A.A. Milne, the creator of the Winnie the Pooh series, wrote a short conversation between Piglet and Pooh.
“I’m scared,” said Piglet.
“A story will help,” said Pooh.
“Don’t you know? Stories make your heart grow.”
Church Leader, Look for the Stories
In his simple, childlike way, Winnie the Pooh reminds us of the power of story. Stories can quell fears. Stories can make our hearts grow because stories are connecting points. Stories have the power to remind us that we’re not alone. They connect and bind us together.
In fact, we connect with Jesus himself through story. At its core, that’s what the gospel is: a story. We often try to turn the gospel into bullet points and sermon outlines. We love to systematize our theology, but in doing so we can rob the gospel of its power. There is power in story, and that is especially true in the gospel story.
The gospel is the story of a God who is relentless in his pursuit of people who had done everything possible to despise and reject him. The only way he could rescue them was to sacrifice himself in their place. But in a God-sized irony, his death is what brought his enemies new life.
Now that’s a good story! And it’s through that story that we connect with Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there. We connect with Christ through the gospel story, but story is also how we connect with one another. As church leaders, it’s critical that we understand and harness the power of story.
Every good communicator understands the need for stories and illustrations in their messages. But when we limit storytelling to just one person, we unintentionally place a lid on our church’s impact.
The most powerful stories in the church are usually found not in the pulpit, but in the pew.
That can be a humbling truth for those of us who are preachers, but it’s a truth we must embrace. And a little dose of humility isn’t a bad thing, either.
I’ve come to realize that some of the most memorable, powerful messages ever conveyed in our church didn’t come from me. They came from our people who were brave enough to share their story.
A few weeks ago, we asked a lady in our church to share her story. She courageously agreed. We went to her home and shot a video of her telling her story. We figured it would be 5-10 minutes long once it was edited. It turned out to be nearly half an hour, and it was a powerhouse story!
I’m an outspoken advocate of planning and preparation. At Connect, we plan our services well in advance. I have messages written months ahead of time. But in the midst of all our preparation, I always want to be sure we leave room for God to wreck our plans when He has something better in mind. That’s exactly what happened on this week.
When I saw Afton’s story, I immediately knew I had to scrap the message I had prepared because this story had to be shared in its entirety. And it was one of the most powerful Sundays I can remember.
Afton shared the story of her suicide attempt. She shared the story of her journey from atheism to faith. And she shared how God used our church to reach her with the gospel. It was absolutely amazing.
Conversation After Conversation
After we shared this story in our Sunday services, I had conversation after conversation with people who were impacted. Some who were having a faith crisis themselves. Some who were even having suicidal thoughts of their own. Those conversations wouldn’t have happened if I had gone ahead and preached the message I had planned. Afton’s story has been viewed thousands of times online since that Sunday. Who knows how many more people will be helped by her story?
It was one of the most powerful experiences I can remember in our church. And the reason it was so powerful is that it was a story that didn’t come from the preacher.
We all want to grow the influence and impact of the churches we serve. We want lives and eternities to be changed. This means we can’t overlook the power of story.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. There is power in the preaching of the gospel. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a preacher. But it would be arrogant for me to believe that, since I’m the preacher, I’m the only one that God can use to communicate his power and grace. In fact, sometimes I’m the least effective person to communicate these truths.
When a pastor delivers a truth, some people will glaze over. “Big deal. Of course, he has to say that. He’s the preacher.”
But when someone else delivers the same truth, people will lean in. “Wow. They’re not paid to say this stuff. Maybe there is something to this after all.”
I preach the healing power of the gospel every week. But when Afton told her story, the truth of God’s healing came alive.
Same message. Different messenger. Huge impact.
As church leaders, we need to look for the stories. God is alive and at work in our churches. He is breaking chains. He is setting captives free. He is changing family trees. He is healing brokenness and bringing new life. Those are the stories that need to be told.
Church leaders should be on a never-ending reconnaissance mission for stories. And when we find these stories, we need to equip and empower people to tell them.
The Psalmist would seem to agree:
“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.” – Psalm 107:2-3
Mike Edmisten has been the Senior Pastor of Connect Christian Church in Cincinnati for 12 years. He and his wife, Nicki (who is way out of his league) have two boys (13 and 10). Outside of family and ministry, Mike is passionate about Cincinnati Reds baseball and FC Cincinnati soccer. You can connect with him on Twitter @MikeEdmisten.