Collecting stories for ministry can be challenging. But, sharing stories of God at work in our world is important and we have a great example to follow. The bible is (in part) a big story of what God has done in the past. Your church is filled with stories of what God is doing today. We sometimes avoid the parts of God’s story that include suffering, but God’s story is a story of suffering and the rough patches are where our lives often intersect best with the bible.
There are people in your church who have suffered and they have stories to share that will help others who are walking through similar struggles. People with lived experience can be wonderful resources for you, but only if they understand how important their story is and only if you hear about those stories.
In an earlier article I discussed the way stories can be useful to your ministry. Sometimes it’s hard to find stories in your own church that help people see God at work. Here are a few idea for encouraging and gathering stories.
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Help People See God in Their Stories
Sometimes people have a hard time seeing God in their story. One way to find stories is to explore what’s going on in the lives of people and then ask them a simple question, “Do you see God at work in what’s happening in your life?” I think it’s easier for most of us to think of God working in the lives of others while we don’t consider that we should be getting his attention also. Depending on a person’s stage of spiritual growth, they may need some help connecting the dots to recognize God’s hand on their back. Here are a few strategies you can pass along that will help people start to see where God is involved in their life, and where their life connects with scripture.
Reflect daily on your own life by keeping a daily journal of not only what happens in your life but your prayers too. By keeping a record of your prayers (and those of others), you’ll be better equipped to see answers to those prayers.
After daily bible reading, reflect on when and how the scripture reminds you of people or events in your own life, or where it seems to apply to struggles or decisions you are faced with.
Lead By Example
Help people see how sharing their story can serve others by sharing yours to encourage and support others where appropriate. I’ve noticed that people who work in church ministry tend to shy away from talking about their own struggles and how they are leaning on God. When ministry leaders are not transparent they can make others believe that it’s not okay to share their struggle either. Most people who struggle with their mental health already feel a stigma around sharing openly. Few people are better placed to counteract the stigma of mental illness than church leaders.
Don’t be afraid to ask people for stories. Most people love to talk about themselves. You know that person on your staff who really loves to connect with people and find out what’s going on with their lives? Teach yourself to be more like them. In fact, teach yourself to be that person. There isn’t much that’s more important to your ministry than knowing the people who are part of your church family.
Ask Group Leaders
You can’t know everyone and you can’t hear all the stories first hand. If you have a groups ministry in your church, your group leaders are interacting on the front lines of life. They are hearing stories every week that can illustrate not only the way God really works in today’s world, but the value of groups too. Ask group leaders to bring those stories to you. You will need to exercise some care here to make sure you are not encouraging gossip. A “safe” way to collect stories from group leaders is to formalize a process. Make sure that your leaders understand why you are looking for stories (to illustrate God at work in the lives of people) and that they in turn communicate that to their groups. No group leader should share someone else’s story with anyone without first getting the okay from the relevant people in their group. Group leaders should also be equipped to recognize stories that demonstrate God’s connection to our lives, and that encourage others.
Build a Story Culture
The easiest way to make story a part of your church culture is to start making it a part of your staff culture. In fact, if your staff isn’t completely on board you are going to struggle getting your attenders to value story. Take some time during staff meetings (at every level) to share stories that illustrate the way people are seeing God connections in their lives and in the life of the church. Sharing these stories from the pulpit illustrate to the church that it’s normal to see God in everyday life.
Make it Easy
Provide simple and numerous opportunities for the stories to come out. There are people in your church who are waiting to share their story. They have things they want to share but they don’t have anyone who knows them or who will listen. You can provide simple (and accessible) ways for anyone to share a story of how they’ve seen God at work (this might also be a way for people to ask questions about how God might be working). Here are a few practical tools for story-collecting:
- Websites/publications – Many churches collect personal testimony stories as part of the baptism process. Provide the option for these stories to be shared with others and then distribute through printed material or create a section of your website where you can highlight these stories. Encourage staff to refer to these stories during teaching/equipping opportunities.
- Testimony nights (or just call it Story Time if you don’t want to be churchy). Schedule an evening event once a month or once a year when people can share a specific story about the way God has responded to their life. Ask people to prepare by identifying; what happened, in what way did God play a part in the outcome, how they know God was part of their story, what did they learn about God and/or themselves, how does/did this encourage them.
- Story related bible study. Similar to testimony events but more interactive. Ask people to share their specific story and then enlist the group to help find biblical parallels and God’s intervention. Or have participants pick out a story from the bible that helped them understand their own life experience, or themselves and discuss.
- Create a special email address, place a “Story Dropbox” in your lobby, or other employ some other system where people can send you stories at any time they want.
God’s continuing story is being written in your church. You can engage your church to help tell that story.