Wandering But Not Lost

Friday, June 10, 2005

More Thoughts on Stories

I've been thinking about the pros and cons of trying managing change within an established church. As I listen to the Emergent conversation and I think through the implications of engaging this culture for my established church, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the level of effort that is required. As I continue to reflect on the power of stories, it strikes me that the power of stories can help bridge the gap in people's understandings and for others, the power of stories can cement a person into a way of thinking.

Central is an amazing place to me. On the surface we appear to be a standard, middle-classed, white, suburban evangelical mainline congregation. We have our share of problems caused by the number of standard, middle-class, white, surburban, evangelical mindset, but we also have a diversity in thought and unity amongst the body that amazes me. Pick almost any social issue, I can grab five people, almost instantly, whose ideas will represent the full spectrum of thought on that issue. We are a body of socially conservative, theologically conservative folks worshipping next to and with socially liberal, theologically liberal folks. That is a tremendous story that empowers the ability for the congregation to change.

The founding pastor was headed to China as the country became closed. He agreed to plant our church with the agreement that with two weeks notice he could resign and head off to China. He also brought Young Life to Baltimore County. He had a passion for evangelism and for doing anything it took to make Christ known. I believe that his story has put into the DNA of our church, an understanding of contextualization that is different than most 50+ year old mainline congregations. It is that story that I am now trying to translate into an understanding of ministry within the Postmodern context. That as we engage our culture, our methods will change, the core story will not. It is another story that empowers the ability for the congregation to change.

We have stories that cement us as well. It isn't so much the seven deadly words of a dieing church "we have always done it this way", but they are stories of nostalgia for how ministry was done. It comes out as we wrestle with the role of small groups for spiritual formation. Will small groups be the primary avenue for providing opportunities to grow spiritually and if so, what is the role of Sunday School. We have history of strong, almost graduate level, adult christian education classes, that people have been shaped by. In recent years, participation has fallen off and we are trying to do new things to attract greater participation. But we need to look at what we believe about spiritual formation, and where will we put the majority of our effort and resources. That history provides a story that makes change difficult.

For the mainline church, we need to cull through the history and look for those stories that validate a new vision and direction for the church. They are probably there. We need to try and minimize the impact of stories that detract from the new vision. I don't have the tactical answers to make that happen, it just strikes that a portion of change management is story management. That vision casting is story telling about the future and that there is tremendous power in linking the new story to the old story and helping folks navigate the bridge between the two.

Peace!
Rob

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