The lead mentor of the Leadership in Emerging Culture Doctor of Ministry (now titled: Semiotics, Church & Culture) program at George Fox University when I attended was Dr. Leonard Sweet. As the seismic writer of SoulTsunami he says that “every kid in the world knows these four words: …”Tell Me A Story.”[ref]Leonard I. Sweet, SoulTsunami. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 423.[/ref]
He believes that story came to be a negative word in the modern world. To be a “storyteller” was one of the worst things you could call a person, but in the postmodern world, storytellers hold the future in their hands, especially those who use all the “basic media forms: print, software, audio, and video.”[ref]Sweet, SoulTsunami. 424.[/ref] He suggests that the life of Jesus was neither essay, doctrine, nor sermon, but was “a story.”[ref]Sweet, SoulTsunami. 425.[/ref]. For Sweet the “Christian message is not a timeless set of moral principles or a code of metaphysics. The Christian message is a story…. [ref]Sweet, SoulTsunami 425.[/ref] His favorite definition for preachers is “story doctors” where he says:
People come to worship with problem stories, with painful stories, with jostling narratives and “narrative dysfunctions,” a condition and process “by which we lose track of the story ourselves, the story that tells us who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.” Preachers help heal people’s narrative dysfunction and help them live out of new, whole stories. Bad stories hurt and impair; good stories heal and help.
In AQUAchurch he speaks about two kinds of stories: “rut stories” and “river stories.” A “rut story” limits us and locks us in place by keeping us stuck in “old tracks and trajectories.” On the other hand, a “river story” moves us forward. These stories “add life-giving software (accumulated memories and learning) to the brain’s hardware (billions of neurons). He believes that the greatest “river story” is the story of Jesus.[ref]Leonard I. Sweet, AQUAchurch. (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 1999), 57. These images come from Donna Markova’s No Enemies Within (Emeryville, CA: Publisher Groups West, 1994) as quoted in Robert Hargrove, Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration (New York: BusinessWeek Books, 1998), 65).[/ref]
He further suggests that we do not discover “the Way, the Truth and the Life by memorizing verses and mastering facts.”[ref]Leonard I. Sweet, AQUAchurch. (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 1999), 59.[/ref]
In Summoned to Lead,[ref]Leonard Sweet. Summoned to Lead 133.[/ref] Sweet says, “Telling stories” used to be a euphemism for lying. No more. Story is crucial in communication. He quotes John Raymond as distinguishing between “tradition-stories, map-stories, and vision-stories.”
Sweet suggests that we need all of these kinds of stories [ref]Leonard Sweet. Summoned to Lead 134.[/ref] to and I would suggest that all these kinds of stories may define the overarching Story of Scripture.
Finally, in Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, another book read by the LEC2 cohort I attended, Sweet suggested (as we have suggested above) that we should:
- Memorize and live out its stories.
- Fall in love with a new passage every day.
- Take it to bed with you.
- Talk to it and hear it talk to you as you wrestle with the text.
- Become a fifth gospel, a third testament.[ref]Leonard Sweet. Out of the Question…Into the Mystery: Getting Lost in the GodLife Relationship. 77.[/ref]
He suggests that the Story of God is not yet finished that God has framed, “but that we are invited to have a hand in coloring.”[ref]Leonard Sweet. Out of the Question…Into the Mystery: Getting Lost in the GodLife Relationship. 78.[/ref]