and storytelling puts those things in their proper order. Click To Tweet
How the Tradition of Testimony Teaches Us a New Posture
We’re not just talking about fairytale stories here. There is a powerful, ancient tradition of story-telling which has fallen from popularity in modern times—the tradition of testimony. As Anna Carter Florence describes in Preaching as Testimony, testimony is:
…both a narration of events and a confession of belief: we tell what we have seen and heard, and we confess what we believe about it.
Testimony is a way of speaking with authority without abuse of power. Testimony is the way that marginalized voices have always spoken of God’s goodness. So not only will the the content of these stories help us imagine new possibilities, the very method will teach us new postures. We’ll be equipped to shape a new future together.Not only will the the content of the stories we tell help us imagine new possibilities, the very method will teach us new postures, equipping us to shape a new future together. Click To Tweet
Church Together: Stories that Change Us
As Director of this year’s SheLeads Summit: ChurchTogether, this approach is behind everything we’re doing.
I have read so many headlines, I need some stories of Good News.
Yes, there will be time for stories of what isn’t right in the Church, of how we’ve brought the world’s approach to gender into the Church. But this day will be one to remember because of the conversion moments we’ll be invited into.
We’ll get to hear Jo Saxton and Oneya Okuwobi and Mark Labberton share how they once saw gender as the world sees—and how God has restored their vision. We’ll hear not only how God has revealed new ways to understand gender, but also how God is revealing new depths of the Gospel. And our panel will be made up of pairs of male-female ministry partners, sharing the challenges and joys of ministering together. As we watch our presenters, we’ll be right there, watching their eyes light up as they proclaim God’s reconciliation power. We’ll get to watch them bear witness to an alternate reality, one that they’ve seen and known. And throughout the day we’ll have opportunities to share our own testimonies.
It will be a day to tell what we’ve seen and heard, and to confess what we believe about it. To go home changed.
November 10 is a day you won’t want to miss. Join us live in Pasadena or at a regional venue (see here for the list of venues. If you don’t see your city, there’s still time to sign up to host.) Or you can host an informal viewing party. Or live-stream wherever you are.