I don’t know about you, but I love a good story – whether it’s a film, a book, a TV programme, or someone telling me about something funny that happened to them last week, or how they met their partner. There’s something about stories that draws us in and makes us want to know more, to know what happens next.
Stories and story-telling are key to evangelism. When we share our faith, we aren’t just sharing a set of rules to follow, or a set of intellectual statements to assent to, or even a set of values to live by. We are sharing something of the story of God and the people of God, the story of our lives and how we have known and experienced God.
Stories are powerful things. We are all shaped and formed by the stories we tell – about ourselves and about others. Every family, every community, every group of people has a set of shared stories. Often we tell those stories when we get together. Often we hand them on to our children. Often those stories begin: “remember that time when…”
Scripture is part of the shared story of the church, and when we read the bible, when we revisit the stories we know so well, often we are engaging in that kind of “remember when…” story-telling. Remember when God let us into freedom… Remember when God answered our prayers… Remember when we were lost and wondering where God was… Remember when God did something we never expected to see…
And when we tell those stories to and with people who haven’t encountered them before, that’s an important part of inviting people into the shared life of the church, into the story of God. But it’s not the only way stories work evangelistically.
In Godly Play, when we tell a bible story, we often ask “I wonder where you are in this story?” But I sometimes think we should turn that question around “I wonder where this story is in you?” Because the stories of scripture, the story of God’s love for us and God’s redeeming, healing, re-creating purpose, is not just something we remember – it is something that shapes and transforms us, and which lives in our own stories too.
Part of the task of evangelism is to be attentive to where God is present in our own stories and in the stories of our neighbours – to recognise and point out where God’s story is entwined in the stories people already know and live by. Perhaps in moments of forgiveness, or peace or joy, perhaps in stories of struggle and tenacious clinging to hope in the face of adversity, perhaps in everyday stories of love.
And part of the task of evangelism is to recognise the stories we are living and creating right now. When we look back on this strange time, what will be the stories we tell: “remember when…”? What will be the stories our neighbours tell? Where – by our actions and words – are we weaving the love and hope and grace we have received from God into the shared stories of our community?
Our reading from Revelation speaks of the leaves of the tree being “for the healing of the nations”. Our task is to take the great story of God’s healing love which we have received, to dwell in it and allow it to dwell in us, and to share it not only by telling and re-telling, but by allowing it to transform the way we live, so that we are continually creating new stories of healing, wholeness and hope, in which others may recognise the love of God, and know themselves to be loved.
This reflection is part of Hodge Hill Church’s ‘Trees of Life’ reflection series.