Some years ago, I read the interesting book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change. In that book, this sentence caught my attention: “We learn best—and change—from hearing stories that strike a chord in us….” What does that say to you as a Christian? What does it mean for your church? What does it say about the future effectiveness, health, and productivity of your congregation’s future?

Social Agendas

This is not a criticism, but more like an observation. Think about the social “bandwagons” some churches—and whole denominations—have prioritized. There are a number of popular agendas: LGBTQIA rights, Roe v. Wade (even with the recent Supreme Court decision), racial equality, climate change, liberal leanings, conservative approaches.

Now, think about the mission of the church. It’s not controversial for Bible-believing Christ-followers. In fact, it’s rather simple—in the sense of a narrow definition. Jesus sums up the mission: “Go, make disciples, baptize, and teach” (in abbreviated form).

Has Christianity—at least among some Christians and churches—subtly derailed because people have drifted to the priority of a different movement? The philosopher Ivan Illich shared an interesting insight. This was told to me by my good friend Mick Woodhead in England some years ago. (We were visiting the church he led in Sheffield.) It is part of the amazing and refreshing movement among many churches in the UK today. Mick quoted Ivan Illich, who said, “How do you change the world? You tell a different, alternative story.” So, what is your narrative? What is your story, as a Christian?

Israel: The Holy Land

The country of Israel is not simply a geopolitical entity. It is, literally, God’s country. It is called the Promised Land for a reason: God promised this land to His people.

In spite of the moral failures of many of its leaders and the frequent wandering of many of its spiritual influencers, there is no question: God is faithful to His promise. The land was given to His people. Israel has a special spiritual place in the history of our world.

It’s no surprise that Jesus wasn’t born in Argentina, Hong Kong, Australia, or even in Egypt—where His people spent some significant time before the exodus. Israel is called the “Holy Land” for a reason.

My point? Why was Jesus born when He arrived on planet Earth? Mary gave birth to this God/man when the Promised Land—the specific chunk of ground given to the people of Israel—was occupied by the non-Jewish Romans.

The Roman soldiers were known as brutal warriors. The secularist would say, “Those Romans would scare the hell out of anyone.” From a spiritual perspective, the believer in Jesus might say they would “scare faith into anyone.” After all, when you’re taxed, introduced to crucifixions, and fearful of the nasty occupiers, it seems like some divine intervention would be a priority: a desire, a wish, and a dream!

In time, Jesus grew up, was recognized by John the Baptist as the Messiah, and launched His ministry. And, literally, the world would never be the same.

The Romans did—but didn’t—really crucify Jesus. Actually, Scripture points to the threatened scribes and Pharisees as the perpetrators. Like many religious people, they had drifted, on the one hand, and weren’t open to change or growth, on the other. So, working through the Roman governmental superstructure, the religious leaders nailed Jesus—literally.

Jesus’ Apolitical Agenda

The Son of God had an enormous potential opportunity to rail on the Romans. They stole his Father’s Promised Land. They stood against much of what He was for. They were law and order. He was grace and forgiveness.

Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees and scribes, but not the occupiers from Rome. Why? Perhaps because the religious leaders should have known better. They should have been His allies and interested students—wanting to learn. A few—like Nicodemus and Paul—were receptive. Yet, most were clueless.

Instead of harping on what could become a popular agenda—the occupation of Rome in His Father’s land—Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God. Political or social agendas were negligible issues for Jesus.

When someone brought Him the woman caught in the very act of adultery—perhaps she was still naked—He had a singular response she could not have predicted: “Don’t sin like that anymore.” The people in town were ready to throw stones and kill her. They knew all about law and order. He gave them a lesson about grace, forgiveness—and restoration.

Jesus Changed the Narrative

Human beings—even some church people—tend to lean into a law-and-order approach. That signals confusion about the power of grace and forgiveness. Jesus changed the religious narrative of the scribes and Pharisees. Eventually, this drastically different approach to life would impact the Roman Empire—and way beyond. In history, there is no movement parallel to the influence of Christianity.

Yet, the temptation to drift toward symptomatic issues often captures the attention of some Christ-followers, their churches, and whole denominations or movements. Many want to “cure the problems” at the problem level. Jesus clearly approaches the heart of the matter. This has huge implications on how we do church. It just seems too simplistic for many Christ-followers. Nevertheless, I’ve got to tell you: Grace works.

It is a human instinct to sign a petition, join a march, or demonstrate in the city. Often, it just doesn’t seem natural to pray, read Scripture, love the unlovable, speak the name of Jesus, and expect miracles in the lives of others.

As simplistic as it sounds to “sophisticated Christians,” Jesus told stories. He said stuff like, “The Kingdom of God is like…” and, “Believe in Me….” Jesus tapped the power of story. Howard Schultz wrote about the phenomenal growth of the Starbucks movement. In the absence of economic genius, Schultz said, “The merchant’s success depends on his or her ability to tell a story.” And I thought it had something to do with a latte!

Ed Catmull, the cofounder of Pixar, reflects, “Stories communicate at a deep level. Stories are the way we communicate with each other.”

So, while many well-intentioned Christ-followers are engaged in marches, politics, and special agendas, the Lord of your church is telling stories:

  • “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho….”
  • “What if a man had a hundred sheep and one of them got lost…?”
  • “The sower sows seeds. Some fall on the path, some on the rocky ground, some among thorns…but some fell on good soil—and bore fruit.”

The Amazing Power of God Stories

You mention witnessing to most Christians, and they think of someone knocking on their door while they are having dinner—and you can’t get rid of them. Other Christ-followers think witnessing is learning a canned outline and talking to strangers.

Most Christ-followers don’t have the gift of evangelism. About 10 percent of those who worship regularly actually have that gift. The rest of us? Ninety percent of us are what Jesus calls witnesses. We have real stories of how Jesus has changed our lives, our kids, our marriages, our attitudes, our eternities.

Years ago, I simply asked those in my Sunday morning Bible class: “Would anybody like to share what God has done in your life this last week?” The result? Nothing for the first several weeks. Then—breakthrough: One person shared! Two years later, most of the people in the church were spontaneously sharing their God stories. Our church doubled in size without any formal “evangelism program.” I have written about this in the book The Amazing Power of God Stories.

Every congregation has a choice: Try to solve the world’s problems by developing social/political agendas—or softly train God’s people to share the real, unrehearsed stories about what God has done in their lives. The more you choose to look for God stories, the more God stories you realize you have. No one will argue with you about what God has done in your life. Your stories are powerful narratives that change lives—and grow your church.

Kent R. Hunter and Tracee J. Swank are church consultants and authors of The Amazing Power of God Stories, available on Amazon.com and ChurchDoctor.org.

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