I have often said it’s all about making disciples, but when it came right down to it, I was hoping it was happening in my church rather than being intentional about it happening in my church. What’s the plan? How do we bring people along in the discipleship process? "Uh, I don’t know, but it’s important!" Doesn’t make any sense does it? Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should buy a curriculum and have people fill in the workbook; I’m talking about being intentional about doing life on life.
My church does it through our Community Groups. We are a new church trying to implement this plan, it’s messy and we’re having to contend for it, but we are seeing the fruit. The first year of our groups consist of telling the story of redemptive history. Believers need to know God story, know their place in God’s story, know that it’s not a story about them, and know that God is saying something about himself through their lives. We ask simple questions at the end of each story. Who is God? What did God do? Who are we? What do we do? They are not always formed the same, but essentially that’s what the questions are getting at.
The second year we tell 32 stories from the life and ministry of Jesus. We ask questions like, what do we learn about Jesus?, what is Jesus teaching his disciples?, what is Jesus teaching you?, and how can you make disciples like Jesus did?
The third year is 30 stories from Acts. Again asking questions about what the Holy Spirit was doing, what the disciples did, and how can we be disciples who make disciples?
We didn’t invent any of this. One of our elders was trained by J.O. Terry and influenced by Avery Willis, both on the front line of what’s called Chronological Bible Storying, which is a strategy for making disciples who make disciples in oral cultures. If you want to learn more about CBS, you can read posts from Sam Poe by clicking here.
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.” (Rev. 12:1-5)
This prophetic picture is a mind-transforming drama of Christ’s great victory that he has won for us. This vision starts by looking back in time at a woman who is in labor. This woman symbolizes the people of God through history.
The next thing we see is the grotesque image of a huge red dragon standing poised, ready to eat the baby as it comes out of the womb. All thought the history of the Old Testament Satan had been trying to destroy this Child, which was first promised right after Mankind’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). He thought perhaps he was Abel, or maybe Moses, possibly David or one of the prophets.
Finally the hour came, Jesus was born into the world, the Promised One. Herod came up with an evil scheme inspired by Satan, to try to kill him in his infancy but his plan was thwarted. At the proper time Jesus willingly went to the cross to die. Instead of this being a victory for the dragon this death was his defeat! Jesus rose from the dead and after 40 days ascended to the throne of God in heaven eternally winning our salvation.
This vision ends with the dragon enraged at the woman and is set on making war against her and the rest of her children, that includes all of us who follow Jesus and are part of his people. Satan is angry because he has been defeated and he knows his time is short. Without this prophetic perspective on our history as the people of God we will have a difficult time understanding what God is doing among us now. Prophetic vision does not just focus on what is going to come, it focuses on what has already happened in the past and in this way brings us to prophetic understanding about what is going on right now and what is to come. Through this vision, the Apostle John gives us a sweeping picture of God’s Big Salvation Story to strengthen our faith.
Looking at what God has done for us in the past is essential to living passionately for his glory in the present and walking into the future with confidence in God.
Remembering what God has done in the past is essential to living passionately for his glory in the present. Prophets were often particularly good and recounting the stories of what God had done in the past in order to help the people catch a glimpse of what he desired to do among them in the present.
Reading about the prophets especially in Old Testament times we can see that one of their roles was to bring this sort of historical perspective. They would tell of the mighty works of God in history in order to reveal what He was doing then and there. They would often come on the scene at times when there was great difficulty and say, “Remember what the Lord has done among you in days gone by”, and then proceed to tell a story. Prophecy does not just involve foretelling things, but it also gives prophetic significance to past things. Prophetic ministry involves declaring God’s Big Salvation Story from Scripture and how it is brought to bear on our particular situation at this present time.
