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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Grand Narrative

Written by: on February 12, 2015

The stories being written in the world this week, can seem to be ones that tells of a declining mess. Perhaps nothing sharper than the disqualification of the U.S. Little League Champions from Chicago, for recruiting violations, speaks more to that fact than any other. A team of mostly, pre-pubescent children, put together through the deceitfulness of adults; for the purpose of winning baseball games. Deflate-gate, Jerry Rice’s stickem, NBC news anchor, Brian Williams with the sniper fire story, Lance Armstrong about his honest admission that he’d cheat again…that’s just one week of trivial news.

story

There is this drive within us to have a perfect story. We want to be great, popular, heroic, to think we can change the world and yet in the aftermath of those items mentioned above, we are left to wonder what is actually true and what is truth really worth. Ask any of these people and they would likely tell you they were doing what they thought was right at the time, given the pressures and desire to succeed. What it actually reveals is that none of us, even little league parents and coaches, have the capacity to truly do what is right and to take right action accordingly. These events (without even touching the tragic reality of terrorism) serve to contradict one of the foundational premises of the book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy: “It is for each of us to follow our own sense of rightness about where we feel called to act.” (p.28) Each of those stories involved choices by people that they felt were in accordance with their own sense rightness at the time.

However, the fact that we each, undeniably, sense that the world is in need of some form of rescue, healing or redemption is nonetheless true. Whether we are willing to subscribe to adventure of The Great Turning described by the authors, Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone, or not, we must certainly agree to the need for a greater, transcendent narrative through which we can participate towards addressing the ills of this world:

  • “The question “How could the Great Turning happen through me?” invites a different story to flow through us. This type of power happens through our choices, through what we say and do and are.” (p.113)
  • “When a deeper purpose acts through people, a special kind of bond can arise between them.” (p.206)
  • “When we identify with something larger than ourselves, whether that be our family, a circle of friends, a team, or a community, that becomes part of who we are.” (p.90)

Too often, those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, become proponents of withdrawing from the difficulties and dangers of society. They spend time, money and energy creating predictable schedules, routines and services that have little or no impact on the needs of the community around them. The result, over the last number of decades is that church buildings are emptier than ever before, at least in our north American contexts. More tragically, people who claim to follow Christ are demonstrating little difference in their social choices than those who don’t. (While there has been a media campaign in favour of the 50 Shades of Grey movie and corresponding publicity against it, the sad reality is that the book was read (according to Barna research) by the same percentage of Christians as not. Will that change with the movie, we’ll see).

A number of years ago, I read a book called The Church of Irresistible Influence, by Arkansa pastor, Robert Lewis. This one quote has challenged me ever since I read it: “The boredom and restlessness seen everywhere in the church, I believe, is due primarily to the smallness of our purpose.” Perhaps we, as church leaders, are guilty of making God’s REALLY BIG redemptive plan for our world, too small. Perhaps we have failed to address the God-given capacity within people to be part of something bigger than themselves. It is within this framework that I would consider some of the information in Active Hope to be worthy of consideration.

The western preoccupation with selfie, self-promotion and individualization coupled with consumeristic immediate gratification where the filling of calendars have become our trophies pushes us far from the call of Jesus to sacrificially give ourselves, together with others, to demonstrating real compassion toward those who suffer, those who cannot speak for themselves and those in need. If we only rely on our own sense of good, we will fall short. However, if we allow our perspective to be shaped by God’s Grand Narrative then we will be swept into an eternal adventure that will provide endless stories to share.

Jesus once said that, “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) He never promised easy. He never promised temporal success. But as we depend on Him for our example and empowerment, we can learn the essence of humble, resolute, perseverance despite resistance, evil or failure. In this, Macy and Johnstone would agree, for they also recognize the benefits of failure in the adventurous journey of The Great Turning:

“Rather than seeing frustration and failure as evidence that we’re pursuing a hopeless cause, we can reframe them as natural, even necessary, features in the journey of social change. Why might failure and frustration be necessary parts of the journey? Because if we stick only with what we know how to do, what we’re comfortable with and confident about, we limit ourselves to the old, familiar ways rather than developing new capacities.”(p.188)

Perhaps for us, as followers of Jesus, instead of being defeated by our inability to fit God’s Grand Narrative into our weekly schedule; or wondering why our religious experience seems unappealing. Perhaps, instead, we should learn to ask some new questions, including: “What are we willing to give up?” Perhaps it is then that we will begin to recognize and appreciate the many ways in which the Redemption Story is already being written around us. Perhaps it is then that we will no longer be bored with the church but become enthusiastic, compassionate extensions as part of the body of Christ. Perhaps instead of waiting around for someone else to do something, we will eagerly anticipate joining what God is already doing around us. Perhaps we will no longer be consumed by our own dreams, but find God’s desire for all peoples of all nations to be so captivating that we begin experiencing His Grand Narrative. Perhaps then we will willingly share those stories and realize that so many others are waiting to join us.

