Yesterday I was with a group of pastors, congregational leaders, and students at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennesse, talking about ministry, leadership, and preaching in a changed and changing world.
One of the themes of the day was the “storied” or “narrative” nature of our lives. We tell lots of stories to each other – about home or work, a television show we’ve just seen or something in the news that caught our eye – because stories have this marvelous way of taking big, amorphous thoughts and feeling and making them concrete, accessible, and in this way share-able. In fact, I would go so far as to say that stories are the common currency with which we make sense of and share our lives with each other.
And so I suggested to the folks gathered that one reason the church seems to be struggling today is that the people around us – and, let’s face it, we ourselves – don’t know the biblical stories well enough for them to be useful to us, or maybe even interesting. I mean, when is the last time you saw something on the news or heard a story about folks you know and thought, “that reminds me of the time in the Bible when….” Or when is the last time you said, “I heard a great story from the Bible the other day; let me tell you about it….” We do this very same thing with our favorite TV shows or movies, but not the Bible.
Think about it: even though the Bible is chock full of really interesting stories with a level of drama and intrigue that rivals anything on Game of Thrones, we just don’t think of it as a collection of interesting stories, we sure don’t treat it as a collection of interesting stories, and we definitely don’t read it as a collection of interesting stories. Indeed, when we read the Bible aloud we usually drop our voice an octave, move toward a more flat affect, and adopt a somewhat monotone voice. We read the Bible, that is, like it’s a package bearing stickers saying “fragile: handle with care” and so its ends up sounding more like we’re reading a dictionary than an engaging story.
As one pastor in attendance said, “We don’t come to the Bible for stories, we come for instruction.” This wasn’t a correction on his part, but a lament. Which set me to thinking: when we read the Bible, are we looking for information or are we looking to be enchanted. And what difference would it make to move from the one – seeking historical or theological or moral information – to the other – seeking to fall into this story the way we fall into a great book or movie so that we are enchanted in our reading and leave touched, affected, even transformed.
What difference would it make to my preaching, or reading the Bible in church, or reading it to my kids, or talking about it with a friend if I approached the Bible both longing and expecting to be enchanted. I have a hunch that we’ve got plenty of information all around us, but not a lot of enchantment. And I suspect that by approaching the Bible as a story – one that begin in the very beginning in Genesis and ends only at the very end in Revelation – we might just find it easier to let ourselves be drawn into the adventure its pages hold and thereby meet the living God it describes.