>De Fabulas Fidorum

Posted: 26/01/2010 in Christian living, church

>”Concerning the Stories of the Faithful”

If God wills it, I will be helping lead a “guided autobiography” at Mosaic in the near future.

If God wills it.

In any case I have been thinking about personal stories in Christian churches, or as they are commonly referred to as “testimonies.” Everyone has one. The new converts have them and the older Christians have them. Whose do we hear more often?

I think, for better or for worse, churches tend to privilege a certain kind of personal story. The personal stories that get told through the projectors or in front of the mic are often the most dramatic. Usually, churches look for stories that follow the following narrative:

1. Before I knew Christ, I felt like a totally unfulfilled loser.
2. Then I met Christ.
3. Now I don’t feel like a unfulfilled loser anymore.

Through design or habit the stories are often those who overcame the drug addiction, severe depression, hateful sin, or where the rock bottom losers before they knew Christ. They can be inspiring and hope filled for other people in the congregation. They serve as tangible reminders of God’s work in people’s lives.

I think there is a small downside though. In privileging personal stories like this, there is a tendency to ignore the personal stories of those who have been faithful their whole lives, or have been Christians for a very long time. The celebration of personal stories tend to be from new converts only, and it is seldom that you hear the stories of those who have not had such a rocky, emotionally shaky, journey to the Christian faith.

How do the long-time Christians see the personal stories of the new converts? Almost always in a positive way, for sure. Older Christians love to listen to these as much as the new converts love to share. Yet I remember something I read in an interview with Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman years ago. He confessed that he always regretted just a little bit that he, as life-long Christian, did not have the a personal story as dramatic as those of the new converts. I think he speaks for a lot of people.

There are probably two ways to look at this. On one hand, this could be a strange kind of envy. Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Remember the other brother? It is that kind of envy. The other brother was clearly jealous of the prodigal’s special treatment when he returned home. Life-long Christians and older Christians need to guard carefully against this. Envy, after all, steals our joy and gives us not even the most vaporous benefit in return.

On the other hand, I think Churches should be careful to listen to the stories of the life-long Christians as well. The personal stories of those who converted long ago or even when they were children may not follow the sought-after narrative, but are important testimonies of God’s work as well. They help the church become more self-aware, as these stories might put to light unseen failures or uncelebrated successes. It also ensures that older Christians do not eventually feel marginalized as their struggles and victories do not go unacknowledged by the rest of their churches. Everyone, after all, wants to share their story.

Please understand, I am not saying that we need to cut back on the dramatic, new convert, stories and replace them. I think that there is plenty of room for both. There is no need to think of this as a competition of whose stories are more worthy for celebration.

What’s your story?

  1. Daniel says:

    >I grew up in church…a PK. I remember "asking Jesus into my heart" at 4 years old. I never went way off track and hit rock bottom, and I think that God should be praised for that! There were times in the past that I experienced the jealousy of people who had the dramatic conversions when I was younger, but looking back now, I see it quite differently.

  2. Jin-roh says:

    >You never had the PK rebellion phase? 😉 Does your Dad still preach?

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