  • What changes would you have to make to step into God’s Grand Narrative?

About the Author

mm

Deve Persad

15 responses to “The Grand Narrative”

  1. Deve, tremendous weaving of this week’s book, this weeks news, and the over arching metanarrative of God Almighty. I have thought often of my church being too small. Not small in size for it would be considered, in American standards a mega church. It’s membership is close to 4000. The smallness is noticed in their dream, and their inspiration to influence the world. Sure there is the use of the quintessential words that the teenagers are “world changers.” But little is done within the Ministry of the youth and the adults to indicate that there is any real application to this world changer mentality. Perhaps we too within the church, have swallowed the secular Kool-Aid and think that we must only deal and pay attention to our own little world and circumstances and honestly cannot achieve great influence in the world. But yet there is a higher calling, a deeper sense, a story that keeps calling each of us as believers to truly Believe in the impossible and climb up higher into the realm of the Eternal One. If anyone should possess the active hope that can change the world it is the followers of Jesus Christ. May we all change our ways so that we can step into his narrative and fulfill his hope for mankind. Great post brother! Publish worthy!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Hey Mitch, thanks for your kind words of encouragement. It doesn’t seem to matter the size of the church, we all seem to be susceptible to thinking only of ourselves, while – as you well know – God’s commission to us is so much bigger than that. We share a similar passion Mitch, I appreciate your desire to make the bigger story known.

  2. Deve…
    I continue to “marvel” (not the comic kind 🙂 at the interplay and relevancy of our reading each week with each week’s events. As you recognized in your post, this week was no different. And such a rich post. You describe exactly what is going on with me. One of the biggest challenges may be to confront our perceptions and how we have understood purpose (especially so in our churches?). The uncomfortable truth is that to make changes it is costly. People will not understand that my values are changing (do I fully comprehend what is happening?). I am at an age when people are beginning to retire and travel. I am in school, do not want to retire and have student loans to pay so I will need a real job (which strangely enough means I am walking toward pastoral ministry). But I am not at all certain that I will have a traditional pastor’s role, my preparation is for either possibility. “What changes will I have to make to step into God’s grand narrative?” Slowly I am being transformed, continuing to have a community that will support and encourage my place in the grand narrative will be significant. How about you? Where are you feeling challenged? Where are you feeling encouraged?

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Carol, thanks for sharing more about the places the Lord is taking you. No doubt that is a challenge and I certainly wondered as I wrote my article about how it might have relevance to your experience and research. As for me, I am encouraged by seeing God provide more evidence to just how big the adventure truly is and the importance of telling stories. The challenge is how to pry people away from steeped traditions of individualistic living.

  3. Miriam Mendez says:

    Deve, as Carol and Mitch already mention, rich post! I appreciate how you included the events of the week. What is it about wanting or needing to be popular, recognized or having the perfect story–as you mention–that causes one to risk for all the wrong reasons? The question “what happens through me?” is not about “what’s in it for me? or “what do I get out of it?” It’s about what can “I” “You” “We” do to help bring healing. You ask what are we willing to give up? Good question. Your question made me think about another question…Are we willing to take a risk? Thanks Deve!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Miriam, risk taking is hard I think, particularly for those in pastoral ministry, as much of what we do is preparing for services, meetings, projects where we can pretty much figure out the outcomes. The challenge for me in that sense, is how to keep my relationship with the Lord fresh, so that I too, am one who is looking with hopeful anticipation for what the Lord will do that exceeds or is different from my preconceived expectations. That’s not so easy…

  4. Deve,

    Powerful and convicting post. Really gives me some things to think about. Thank you as always, Pastor.

    As you know, I am trying to figure out my spiritual journey. One thing I do know for sure is that I am not the “follower of Jesus” that I need to be these days. I have so many things that are stopping that: my own experiences, bitterness, anger, frustration, rebelliousness, and selfishness. The older I get the more individualistic I have become. However, in the middle of my own mess, God is still working — I know He is. As I said in a post a couple weeks ago, I recently started a weekly prayer meeting with a colleague. This has begun to give me some spiritual vision again. For this I am elated. It is not a big thing but it is a big thing. If I can sit honestly before God and pray (communicate with Him), then maybe I will again be able to hear and experience a spiritual direction for my life.

