This is part six of The Story Book.
Do you ever talk to the pilot when you get off the plane? The poor pilot is usually stuffed into the small cockpit door, smiling and greeting people as they leave with a repeated, “thank you” or “have a nice day.”
The other day I told the pilot, “Nice landing.” As I walked away, I thought, I have no idea what goes into a nice landing – I only know a good one when I experience it, or a bad one that confirms my conviction about the good ones. I may appreciate not coming out of my chair and slamming my head up on the call attendant flight button when we touch down, but I really have no idea what constitutes a smooth landing.
There’s a difference between a vague nod and true appreciation.
What is that the key to the difference? That led my thoughts, in a train of connected musings that only made sense at the time, to the topic of story. I realized, when it comes to stories, “nice landing” is the most common churchperson response I hear. Some church people appreciate it (others get off the plane without so much as a grunt), but very few really know how important it is.
The church doesn’t know squat about story. Church people, for the most part, have no clue why story is vital or how to tell or even hear or see one. The church suffers from a lack of storytellers. How ironic, considering the basis for Christian faith lay in a story.
There’s a reason for this paucity. It’s called the Enlightenment. Decartes and his buddies had a great influence on 17th and 18th century thought, so much so that the church hopped on board and began to apply scientific methodologies to theology. This has led to many great things, but it also created a number of problems. For example, form critical theology created an environment where the empirical study of scriptural text became divorced from personal piety. Many leading church thinkers forgot that the Bible is foremost a relevatory document.
My dad used to tell me to observe people.
He said it was the best way to become a writer. We had just had a conversation about writing once when we went into a grocery store to pick up a few things. I stood silently at the checkout belt while he paid for the food. As we walked out of the store, he asked me, “What did the checkout woman look like?” I had no idea and told him so. He then described her to me, from her overly long fingernails to her extra earrings to her nametag with the star stickers on it. Dad said, “The first thing to becoming a writer is to watch people.” Everybody has a story, he said. Recognizing the details makes all the difference.
Most people don’t just come out and tell you how they are feeling. But they have a story, and sometimes it is reaching a climax right there when they are silently standing beside you.
Ministry–life–is paying attention to a person’s story.
It is empathy. It is actually listening, and caring, and not just nodding your head and saying, “nice landing.” The majority of ministry is storytelling, and “storydwelling” (thanks heatherlyn). It’s very simple, actually.
Watch for stories around you today. Then come back here and report. What did you see, and learn?