Every church has a collective story. And as a leader, you need to pay attention to what story is being told.
I’m not talking about the good old, unchanging story of Jesus’ love, sacrifice and ultimate work of salvation. This story will never change.
But, I’m talking about the narrative your church lives in – what you believe to be true about your congregation; the story you tell and rehearse together. If it’s not supporting and helping you to flourish, it’s hurting you. And it can be turned around… God says, “Look, I am doing a new thing!”
Generally speaking, what is the collective narrative for your church?
For some leaders and churches, the story might be, “Remember when we used to be alive and active?” For other churches it may be, “We’re doing the best we can.” Sometimes the scarcity mindset creeps in, “We can’t afford that right now.” and other times, cynicism gets in the mix, “We don’t have a leader”, or “We’ve had six leaders in ten years.”
Have you taken note of the phrases you say? What are the lines repeatedly coming out of your mouth? Maybe you’ve been saying, “One of these days we will do….” or maybe you find yourself saying, “If we just had our own building we could…” or maybe you hear others saying, “We’re too small to….”
The list could be as long as you can imagine: “We’re in a bad location”, “We are too far out of the city”, “We’re too far into the city”, “Times have changed”, “No one in our church will do anything”, “We’re stuck in the past”, “We don’t like change”, etc.
Words really do shape us and as we talk and discuss, if we’re not careful, we will be shaped by the negative stories we tell ourselves. The problems become the focal point. We need to begin to tell a different narrative.
One of the keys to sharing a vision is to use stories, words and language to unify people around the rally cry. It helps remind people that we are moving forward together. These vision aiding words and phrases help move an entire church together toward the goals and dreams for their ministry in the community and region.
I recently heard a story from Micheal Hyatt about a young man who came from a poor family, lived on a farm in the country but longed for a better life in the city. One day, after talking with someone else, he gained a new perspective. Their take on his life was that he was lucky to live on a big farm in the country, with lots of land to roam. He was surrounded by family all the time, with good food, fresh air and lots of fun things to do. He began to think of his circumstance in a new way and he became more fulfilled. Everything changed for him.
During a recent conversation, I got a different perspective on my own life. I have spent 100% of every summer since the age of 18 serving in ministry at camps, mission trips and other ministry events. I have always enjoyed it, but there are times when it gets tiring and tough. After more than twenty years of living out this calling and ministry, it’s how I live life, follow Christ, support my family and pay bills. I’m pretty planted in it. But during this short little conversation, the other person made the comment that I was “so lucky to have arranged my life to be free to do whatever I wanted during the summers.”
A light came on. It was a resurgence of fresh energy from a new perspective. I don’t have to do this, I get to. I have been blessed with flexibility in ministry roles to be able to invest the summer in full time ministry to students and leaders.
In both of these examples, the circumstances didn’t change, but attitudes did. A different story was told and it was powerful.
What about your church? What story do you tell yourself and your people? Here are some thoughts for you if you are a leader and/or have influence there:
Pinpoint the story you are telling yourself as a church.
- Ask leaders in your church – what do people think about the church?
- What are people in your congregation saying about your church?
- What is the impression of our church in the community?
Rewrite the story and began to tell that one to people.
- We want God to write His story on our hearts
- It’s God’s church – He owns it and we have an opportunity to be stewards of this wonderful gift.
- List the strengths your church has and focus on them.
- Don’t compare to other churches, compare to God’s work in your ministry and the fullness of your response to that work.
Lead the way in changing the story.
Lead by example. Watch what you are saying and rehearse the new story as often as you can.
Here are some examples and thoughts:
- We’re not a small church that can’t attract people, we are able to provide a family-like atmosphere and care for people in a very special way.
- We’re rich in the love of Christ and have the best message to share. If God is for us who can be against us?
- We’re trusting in the power of prayer to make a difference in our church and in the community.
- This is a great place to serve, live and minister! I want to serve here a long, long time.
- This church is full of good people and we’re reaching the world by reaching out to our community.
Fill in the blank.
After discerning where you’ve been negative and how you need to change, begin telling the new story often, optimistically and unashamedly.
This doesn’t mean you brush past problems and ignore them. Indeed, part of the role of the leader is to clarify and pinpoint issues to work on. But you’re working toward something great – a vision, an end result. You don’t have to get up every morning and do this. You get to!