By Mark DeVries and Laura Addis
Steve Hartman was an unknown broadcast journalist from Toledo, OH until he began a feature series called Everyone Has a Story. As he went in search of epic stories, he used a fascinating, unconventional technique.
Hartman would throw a dart at a map of the United States. No kidding.
Then he would travel to wherever the dart landed, chose a name at random from the phone book, interview the person, and write their story. For each 120 interviews he conducted–every single one–Hartman found a truly epic story.
Every invisible homeless man, every whiney parishioner, every silent or awkward store clerk, every life-of-the-party family member has an epic story. Everyone has a life filled with heroics, tragedy, a little comic relief, and turning points with unimagined consequences. None of us is an automaton reacting with lockstep predictability to our circumstances.
In our efforts to inspire and motivate people to join our group, sign up for our event or “get with the program,” we can easily ignore the delightful complexity of those we seek to engage. In our high-tech age of group email blasts and MailChimp campaigns, the world is desperate need of those committed to the high-touch practice of paying attention to the peculiarities, the detail, the epic lives of those we encounter.
We live in an age when those with the biggest ears come out on top and those with the biggest mouths don’t, at least not for long.
The church’s identity is formed by the stories it tells. Yet would-be change agents in the church over and over again try to make a good argument instead of telling an epic story. Stories have a way of decentering us like nothing else, of helping us make quantum-change leaps that facts, figures, and logic alone can never produce.
That Hollywood producer was right: The one who tells the best stories wins.
In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson borrows from Melville’s Moby Dick, likening the role of the spiritual leader to that of a harpooner on a nineteenth-century whaling ship. Melville writes, “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.”
The harpooner’s greatest job is not to keep the boat afloat, prepare meals for the crew, or swab the decks. All are important, just not for the harpooner.
The harpooner’s first job (maybe all of our first jobs) is to pay attention. If we are caught up in rowing or rigging or cleaning, we might just miss the very thing we’ve been given this day to see.
Could it be that the malaise surrounding today’s church is rooted in a lack of attention to the epic work of the Spirit, the subtle, profound, spouting movements in the lives of those with whom we serve?
Does your own epic story include an entrepreneurial idea for the Church? Let us join you in crafting the next part of your epic. Tell us about your idea and check out one of our Hatchathons, a place where you can tell and develop your own entrepreneurial story.
Registration is now open for one of our upcoming Hatch-a-thon:
March 2-4, 2016
Institute for Youth Ministry
Princeton Theological Seminary
$369 per person*