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Harvard University recently released a report detailing the school’s ties to slavery. The report has been praised and critiqued, but ultimately Harvard, like other American universities, is trying to tell a more complete story about how it came to be. Stories are powerful.

Storytelling is about more than history, though. Stories shape our imagination of what is possible, as well as shaping the practices and culture we inhabit today. We see this every day in our congregations. When a new initiative is announced, is there someone who retells the story of the church’s past financial problems as a cautionary tale to anyone would attempt to take a risk today? Is there a story about a vision the church achieved together that leaders highlight in order to motivate the congregation to trust God again and again?

Stories matter. So do the people who tell them. Who tells the stories in your congregation? Children might tell a very different story about the church’s culture than Gen X parents or baby boomers. In America, some white men might tell stories about economic and educational opportunities, whereas women might tell stories about the lack of equal opportunities. People of color might tell stories about the struggles in their quest for racial and economic equity.

Leaders need to be intentional about the stories we tell and how we tell them. The gospel we preach each week is God’s story, and Christian institutions must make room to reflect on the narratives that shape who we are. Being faithful to our mission requires us to be clearer about the stories we tell and the stories we live by. Whether we are doing anti-racist work or building a new educational space, when we look back 25 years from now, our actions will tell a story. What’s yours?

Resources

What stories should we tell?

By Gretchen E. Ziegenhals

Why storytelling matters

By Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros

Storytelling and story listening

Q&A with Clyde Edgerton


Before you go…

The stories we tell matter as much as the stories we do not tell. As I brace myself for the emotional disorientation that happens when your oldest child heads off to college, I find myself telling more stories at home. There are things I want to make sure my son knows before he is immersed in a new story in a new place.

I suspect that the pandemic has given all of us many stories to tell, too. We should give our members the time and space to tell them. Just today, I received a text from a member: “I’m sharing some good news that I just can’t keep to myself about how good God is…!” Clearly, she had a story to tell. Let’s challenge ourselves to tell stories and create stories that matter. Somebody needs to know how good God is.

You can share stories with me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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