Is “The Story“ just another over-hyped program to avoid? After careful research and recommendations from a couple members in their congregation, David Lenz, Lead Pastor of Hope Church in Richfield decided to take the plunge with “The Story.” Read why he is so glad they did!
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]very year congregational leaders have many programs pitched at them. It is easy to become jaded about “the next big thing” sweeping across the church. The Story is a 31-week program designed to take a congregation through a chronological experience of the Bible read as a novel, without any verse references. The text is the Bible itself, presented in slightly abridged form using the NIV translation. Where text is abridged, Randy Frazee, creator of The Story program, supplies brief editorial connections (Frazee is the Senior Minister at Oak Hills Church, a multisite church in San Antonio, Texas). I found myself at home theologically with these connections, as I believe most will regardless of their denominational background.
A year with The Story means that the people of the congregation must commit to the discipline of regular Bible reading. Some do this better than others. Even those who read nothing still could participate through the weekly sermon. In the same way, visitors could join in without feeling left out. We always had more copies of The Story ready to distribute.
Frazee, in the background material, introduces his framework of the Upper Story and Lower Story. This is his way of holding up God’s sovereign and sometimes mysterious plan and purpose for the world (the Upper Story) alongside the messiness and perplexity of our human existence (the Lower Story). For Frazee, the biblical story is the intersection of the Upper Story and Lower Story, God’s relentless pursuit in Christ of the people he loves and of whom he will not let go. Use of this framework is optional. I made occasional reference to it but chose not to emphasize it.
The Story Offers Many Resources
There are many resources to support the use of The Story. At Hope Church we utilized the age appropriate curriculum for children and teens, a workbook for small groups, and a video based curriculum featuring Randy Frazee (twenty minutes of his teaching followed by time for discussion) for one of our adult classes.
Far and away our favorite resource was the videos for the teen curriculum that we used each Sunday in our worship services. One artist uses line drawings in animated cartoon form; a different artist paints the story being told that week. Both are extraordinary – you must see them to appreciate them. These videos added a rich texture to our experience of The Story.
A refreshing aspect to The Story is its deep embrace of the Old Testament. Twenty-one weeks of the 31-week experience focus on the Old Testament. Many of us found it deeply helpful to delve into stories about which we may have had only passing knowledge from long ago Sunday School classes or oblique cultural references. There was a powerful cumulative effect as each week built on the previous week. We could sense that we all were learning and growing in discipleship.
We built the schedule so that we could launch The Story in September and use the chapter on Easter on Easter Sunday. This meant that we took a brief break from the The Story during Advent and finished the program in mid-May.
The Story Allows for Creativity
You can be as creative as you want in your application of The Story to your context. Heidi Connors, our Minister to Children and Their Families, wrote a script each week for a Bible character who appeared – in costume – for the children’s message. Adults loved this too!
I knew that we had met an important need of the congregation when the Sunday morning discussion-based Bible class I taught doubled in size from 60 to 120 during our journey through The Story. People wanted to do more than read the assigned text and hear sermons; they wanted to talk about what they were experiencing.
My only frustration with The Story was the lack of chapter and verse references in the text. In some cases, Frazee integrates other books of the Bible (Psalms) in the telling of the story. In order to be sure of what you are reading, you have to access the list of references at the back of the book. This was cumbersome.
Spending a year in The Story was a unifying and rewarding experience for our congregation. It was wonderful for every age and stage to be focused on the same biblical material at the same time. We enjoyed the rich blessing of reading and discussing the Bible together so much that we made it the first year of our current three-year theme: Hearing the Story, Living the Story, Sharing the Story.
David Lenz is Lead Pastor of Hope Church in Richfield.