When our eldest daughter was 7 years old, my husband and I encouraged her to come up with a conversation starter for our dinner table. She chose: “Tell me a story about when you were little.” We quickly realized that bad memories seem to stand out most.
There was the time I fell into a bed of fire ants and rode my bike home screaming. Or the time I had my sister lie for me so that I didn’t have play with two mean girls in the neighborhood. Or the guilt I felt after occasionally being the mean girl myself.
I’ve noticed the same can be true of our experiences in the church. The bad memories tend to stand out. Even when we talk about our congregation, we are quick to share our painful experiences.
The bad memories seem to stand out most.
As we all know, it can be validating to tell a story and hear others affirm how we were wronged. The reason Paul had to explain to the church in Corinth that “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5) is that our flesh’s inclination is to keep a record of wrongs. It is easy for us to remember when the church has failed us. But what if God’s people were intentional about sharing stories of faithfulness more than failure?
Look for the Church’s Beauty
Anyone who has been part of a healthy church body should see beauty. There are greetings at the door, invitations to dinner, and encouragement at Bible study. Look a little deeper and you should see reconciliation after conflict, care for those walking through personal suffering, and believers counseling and sharpening one another with the Word.
In a church walking in obedience, however imperfectly, these things should be regular occurrences. Those connected to the body should have eyes to see how God uses his people in the lives of his people. So I often wonder why it’s not those stories that are more often told.
At the climax of the book of Nehemiah, after years of exile in Babylon, the Israelites have finished building the wall (in 52 days!) and they are ready to begin functioning again as the people of God in the land of God.
But before they do so, they take time to tell their story. They first recount their sins—against God and against one another (Neh. 9:26). Then they retell the stories of God’s faithfulness to them, the same stories that have been told over and over throughout their collective history.
Telling these stories allows them to see that even though they’ve spent years dispersed and divided, God has kept them. He has used not only Nehemiah but Ezra, the priests and Levites, and a huge group of eager and willing workers to restore his people, give them a common place to live and worship, and set them on a path of sanctification again. It is only then that they renew their covenant with God, a recommitment to live as he’s called them to (Neh. 9:38).
For the Israelites, living and worshiping together required that they acknowledge both their failings and their rescue. They had to admit their sin and rejoice in their deliverance. They didn’t overlook their sin. That would have been both unhelpful and unhealthy. But they also didn’t stop at their sin. They reminded one another about the beauty of their redemption.
The Israelites didn’t overlook their sin. They also didn’t stop at their sin. They reminded one another about the beauty of their redemption.
Worship isn’t the end of the story. You can’t even finish the book of Nehemiah without seeing the Israelites fall into sin again. But this becomes an opportunity for them to add another chapter of forgiveness and redemption to their corporate story.
The storytellers who wrote the Bible have given us a valuable gift. Because of them we can see that, regardless of our sin and failure, God faithfully continues to purify and beautify his church.
We see how the prophets were faithful to call people to repentance. We see that despite their initial fears, the obedience of Mary and Joseph made way for us all to receive our King. We see how Jesus’s disciples argued, but those same disciples recorded the marvels they saw and experienced. We see how dysfunctional the Corinthian Christians were, but also how they were being sanctified.
Shout Your Church Story
We must, in the church above all places, see the glory as well as the mess. We must recount it to one another. When we experience care or reconciliation within our church, it’s imperative we tell others about it.
It’s tempting for those who’ve been hurt by sin in the church to withdraw from Christian fellowship. Sharing these stories is one way we stir up one another to love the church and encourage one another as we wait for Jesus’s return for his bride (Heb. 10:24–25).
When we experience care or reconciliation within our church, it’s imperative we tell others about it.
We all play a part in the pain, the conflict, the neglect, and the hurt feelings, but in his mercy God also uses us in the care, the healing, and the redemption. When we see and experience those things, we should bring attention to them. Encourage other believing friends with the beauty that you see among God’s people.
Not only that, but our experiences are evidence that Jesus is who he says he is: a Savior who redeems brokenness. The world, too, can find hope and encouragement in our good church stories.
With our reminders to one another, believers walking through difficult church situations will see that God is always at work among his people. Jesus bought us with his own blood. He will never stop purifying his church and will one day glorify us. May we have eyes to see and mouths quick to tell of his good work in our midst.