It’s hard to imagine being a steward of the gospel story unless one is willing to be a steward of one’s own story. That’s the assumption of the Narrative Leadership Retreat sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. A project of the Initiative for Ministerial Excellence, regional retreats on narrative leadership are meant to encourage ministers to mine their own experience as a method to clarify and strengthen their own leadership as ministers.
Ministers spend years in seminary preparing to teach and preach the gospel story but typically spend little time or effort exploring their own stories. Ministerial success or failure can often be attributed to one’s acceptance of the world of experiences from childhood forward including one’s family of origin. Small groups comprised of minister colleagues provide a forum by which one can tell their stories and explore their meaning.
Marcus McFaul, pastor of Highland Park church of Austin, said of his experience, “Ministers are called upon by members to help them make meaning out of their own problem-saturated stories and to work through them until they experience a sense of hope – to do that is to utilize a gift of discernment.”
Gail Godwin once wrote about the power of our stories, “What is incredible is how one can, through the process of memory, conjure up lost days, and by writing reshape them so they are more meaningful than when one is experiencing them.”
In mid-October, sixteen ministers gathered in Fredericksburg Texas, for the first of three retreats to participate in a conference led by Richard Hester and Kelli Walker-Jones, co-authors of Know Your Story and Lead With It, the Power of Narrative in Clergy Leadership. In the course of the four-day retreat, ministers shared a series of self-stories designed to help them connect the dots of God’s partnership with them in ministry. The sharing of one’s story in a non-critical setting with one’s colleagues is what Gerald Monk claimed, “as the archaeology of hope.”
Bob Searl, pastor of University Baptist Church of Shawnee observed, “It was remarkable to listen to other people tell their stories without any agenda to fix or advise them. We didn’t tell our stories to be corrected; we told them to be known, and to gain a better understanding of ourselves. It was also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, because most people are fixers by nature. We want to help, but in our eagerness we often don’t hear.”
In describing the narrative process, McFaul described the process, “It involves ministers recalling three key stories and tying them to a biblical narrative. In doing so, one can realize how one’s formative stories are stitched together. This self-realization becomes the basis for self-revelation and helps ministers not only live the Good Friday story but to learn to live out of the Easter story.”
Searl added, “To be listened to deeply is a life-giving, life-changing experience, and the heart of the Narrative Leadership Retreat. I am convinced I’ll look back on the experience as one of my life’s pivotal moments for the retreat helped me change the way I interpret and act out of my story. I came into the retreat with one narrative, one way of understanding the plot of my life, and went home with a new narrative. My story didn’t change, but the way I interpret it was redeemed, which, in a real sense, means I was redeemed.”
Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist of Austin noted the value of the retreat for ministry, “The narrative leadership event provided tangible ways and a safe place to discover our own stories with greater clarity combined with encouragement to use these stories for pastoral leadership. This is a retreat that I will be drawing from for years to come.”