My friend Rick and I got together as we regularly do to talk shop (we’re both 30-something Methodist associate pastors) and such over lunch last week. Conversation mostly happens around items like the younger clergy experience and issues of church leadership. On this occasion, the topic was the significance of narrative in contast with statistics. Some researchers found that people will choose a narrative as true in the face of data to the contrary because stories are more compelling. The implications for this are many, especially and obviously related to preaching and public speaking. But this is definitely true for leadership as well, with tremendous implications.
For example, we all make sense of the data we take in by fitting it into the bigger Stories that interpret that minute data. Think about diagnosing diseases and conditions and such (like the TV character House does famously). Same deal. Take the raw data, draw connections between them, and fit them into a larger story that makes sense of the individual parts. Only there are often several potential interpretations (see Acts 2:1-17 for an example of this–one interpretation is that the disciples are drunk–v13; Peter has another interpretation, that this fits into a larger story about what God is doing–v17 and following). Some are better grounded than others. The TV show (and character) House features a team of doctors under the direction of Dr. House whose job it is to diagnose the most difficult cases to diagnose, that is, the cases that are most challenging to connecting the raw data with one another and therefore into a larger cohesive story that makes sense of things.
The January 2008 Theology Today carried a wonderful essay by Michael Goheen, a professor at Trinity Western University in Langly, British Columbia: “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story.” In it he raises up the following from Bob Webber and Phil Kenyon from their 2006 “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future“:
“Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world?” (vol. 64:4, p. 469)
Certainly there are many stories that claim to be The Story, like on the show House their are many diagnoses, or stories, that seem to make sense of reality. In the show, they all fall short somehow until the truth is discovered. That, too, is a good sketch for our lives. We try out a variety of stories that we suppose make sense of “reality” as we experience it. Hopefully, from my perspective, we find them all wanting until we listen to the Christian Story and discover there God’s True Story that makes sense of our lives and that more and more grafts us into its unfolding plot today.