Step Into The Story
By Mark Novelli
May 4, 2009
When I was a in high school a friend invited me to attend his church. I had very little exposure to religion growing up, but he and his family were such great people, I figured that I would give it a try. Each week the pastor would read various passages from all different parts of the Bible that fit the topic he was talking about. He threw in some personal stories and a few jokes, then would wrap up with a short list of things we needed to do to apply this information to our lives.
I tried my best to follow God this way. The trouble for me was that I found the Bible, prayer and church services to be either boring or confusing. I felt guilty inside that I struggled for motivation to want connect with these things ... When I was a in high school a friend invited me to attend his church. I had very little exposure to religion growing up, but he and his family were such great people, I figured that I would give it a try. Each week the pastor would read various passages from all different parts of the Bible that fit the topic he was talking about. He threw in some personal stories and a few jokes, then would wrap up with a short list of things we needed to do to apply this information to our lives.
The Bible was presented as an answer book that gives us a list of right and wrong actions we need to follow in order to please God. This left me with the perception that Christianity was about following a formula. Say this prayer to get eternal life, then avoid sinful thoughts and actions until you get to heaven. In the mean time, tell other people that they’d better do the same to avoid judgement.
I tried my best to follow God this way. The trouble for me was that I found the Bible, prayer and church services to be either boring or confusing. I felt guilty inside that I struggled for motivation to want connect with these things.
For fear of what others would think, I hid my feelings. In that church I felt a lot of pressure to give off the impression that I had it all together. That meant giving off the perception that I loved to read the Bible, pray and go to church, and that I didn’t do sinful things. I quickly learned that if I gave off the right perception, I would be accepted.
I carried these feelings of guilt into my early years of serving as a youth ministry leader. The youth ministry I helped lead had the philosophy that higher quality programs would equate to students having deeper connections with God. So we put in tons of hours and lots of resources towards making the quality of our programs really good. And they were pretty good. But as we improved, students connection level didn’t increase, in fact they seemed less engaged! I wondered if students were wrestling internally with questions similar to mine like, why should I care about reading the Bible, praying, and following the rules? Because it is what we supposed to do in order to be a good Christian? Is this all there is to following God? Will I always feel this way?It occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t about improving the quality of our presentations - maybe it was about what we were saying? I found a few books and heard a few messages that when reading them, the authors seemed put into words almost exactly what I was feeling. More than anything, I got a sense that I was not alone, there was nothing wrong with me, and there were other ways to be a follower of Jesus.
One book in particular I read was New Way to Be Human by Charlie Peacock. Towards the beginning of the book Peacock writes:
“I often wonder, why didn’t someone tell me the whole story and invite me to participate in it? Our usual contemporary method of telling the Jesus story has focused more on saving people from hell than saving them to an unceasing life with God ” Some set of stories will shape our lives. We cannot escape this fact. We can live intentionally, though, and step into the God-human-earth-and-sky Story that makes more sense of life than any other.
I felt like my eyes had been opened to a whole new way of connecting with God and the Bible. I realized that there was so much more to this story. It was like the Bible was a movie, but instead of watching it all the way through, I had seen some clips out of order or watched just the trailer. How could I be expected to care about the characters, to see deeper meanings, to feel the weight of certain moments, or place myself in the story by approaching it this way? I had a fragmented, disconnected view of what the story was all about. No one had ever challenged me to see the Bible as an overarching story, to notice the patterns and nuances, to form a mental timeline, and to see how things connected to one another.
Not only was my view of the Bible truncated, but I realized that my view of the role God intended me to play in this great story was way too small. I started to see that it’s about so much more than keeping me from sinning, or insurance for heaven. It’s about helping me live life to the fullest, that I’m most alive when I’m in tune with God’s ways. I saw that this great story is still being written today and I am invited to join in writing it together with God. He’s created me as a character in this story who can uniquely bring beauty, justice, restoration, love and compassion to the world.
This completely changed the way I approached reading, teaching and leading. This story is so compelling that it’s worth giving my life to and inviting students to join me in.
My journey since this major shift in approach has been to figure out ways for students to step into this story. To see themselves in it, find their true roles, to let it shape them.
I wonder how many people have had similar experiences. Is your story similar to mine? What shifts in approach have happened for you? How are you helping others step into God’s story?