The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said,
Be encouraged! Just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so too you must testify in Rome
Acts of the Apostles 23:11 CEB
Every community needs a big story, a story that frames our lives and our understanding of the world. Everyone must have some kind of transcendent narrative that gives answers to questions of meaning and provides moral direction and social purpose.
Bryant Myers in Walking With The Poor
The River Conference is growing numerically and is increasing in ethnic and gender diversity within its leadership. Our mission is to make disciples, meet humanitarian needs, mobilize leaders, and multiple churches continues to gain momentum. That mission is not simply a well-crafted statement by clever leaders, but it is based upon the narrative of the early Church found in Scripture. It is this narrative that gives us identity and purpose.
Every movement or organization is telling a story, not unlike a movie. There is a script (our words) and acting (our behavior). So, what’s our story? What story is your church telling? The culture of church is the context for your church’s story and it has a distinctive sound track (Tim Elmore,
). For those reading this who are movie buffs, you are aware that a great sound track deepens the significance and the experience of the movie, while a terrible or mismatched sound track actually impairs the viewers ability to understand the significance of what is being seen.
Interestingly, your church’s culture is often determined by its own identify and its sense of purpose.
Stories have the power to give lives meaning and direction. In fact, we often use the word “myth” to speak about folk stories that are untrue. Yet myths may be factual or fictional. The definitive characteristic is a narrative that gives a person or community a sense of identity, mission, and purpose.
Scripture is not simply a list of commands, proverbs, and truths, but reveals God’s character and will toward humanity through rich stories. It is these stories that shape our understanding of who God is and who we are. Additionally, the stories are mythic, not because they are untrue, but because they inform our purpose and mission.
Informing myths are often weaved into our epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we separate what is considered factual from opinion. For example, numerous studies have shown that American History as taught in American high school textbooks have a fairly narrow scope, often portraying historical figures in heroic narratives rather than historic rendering. This becomes so pervasive, that the truth, when revealed, is often perceived dishonoring and disrespectful, rather than actual history.
Because mythic paradigms are embedded in many of our institutions, the appreciation of their influence is often difficult. Myths of racial, ethnic, national, and faith-based exceptionalism often become fact and are incredibly difficult to renounce, mostly because there is an inability to separate them from the essence of the organization or institution. Yet, myths of cultural exceptionalism have encouraged a full spectrum of violence, bullying to genocide globally. Exceptionalism claims that its subject is not only inherently unique, but inherently superior. Due to its superior nature, it feels that it has privileges and priorities, often divinely appointed or according to “nature”.
Additionally, myths can be misappropriated. This occurs when we take a story and mis-apply to our own situation. The creation narrative in the book of Genesis, gives humanity purpose and direction. Humanity reflects the image of God and is to steward creation. The inaugural couple is directed to be fruitful and multiply. While is appropriate to understand ourselves as reflection of the image of God and that we inherited the commission to steward creation, it is a misappropriation to understand we are commanded to have as many children as possible. This often occurs when myths/narratives are removed from their original socio-historic context
The early Church was commissioned to be “witnesses” to Jesus locally, regionally, and globally. The book of Acts is not only a historic document, but it gives the Church a mythic structure that gives us identity and mission. In the 23rd chapter of Acts, we have a situation where Jesus appears to the Apostle Paul and reaffirms that he must be a witness to Jerusalem, the center of religious authority but also to Rome, the center of civic authority.
An honest reading of Scripture should inspire the contemporary Church to interrogate its witness, both within the community of faith, and to the community at large. The entire Greek Scripture is a story of the Holy Spirit’s life-giving, liberating, and loving action to create new works/communities of culturally different people centered in Christ. This story does not create separate communities of people of different ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, cultural allegiances, or political ideologies, but multiple communities where diversity was the rule, not the exception.
This is the “witness” that Jesus prayed for in his prayer: “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me” (John 17:21).
When your church witnesses to its Rome, what story is it telling? Will it tell the story of the Holy Spirit’s life-giving, liberating, and loving action to create new communities of culturally different people centered in Christ? Will it simply rehash a myth of exceptionalism, ministering only to one class/ethnicity/nationality in the midst of the diverse Roman Empire. No matter where you live in the River Conference, your Parrish contains some diversity. It may not be ethnic, but socioeconomic, or political. Like the prophet Jonah, we all have a Nineveh. There are people whom we are called to minister to that make us incredibly uncomfortable for numerous reasons.
This is the challenge for the River Conference churches: What story is your church telling? Which stories inform your identity and mission? We join Jesus in prayer, that your community sees a life-giving, liberating, and loving movement to create new, counter-intuitive, communities of diverse people from all over your Parrish.