In his recent book, The Conviction to Lead, Dr. Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote a chapter titled: “Leadership is Narrative: The Leader Draws Followers Into a Story That Frames All of Life.” He writes:
“The most important truths come alive through stories, and faithful leadership is inseparable from the power and stewardship of story. The excellent leader knows how to lead out of the power of the narrative that frames the identity and mission of the people he will lead, and the leader knows how to put his own story into service for the sake of the larger story. We are narrative creatures, and God made us this way. We are set apart from the rest of the animals, in part because we are the keepers of stories. We cannot even tell each other who we are without telling a story, nor should we try.”
Dr. Mohler is exactly right to connect leadership and story, for story unites our mind and heart even as it informs our feet and hands. Stories connects us with a past – our own and that of others. Stories inform our present and help us envision our future.
It is said of Winston Churchill that, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” Words — and stories in particular – have power when put in the hands of leaders with vision to see above the everyday din and clamor of congested commutes, overdue bills, and bathroom renovations.
Bathroom renovations? Where did that come from?
Head out to the prairies of Kansas and you’ll find a county seat town named Ashland (pop. 839). Even a cursory reading of this region’s history reveals tales of Native Americans, westward expansion, farmers, soldiers, tragedy, and triumph. Also, the history of such towns inevitably gets told through the narrative of her churches – origins, growth, peak, plateau, decline, death (or revitalization).
For example, the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland was down to 12 in worship until last year when they began to find some new spiritual life and rebounded up to 20. With the new faces came a desire to clean up the church a bit. That’s when they opened up a little used “upper room” and discovered boxes of old foreign language Bibles in great condition.
From the Wichita Eagle:
There are 15 Bibles in pristine condition – including those in Slavic, Cakchiquel, Eskimo, Cherokee, Norwegian, Russian, Chinese, Hebrew Psalter, Czechoslovakian and Yiddish. Most were printed in the 1920s and 1930s, with the exception of the Cherokee version, which shows it may have been printed in 1860.
[Minister Marsha] Granberry thinks the Bibles could be a find. “These Bibles are in pristine condition; no watermarks, no tears, no underlining,” Granberry said.
After finding the cache of Bibles, Granberry preached a sermon on, “What a treasure and legacy there is in the Upper Room.”
Indeed, what a treasure and legacy there is in the Word of God. This is a tremendous opportunity for this congregation to grab onto history and use it as the precious ointment of hope and vision for their future. Just think — they could look further into how Bibles from 15 languages journeyed all the way to Kansas. If they poke a bit, they might discover these Bibles have some connection with a local missionary from the history of their own congregation – someone who took the Word to the far corners of the earth.
Or, perhaps less exotic but equally inspiring, these Bibles had been collected by a farmer and his wife who would pray for the people groups which these Bibles represented – and would collect Bibles in that tongue in order to be reminded to pray for them.
Maybe there was once a young high school girl who looked beyond the wheat fields and dreamt of becoming a Bible translator – putting the Word of God into the language of people who currently sit in spiritual darkness, void of the Word. Maybe her love of Scripture translation had caused her to collect Bibles of various tongues.
Or, this box of Bibles could be utilized as a living illustration for a sermon on Revelation 5:9, inspiring a new generation of missionaries to go forth, taking the Word of Christ to other “languages and peoples”:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…
Or, at the very least, this box of Bibles could bring forth a wonderful sermon series on the reign and reforms of King Josiah (see yesterday’s post). Remember, it was during some cleaning up of the Temple that the Word of God was rediscovered. It was the Word of God which led the King and the people to repent of sin and seek the face of God. And the Word-brought reforms of Josiah’s day were not isolated events, for we see the same thing happening during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9-10). When the Spirit and the Word blow fresh through people, nothing remains the same.
In the case of the Ashland church, however, the antiquarian Bibles might not get a chance be mobilized in the use of a narrative story for the church. You see, the church needs some bathroom fixes and with budgets being tight and all…the first impulse has been to turn to antiquarian book dealers in order to make a quick buck off the box of books.
Listen, I understand that bathrooms need upgrading and plumbers don’t work for free. I get it. But, I also know that short-sighted leaders can kill the goose to get to the golden eggs, only to find that they have nothing at all with which to work. If you sell off the opportunity-for-narrative right in front of your eyes, then you have no right to lament the insipid days of story-less future when they arrive.
Mohler is right – “We are narrative creatures …set apart from the rest of the animals, in part because we are the keepers of stories. We cannot even tell each other who we are without telling a story, nor should we try.”
I think what troubles me most is that the church was experiencing some new life. The pastor took to cleaning out the upper room – which was being used for storage for so long that no one even remembered receiving the treasure trove described in the article. But then, instead of making the connection to the reform and revival that came in the days of Josiah after the Book of the Law was discovered in the temple in a similar clean up effort, this Presbyterian pastor made the connection to the upper room but she missed the powerful Old Testament echo of renewal by the Word.
If this were a first-edition Gutenberg valued at a million dollars (and rightly belonging in historical museum for viewing by all), the point would remain the same. But these are not invaluable Bibles. Mostly printed in the 1920s and 1930s, these Bibles might pay a portion of the price for a new commode or two. But, I have a feeling that their greatest value lies in making much of them on an entirely different level – a non-capital reservoir of funding which can easily be lost through a quick trip to the auction house.
As Oscar Wilde wrote “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” (The Picture of Dorian Gray).
Or, as Jesus answered the Devil: “But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)