The Prophet Samuel is a great example of this. While Samuel was a leader of Israel, the time came when the people asked for a human king like all the surrounding nations had. They felt this would bring them more security and good standing as a nation. Samuel recounted to them stories of how the Lord God had delivered their fathers from Egypt through Moses and Aaron when they cried out to Him. Then he reminded them that when they forgot the Lord they were again delivered into the hands of their enemies. But, when they cried out to the Lord once again, He gave them leaders who delivered them out of the hands of their enemies (1 Sam. 12:6-11). Samuel applied these stories from their history to their present situation. He told them they would be given the king they asked for, but nothing had changed. This new king would not save them. Only God could do that. If they forgot God, what happened before would happen again: their enemies would subdue them. If they would call on the Lord and look only to him, they would enjoy His full blessing upon them as a people.
As members of the church we are called to be a prophetic people. We are called to proclaim the biblical stories that reveal who Jesus truly is and that he is the same today as he was in past history. The works he did then he can do now. We must tell these stories and enter into what that signifies for us today. Revelation 19:10 states, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”. The same Jesus that was working though the church in the early days has not changed. Prophetic ministry in the church gives witness to Jesus’ Presence among us here and now!
The primary feature of Western Culture since the 17th Century ‘enlightenment’ has been the rationalistic or scientific approach to knowing and understanding life and the world we live in. There was a huge optimism that human ability and reason alone could answer our big questions about life and bring resolution to our major problems. The ‘scientific method’ was to be used to discover natural laws and pave the way toward a better world for all. Within this worldview there was an underlying belief that an ideal objectivity was possible for the ‘researcher’ or ‘observer’, and that which he ‘observed’ was separate from him. Within this framework it was believed that such ‘objective knowledge’ would lead to progress, and single rationalistic explanatory systems would be able to explain all phenomena.
Then came the 20th Century and two World Wars. Concepts like Hitler’s fascism revealed the ugly underbelly of humanistic rationalism reigning supreme. A single rationalistic explanatory system (later called a ‘meta-narrative’ by postmodern philosophers) had empowered a group of people to treat other people in inhumane ways. There arose a deep skepticism about any such ‘meta-narrative’. There was a shift away from looking for an objective understanding of the world we live in. Individuals and smaller groups of people began to construct their own world; their personal stories became their way of interpreting life. Knowledge was understood to come through experiences. Things began to be probed and experienced rather than proved. A general pessimism emerged about the hope of human progress. Now everyone was understood to be subjective: now the ‘observer’ is understood to be a part of ‘the observation’. This approach to understanding life is often referred to as ‘post modernity’.
In cultures dominated by modernity many Gospel preachers taught through sharing a series of principles or ‘spiritual laws’ that fit fairly well into a culture that looked for ‘objective knowledge’. This is not nearly so effective in a culture where post modernity prevails, where personal narratives are understood as the path toward some meaning to life. The good news is that the Bible is not a book of abstract principles; it is made up of individual stories that bring us to God’s disclosure of himself and his ways in the fabric of human experiences. Knowing God through Christ cannot be a reality in one’s life through rationalistic processes alone. It must also be discovered experientially, emotionally and spiritually. In a postmodern culture people tend to seek engagement and dialogue with others. I believe this is a primary reason the Alpha Course has been so effective in many places. One’s own story and the faith stories he holds in his heart can now be seen to have a legitimate place at the table with the all the other stories being told.
Some might argue, “Yes, but by telling God’s Big Story from the Bible aren’t you bringing in another distrusted meta-narrative?” Some postmodern thinkers would tend to say that this is so. However, the Biblical story that our faith depends on does not fit into that category as defined by postmodern thought. It is unlike the ideologies behind such meta-narratives as Capitalism, Scientific Naturalism, Communism or Fascism where the ‘knower’ can look upon the ‘observed’ with a haughty objectivism and justify the use force if necessary to push his ideology through. Believing the stories of the Bible always calls for humility. Time and again the stories show that our confidence has to rest on the faithfulness of God and not our own knowledge. Such a confidence is inseparable from humility before God and our fellow human beings. In other words, to begin to see God’s Big Story from Scripture is to realize that we are characters in his story who totally depend on him for mercy and are not the ones who make the story happen.