    There is always hope, and active hope is the best kind.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Professor, your journey is a courageous one and I pray that the Lord continues to guide you through the dark valleys that your previous experience and memories have created. I have no doubt, because of who God is, that as you seek Him, you will find Him in a new and assuring way. I’m praying for you in this…

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Deve, I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which you have written and reflected on Johnston and Macy’s book. I was not able to completely read through the book, but I read enough to embrace the authors’ points of view on issues of social change, personal initiative and action based on hope. I agreed with most of the principles in the book but I have increasingly grown to believe that our world needs more than the hope human beings can amass and even apply to solve the challenges of this world. I know that I am singing to the choir master, here but bear with me, I am also thinking out aloud.
    I need to begin where it all starts. This not to say that we should not engage especially in social changes. In fact followers of Jesus Christ should always seek to be first responders to suffering in this world. However, the hope that comes from Christ and the gospel should primarily be the focal point because it’s a sure thing that ” … hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Life, hope and all our corrective actives are directed by the triune God. I believe that the gospel narrative of “Christ in us the hope of glory”, must become every believers narrative. Christianity’s drive for a perfect and heroic statues, has pushed believers to reach from impersonal categories like a “christian worldview”, “meta-narrative” etc, but for many the gospel is not at the level of a holistically personalized narrative which for me is different for the trap of individualism.
    I believe that the gospel must become our story, because the gospel is what changes our lives holistically. The gospel is given to the world because it’s has the power to enter our world and change us through the Holy Spirit. The gospel narrative is both transcendent and immanent. This is the narrative of urgency. You capture this idea and feeling when you write, “we must certainly agree to the need for a greater, transcendent narrative through which we can participate towards addressing the ills of this world.”

    How do see the practice of the idea of a “a greater transcendent [I would also add immanent] narrative…” in your church, community and family?

    Thank you for inviting me to think along!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      “Transcendent and Immanent”…that’s a great addition to this thought, Michael. Thank you…as I read your comments it was though you were sitting across from speaking…so good…For me/our church it is about recognizing where the need or hurt exists in our community and then addressing it, as Christ followers with compassion and humility. Too often, churches spend time and effort bringing the good news of the gospel into efforts where there is really little or no need. There is so much need our communities which speaks to the transcendent and immanent need for us to engage – however, the cost, sacrifice, risk is that these opportunities are often at odds with the traditional, safe, predictable functions of “church”…that’s my take…thanks for pushing me to think more…you do that well.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Michael,
      You said, “This not to say that we should not engage especially in social changes. In fact followers of Jesus Christ should always seek to be first responders to suffering in this world.” I am starting to believe that God may not always want His people to respond to social change or suffering that is in the world. As I study scripture I am finding more and more instances where God commanded an individual or His people not to help the people around them. Look at the story of Noah and the ark, Joshua entering the Promised Land, or when God killed the first-born males of Egypt. Please understand I do believe that many times we are called to help the suffering and hurting, but are we called to help every time? This is the question I am struggling with now. Here is why I asked this…should we be focusing our effort to specifically help where God calls? There are so many people around us that need help, but how much good will we accomplish if we get oversaturated? So, the gospel narrative becomes a specific path where God leads us to address the ills of the world in a more focused effort.
      Richard

      • mm Deve Persad says:

        Richard, that’s an interesting question to pose, and one certainly worth consideration. There is definitely validity to having focus and purpose with how we engage society with the Gospel. Each body of believers has a contribution to make as ambassadors in that cause. It is interesting that Jesus, when he heals that man at the pool, selects only one person among the many who were there – and he wasn’t even grateful. On the other hand the examples you choose to mention above were all examples of God’s judgment after many warnings and opportunities for change. I’ll be interested to hear how your study of scripture in relation to this unfolds. Keep me posted.

  6. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Deve
    Another great blog 🙂
    I especially like the quote you mentioned: “The boredom and restlessness seen everywhere in the church, I believe, is due primarily to the smallness of our purpose.”
    I totally agree. And I think too, the smallness of our God. In fact, they probably go hand in hand. Our estimation of God and of the purpose He has for us, are too small.
    You ask a good question: What changes would you have to make to step into God’s Grand Narrative? I guess for me at the moment it’s the church and cafe outreach. How about you though, Deve? How would you answer that question? 🙂

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Liz, thanks for the feedback and for reflecting the question back to me. There is no end for the opportunities that the gospel can make in a community. The difference lies in our willingness to enter into the conversations and interactions where the veil of darkness exists – if we do, that’s where the Light of Jesus will shine brightest. For our church, we are looking at how we will help our community address the changes in public education health curriculum, which is slated to have a more graphic and detailed instruction to children at a younger age. There can be an opportunity to speak the truth of the Gospel into this setting in the coming months, but it will need to be prayed about and prepared for…the change required will be spending more time in local public schools…that won’t be easy…

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