The transformative power of story

For the next two weeks, we'll be talking about transformational moments in ministry: Moments that have transformed our faith or changed the way we do ministry. Over the next few days, you'll also hear from several other women in ministry who serve in various capacities - some paid, some volunteer; some in youth ministry, some not – from various denominations around the world.

Today's post is written by my friend and colleague, Pam Voves. Pam is an Associate in Ministry in the ELCA and a gifted and passionate Family Minister. She blogs at Creative Family Ministry

I love a good story!

I enjoy watching movies that transport me to a different time and place. I like novels that are filled with characters that frustrate me but for whom I can also cheer. I love hearing the same stories from my own family lore told year after year around the Thanksgiving table. My guilty pleasure is country music, where the stories are sung!

Stories give us a framework to place our own experiences. We can look at our lives through the lens of someone else's experience and then learn something about ourselves. It was when I was introduced to Godly Play that I realized the power of identity and belonging we receive through God's story in scripture. Each time we hear of God's great love for us through scripture, we are changed. The Holy Spirit gives life to the words spoken and creates a bond, a relationship between God and us. Hearing God’s story in scripture is more than an engaging experience, it becomes a relationship.

My ministry was transformed when I was first introduced to Godly Play ten years ago. I was working in my current position of Director of Family Ministry and searching for ways to update our Sunday School program. At first I thought it would just be one more curriculum to review. I quickly learned that the theology and practice of Godly Play sets it apart from other children's faith formation curriculum.

God's story and its power to transform are central to not only the curriculum but the theology that informs it. While engaging activities and creative crafts help support the story, it is the stories taken from scripture that first and foremost form our faith.

Jerome W. Berryman, creator of Godly Play, says this about stories and their power for transformation: “Stories are where all of us, children and adults together, find our identity, our family. Stories are where we challenge the deadly messages of the powers-that-be, whether greed and overwork or poverty and powerlessness, that would rob our lives of relationships and meaning. Stories are where we integrate the experiences of our life into powerful acts of recognition, celebration and meaning as we make our way through time and space."

Through scripture, God tells us we belong to him. God shows us time and time again how we are in this loving relationship with him and can trust God's faithfulness.

For so many, storytelling is more about the storyteller themselves and their own style of presentation. Godly Play turns that notion upside down and shifts all the emphasis back to the story itself. God is working through us so that we may share God’s great love for the world. This shift in style has changed the way I tell stories to the children (and the adults!) in my ministry. When the focus is on the story, the listener is more easily able to place themselves within it. One of the primary follow up questions in Godly Play is “I wonder where are you in the story?” That question has become an automatic response for my own reading of scripture. I know God wants a relationship with me. I trust God is speaking to me through scripture, and so I ask myself:

I wonder where I am in the story.
I wonder what the story has to say to me.

I am grateful for being introduced to Godly Play years ago. It has not only shaped my teaching but also many of the teachers and leaders at Faith Lutheran Church. I am reminded of the power of God’s story each time I see an adult or child’s eyes widen in wonder as they are reminded of this sacred relationship and hear of God’s great love for them.

Other posts in this series:

The transformative power of conflict

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

Now Available!

A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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