Leslie Newbigin put it this way, ‘If the biblical story is true, the kind of certainty proper to a human being will be one which rests on the fidelity of God, not upon the human knower. It will be a kind of certainty which is inseparable from gratitude and trust.’ [From; Proper Confidence –Newbigin P. 28] Our confidence in bringing this message to others is not in our own knowledge but in God’s faithfulness and love. We tell the story in humility knowing that it is God’s grace that brings those who hear to the reality the story speaks of.
A good illustration of this happened to Marlene and me recently during our morning Bible reading together. We were reading the story about Second Coming of Jesus from 1 Thessalonians. As we pondered the account of the Lord coming down from heaven with a loud shout from an archangel and a trumpet call of God, with those who are dead rising first, we spoke with each other about what that would be like. We both finally had to plead ignorance because this part of the story has not happened yet and it certainly is not a part of our current experience and knowledge. There will come a day when all this will be clear to us as the Lord continues to unfold his great salvation plan. We agreed that here and now our place is to take confidence in God’s gracious plan for us both now and in eternity. Our confidence is not based in our present understanding of all these things but in the faithfulness of God. The Second Coming of Christ is an amazing story to tell, and we will tell it, but we could never do so with an attitude that claims full understanding of these things or that we could ever make it happen with our own understanding and power.
It is quite popular (and politically correct) to say that there are many different roads that lead to God and what is really important is that one is truly sincere in his or her beliefs. Many argue that it is bigoted, intolerant and unloving to suggest that there is only one way to know God’s love and forgiveness and that all other roads claiming to lead to God actually lead to final disaster.
The story of the Bible runs cross current to these ideas so culturally appealing today. This story reveals that true relationship with God is only possible by hearing the story of Jesus Christ and entrusting our lives into his hands.
For this reason the Apostle Paul said of those who wanted to hinder the telling of this story that they not only displease God but are hostile to the whole human race (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16). In other words, it is totally unloving to stand against the One Story that has the power to bring us to God’s Salvation. Conversely, from Paul’s perspective, the most loving thing a person can do for all mankind is to tell the story of God’s Great Salvation Through Christ to everyone who will listen (Romans 10:14-15).
The art of storytelling is rapidly gaining popularity in the entertainment scene in world-class cities. An intriguing article titled “Testify!” in the January 2011 issue of Christianity Today tells of a storytelling event called “The Moth”, based in New York City that drew 21,750 people to its shows last year. In these events ordinary people tell real stories to a live audience. People are standing in long lines to buy tickets for these events. Such shows are rivaling the stand-up comedy scene in popularity.
I am convinced that one of the reasons storytelling is gaining in popularity in today’s world is a hunger for true and meaningful relationships in the hearts of many people. Shared stories of our history, failures and joys are the fabric that knit us together in community. In a world where many feel isolated from real community there are many ready to pay money to buy a ticket so they can listen to another person make himself vulnerable before an audience as he tells a true story from life. Great storytelling will always involve the struggles and defeats we face, as well as our triumphs.
As followers of Jesus we have stories to tell, stories of our own sin and redemption. We have the stories of the family history of the people who knew the true God of Israel in the Bible. And most wonderful of all, we can share the Good News that anyone who puts their trust in Jesus is made a part of that amazing and eternal story of God’s great salvation. What better story is there to tell?
Some today feel that Chronological Bible Storytelling is a new and unproven innovation. It is important to see that far from being something new and novel it is as old as the Bible itself. Jesus used this approach on the very day of his resurrection. He met two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As he joined them on their way they did not recognize him. The two are full of sorrow and confusion over the death of Jesus. Now, here is the newly resurrected Jesus walking along with them. He wants to show them who he actually is. It might have been expected that he would perform some amazing sign for them to show them that his is risen from the dead. But he begins to tell them God’s Great Salvation Story, starting at the very beginning with Genesis and taking them through to the end with the words of the prophets. Then he showed them how he stood at center stage in this great drama. (Luke 24:27)
If those with whom we want to share Christ’s salvation don’t catch the big picture they will be left with many gaps in their understanding of what Jesus has accomplished for us through his death, burial and resurrection. There are key stories they must hear from the Books of Genesis to Revelation in order to catch the full impact of what Jesus has done for us. Without catching something of the worldview brought to us by the story of the Bible there lurks the grave danger of perceiving particular truths of the Gospel in the light of old cultural mindsets and wrong worldview assumptions may remain unchallenged.
