Pastor, tell your story — but it’s hard for pastors to tell their stories because their stories are not their own. Because no individual’s story is only about that individual. The protagonist is always surrounded. There are always antagonists, companions, and supporting characters.
To tell my story is to also tell part of someone else’s story. And, of course, as the saying goes, there are always two sides to every story. In the case of a pastor telling their story, there can be dozens of other sides to a single story.
Tell Your Story – The Beauty and the Heartbreak
Pastors’ stories also belong to their congregation, to the volunteer leaders, to the staff that they work with. This is both beautiful and paralyzing.
Here’s where it makes the story-telling beautiful: If I try to tell a success story, I quickly realize that my success is not my own. In fact, in my 13 years as a senior pastor, I can honestly say that I was only marginally involved in most of the great things that happened in and through our church: Pancakes and Prayer; Women’s Shelter Breakfasts; our incredibly rich and talented worship team; our strong and vibrant Small Groups system; our generous giving which was double the national average; physical healing and restored relationships; the dozens of people who came to faith or found a church home for the first time in their lives.
These are fun stories to tell. They are easy stories to tell. Which is why there are so many books by pastors with inspiring success-story titles.
But the dark side of pastoring brings on the paralysis: If I try to tell a story of a failure I experienced as a pastor, I must be equally honest that others’ failures were involved as well. If I tell stories of the greatest challenges I ever faced as a pastor, they are going to paint someone else in a bad light. Which is certainly not the point. Any good pastor truly loves his or her people—even the most difficult ones. But since so much of church life is public, even changing someone’s name won’t be fool-proof. Anyone who was there will know that when I say John I really mean Steve. (Or is it the other way around? If you were there, you would know.) It’s nearly impossible to tell the stories about marital infidelity, infertility, substance abuse, bigotry, racism, mental illness, theological arguments, political divisions, workoholism, academic plagiarism, gossip and slander, and plain old hurt feelings and still maintain people’s anonymity.
These are painful and hard stories to tell. Which is why there are far fewer books by pastors that give such peeks into the underbelly of church life.
Yet pastors need to hear and read other pastors’ stories.
The reason to tell your story is for someone else to read it and feel less alone. “What? You, too? I thought I was the only one!” Or for someone else to learn from my struggles and failures. “What happened? And you responded how? Ok—I’ll be sure to never do that.” Or for someone to at least get a clear picture of pastoring and feel encouraged to press on. “So that’s what being a pastor is really like? That’s the cost? I’ll pay it.”
Such story-telling goals can only be reached if the stories told are honest and true. Curated? Yes. Edited? Yes. But how to tell such stories? I don’t even know where to begin.
This article about the difficulty to tell your story originally appeared here, and is used by permission.