The Stories We Tell
– October 28, 2020
In a recent post about the reason for and themes of our blog, one of the key points was that we want to be story-driven whenever possible.
This certainly serves some very practical purposes—you get the chance to see how other churches, ministries, and individuals are putting the ideas Chalmers shares into practice, and we get to rejoice in the ways God is using our work for transformation in the lives of people around the world. But there’s more to the story, so to speak.
We tell stories because God tells stories. People have a hard time learning in the abstract, and big ideas come alive when we see them played out in real lives. Beyond that, the stories we tell profoundly shape us, impacting every aspect of our lives. That’s why we try to follow closely with the story God tells in Scripture when we tell stories here and now. If we are trying to live out the wrong story, one that doesn’t fit who we really are as whole people created in God’s image, we simply cannot flourish.
God’s Big Story
As we talk about in our book Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream, as we seek to walk alongside those struggling with material poverty, we need to root the story of change that we offer them in God’s story:
- This story starts with Creation—the good news that God made the world good, and made men and women to bear His image as “priest-rulers” who would extend His rule and worship over the whole earth (Gen. 1:27; 2:15).
- But man and woman sinned in the Fall—believing the serpent’s story instead of God’s, and breaking their relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation (Gen. 3). This affected everything, not just causing people to need a Savior for their sins, but for the whole earth to be restored.
- And this is why the second person of the triune God became man in Christ Jesus, to bring Redemption to the whole earth (see Col. 1:13-20), perfectly fulfilling what Adam and Eve failed to do, calling us back to our ultimate purpose, and filling us with His power to obey.
- But this work of redemption is not yet fully complete—we live in the tension between the “already” of Jesus’ reign and the “not yet” of pain, sin, and suffering in a fallen world longing for Jesus’ return and the Consummation of all things (Rev. 21-22). As such we work in hope, knowing that our ministry here and now won’t be completed in our lifetimes.
We also know that God has given His spirit to His people to tell His story until He comes, and to live like it is true day by day. This is what the Local Church represents, and that is why our work focuses on churches as the place where God’s big story is being worked out most clearly and fully.
What Constitutes a Good Story?
With that in mind, what we think of as a good story to share is one that reflects God’s story, and demonstrates how Jesus works to produce lasting change in the life of a person, family, or community. Here are a few ways that we work to achieve that goal:
- Stories, more often than not, should center on how God is working to transform individuals or communities—it’s His story—rather than putting a church, organization, or individual in the role of the “hero.” This helps prevent oversimplification of ministry, and keeps God and His work at the heart of the messages we share. While funding and volunteer work are both critically important to long-term relational ministry, stories of transformation normally can’t be reduced down to “Your $25 can save a life,” or “Bill and Martha are such wonderful people for serving in this ministry.”
- Stories should reflect the complexity of poverty. We can’t manipulate the world to produce quick fixes or easy answers to thorny problems. Besides, if God is the hero of our stories, we have to work on His timetable, not ours. Stories should show highly-relational, empowering work, not simply dispensing resources to achieve quick fixes or skipping over the long, painful “middles” of stories. We want to give people real hope, not the false hope of photo-shopped “success” narratives.
- Stories should demonstrate the participatory, mutually transformative work of faithful ministry. Often, if relational ministry work is done well, the “helpers” and the “helped” find that they have both been radically transformed by God through the process of engaging together. As we often say, the goal of poverty alleviation isn’t to turn Uganda into the United States or impoverished neighborhoods into affluent suburbs (because all these places are fundamentally broken). Rather the goal is for all these places to become more like the New Jerusalem.
- Additionally for us at Chalmers, the stories we post will try to offer applications and impacts of how God is working through our very imperfect organization and faithful ministry partners so that you can find examples and inspiration for the work God is calling you to in your own community or area of service. Over time, we’re hoping for the blog to be something of a “network hub” where you can be reminded that you’re not alone in this work, and feel equipped to press on to the glory of God.
Can Chalmers Help Tell Your Story?
You may have stories that fit these guidelines well and wonder what it would take for us to share it with other readers. With a few caveats, we’d love to have the opportunity to highlight what God is doing where you are! We have 1) limited slots on a weekly blog, 2) a commitment to prioritize stories from organizations in formal partnership with the Chalmers Center, and 3) a strategic content calendar that governs the themes we cover, but we are always willing to take time to listen to your stories—just reach out and tell us! We guarantee that you’ll be providing tremendous encouragement to our staff, board, and supporters when you do.
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