I would recommend that every church acquire a means of telling God’s Big Story, starting in Genesis through to Revelation, for all those who are coming into the life of the church. This can be done periodically through a series of stories shared on Sunday mornings in the main gatherings of the church; or perhaps a small group gathering that is ongoing in the life of the church, where newcomers could attend, hear the stories told and participate in discussion around each story. During such times questions will often arise in the group where the story has challenged concepts that run counter to the truth of Scripture.
Many would say that there are stories in the Bible. But in reality The Bible is The Story of how God has acted in history to bring glory to his Name by reconciling us and the world we live in back to himself in the face of the tragic consequences of sin and death.
God is not only the author of this story; he is also the primary character in the story being told.
Some may argue that the Bible is made up of narrative sections along with many other types of writing, including poetry and wisdom literature, prophetic writings and the didactic teaching sections found especially in the Epistles. This is all true but each and every part of Scripture is a part of the big story being told and it is ultimately not possible to understand clearly these various parts without seeing how each part fits into that story.
God’s Big Story, the Bible, is made up of many individual stories. The great universal story of God’s working out his eternal plan is told through his workings in specific times and places and with specific individuals or groups of people in this present world. Without the knowledge of these individual stories it is not possible to see the panoramic picture of God’s Great Salvation Plan.
We must not assume that people generally know the Big Story of the Bible. There are many people even in nations where Christianity has had a presence for many years, who really have no basic understanding of the Biblical story.
Many of us, especially those who live in the West, live in cultures that are post-Christian. There is a generation of people now on the scene who know little or nothing of the story the Bible has to tell. Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we must give attention to creatively telling God’s Big Story if we want those to whom we are bringing the Good News to be able to clearly capture the significance of individual Biblical truths. Tom Steffen made this comment in Reconnecting God's Story to Ministry: Crosscultural Storytelling at Home and Abroadhis book, “The Bible is not just a collection of isolated stories; it is God’s unified Storybook. While each of the 66 documents that comprise the sacred Storybook has its own beauty and value, the eloquence of each is maximized when taken as a collective whole.”
Earlier this year, Marlene and I spent about four months in Zimbabwe helping to develop Chronological Bible Storying there. In late September, we left to spend another six months there on this same mission. It is a great privilege to work with Mbonisi Malaba who leads New Creation Church in Bulawayo, along with an amazing team working together on this initiative.
CBS is a strategy to share the Great Salvation Story of the Bible through telling key stories in chronological order. In the process of telling these stories there is a strategy to evangelize, plant new churches and train workers and leaders who will be capable of continuing in this work of bringing the Gospel to their own people as well as carrying it to other regions.
Telling the stories of the Bible chronologically linked together, rather than in isolated or unconnected ways, helps the hearers understand individual stories in the light of God’s Big Story. Everyone needs to know this Great Story. It is hard to clearly understand particular points of the Bible’s message without some knowledge of the overall story that the Bible tells.
In every nation there are many oral learners - those who do not read in order to learn. In Africa, south of the Sahara Desert, it is estimated that about 60% of the population are oral learners. Telling the stories of the Bible to oral learners is particularly important since they best learn through hearing stories and maintain what they know in the form of remembered stories, proverbs and mental pictures.
We are so grateful for this wonderful opportunity to be involved in piloting this strategy of sharing the story of God’s salvation with many dear people in Zimbabwe.
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
Enter your email to receiveregular updates in your inbox:
Confluence4228 S Kingshighway Blvd. Saint Louis, MO 63109 USA Tel: (603) 475-1740