Every preacher must be a teller of stories and every pastorate a place of storytelling. But in an intentional interim process the II will use story-telling to serve four very specific purposes…
Story is powerful because it has a way of helping us to bypass the limits we subconsciously impose on our reality. It can open our hearts and minds to new ways of seeing our world and interpreting our situation.
Story enables us to understand others and ourselves. But it speaks to more than our understanding. The pathos of a story touches our affections, imaginations, hopes and wills. It takes us from mind to heart. In this way a situation we think we have understood can sometimes be reframed and a situation that has evinced dysfunctional or painful responses can now evoke a new and better response.
In my processes I have generally woven in four cycles of story-telling:
FIRST CYCLE – BONDING
In the early days of an interim process the II will use stories to form a relationship with the people. Every personal story shared is, in essence, an invitation to relationship and to trust. This relationship will be the bedrock of all the II’s coming work.
In this cycle the II would generally aim to meet with every individual and household to hear their stories, and the stories of the church – from the newest to the oldest. The newest will see realities that will be unseen, taken for granted, forgotten or buried by everyone else. The oldest will remember when things changed – and how they were before “it’s always been this way.” Those in the middle are often the ones carrying the pain of it.
SECOND CYCLE – CREATING PERSPECTIVE
In the second cycle the stories are of other churches (far, far, away) to begin to cast light on the congregation’s own story. Understanding others then helps us to understand ourselves. We laugh at others to help us laugh at ourselves. We grieve with others to help us grieve for ourselves.
THIRD CYCLE – REVIVING HOPE & VISION
In the third cycle stories are told to help people imagine different futures; to re-imagine fruitfulness, health and happiness. In this cycle I have often toured small groups and task groups in a church with maybe 8,9 or 10 stories of new life and new mission and ministry from other contexts. I then invite individuals to feed back which stories light their fire and show them ways forward for this church. The II can then feed back the patterns and give the church a sense of where their agreement in vision, aspiration, hope and even strategy is bunched.
FOURTH CYCLE – TELLING THE WHOLE STORY
If relationships are feeling less pressured (this will often be through the I.I.’s work adjusting governance and financial issues), if the second cycle has revived smiling, laughter and lingering after the service, and if the third cycle is rekindling a bigger picture hope for the future, then the people are ready for the deepest exercise of storytelling. This is where the people are invited together to tell the whole story of their church from beginning to now. It includes all that has gone before and helps the congregation engage with the “Health Check” and “Telling the Time” conversations mentioned in previous posts.
On occasions I have used a third party facilitator to do this. And as we have time-lined the story and re-told the joys and sorrows of it, with our facilitators, we have used space, movement and physical action to give it all to dramatise and share the story and experience together a moment of catharsis and closure. These kinds of experience can be powerfully healing and bonding for a community which has been fragmented and atomised by the pain of the past.
NEXT CYCLE – NEW STORY
By this time in the process all taboos should have been spoken and dis-empowered. If the systemic problems and spiritual issues have also been addressed by other means elsewhere in the process the storytelling will be grace and truth and will be the measure rather than the means of a profound healing. When we can tell the true story without recrimination and rancor, thankful for the joy and sad for the sorrow then we have brought the people out of spiritual depression and into a place of readiness for a whole new story to begin!