The Power of Stories
All churches have their own narratives, stories that tell who they are, how they developed, and where they’re going. And all great stories are full of drama, with heroes and villains, turning points and escapes, despair and hope. The way we tell our story says volumes about our values and our faith in the sovereignty and goodness of God.
Years ago I was disillusioned with the established church and with the drive to produce megachurches. I felt pushed to look beyond the normal mission and strategy of the church. I lived with the burden of feeling like I never was measuring up, but God met me in the bottom of my deepest hole. My story, and by extension, the story of NorthWood, revolves around three revelations: the kingdom of God, the needs in the world, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I love to tell people what God has done (and is still doing) in my life in these three areas.
Too often pastors focus their stories on the organization, but that seldom captures anyone’s imagination. People might be impressed with the size of a building or the scope of big programs, but these seldom move their hearts. People want heroes. They want a father or mother to love them, inspire them, and propel them to greatness. They also want to be involved with a dynamic group of world changers, and they want to see themselves in that picture. The stories we tell will be far more powerful if they come from the context of life-changing relationships. But first, we need to have some of these connections.
All of us want to leave a legacy. It’s one of the basic drives of human nature. My legacy, the inheritance I’ll leave to those who come after me, isn’t the church building at NorthWood, the books I’ve written, or the institutions such as Glocalnet I’ve helped create. My legacy is people such as Kevin Cox, a pastor who today has about 180 people in his congregation and has already planted fourteen churches.
It’s Scott Venable, who in three years has a church of sixty people and has planted eight churches.
It’s Kevin Brown, an African American pastor who leads a church of a thousand in Philadelphia and mobilizes his members to go to the West Bank of Palestine.
Nic Burleson breaks the mold. His church, Timber Ridge, of about one thousand rednecks is in Stephenville, Texas, and he is leading his people in a ministry in Vietnam.
Sam Chako is an Indian with a multiethnic church of about a hundred in an outreach in India.
Daniel Yang is Hmong and Mike Seaman is Thai; together they have planted a multiethnic church in Toronto. Their church has outreaches to Vietnam, and they’re going with me to Pakistan.
Dustin Jones was the youth pastor at NorthWood for many years and now is planting a church in our area.
Steve Bezner’s situation is a little out of the box for us. He planted a church and then moved to be the pastor of a megachurch. He asked if he could be a spiritual son, and we were glad to have him. His church is committed to the same three practices, so we know the model works on a larger scale as well as a smaller one.
The oldest spiritual son is Mitch Jolly. We’ve worked together for almost ten years, from starting churches to working in hellholes of poverty and despair. This guy is courage, boldness, and kindness all wrapped up in one.
By the way, virtually all of my sons’ and our sons’ sons’ churches are multiethnic, because beginning in the domains in a city or town necessarily puts us in touch with every segment of the community. Reaching domains automatically diversifies a church. If a pastor starts with a worship service in a particular neighborhood, only those people will come, but if he starts in the domains of the city—the infrastructure of government, business, medicine, the arts, communication, and the other aspects of life and culture—he’ll touch every ethnic group in the community.
People might ask, “Bob, isn’t all this about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters just another strategy of leadership develop-ment?” Yes, of course it’s a strategy, but it’s one that’s birthed in and grows because of strong, committed relationships. In his covenant with the patriarchs and the nation of Israel, God often repeats his commitment: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (e.g., Lev. 26:12). My commitment to my spiritual sons is a similar covenant: I will be your father, and you will be my sons. Covenants are based on love and loyalty, between God and his people and between spiritual fathers and sons.
My ten sons and I realize what makes us a family: the same values and goals, a trusted father, a willingness for the father to release the sons into ministry, a commitment to limitless connections with all kinds of resources to enhance their impact, working with them in their cities’ domains, taking them around the world, and providing support and encouragement in all these endeavors. My connections with them are based on a family’s devotion and commitment, not an organizational structure. As they experience the love and support I offer them, they follow my example. They’re finding pastors who want the same kind of relationship with a father, the same commitment and support, and they’re forming their own families. They may find four or twenty, but probably the number Jesus picked (and Special Forces uses for their basic unit), twelve, is a reasonable limit.
My value to my sons, the legacy I leave with them, isn’t about methodologies, because these change with cultures and times. The values I instill in them come from the wisdom, insight, and understanding I’ve learned over my lifetime.
In our family, love is paramount. It’s the core of everything we are and everything we do. We share our hearts and we pray for each other. In this relationship, I’m vulnerable about my own struggles, fears, and needs. They’ll be open with me only if I’m open with them. I ask them to pray for me as we wrestle with losing some white people in our church because we’ve reached out to Muslims, the poor, immigrants, and African Americans. Our church finances have taken a hit, and I ask my sons to pray that God will give me wisdom to handle the situation.
To multiply our family through generations, we emphasize the same three principles that have guided me in the past few years: the kingdom of God, meeting the needs in the domains in their communities and the world, and the filling of the Spirit to empower us to do God’s will. In all of this, I don’t shelter my spiritual sons from the hard choices and the threats they face when they lay it all out for Jesus. I turn them loose to follow him with all their hearts, but I’m always there to pick them up when they fall.
© 2016. Bob Roberts Jr. Lessons From the East is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved.