Longing for Engagement

Stewardship storytelling engages us together

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friends talking around a table outside

What happens when we bring people together to explore the gifts God has given us? So many life-giving things! Stories. Connections. Engagement. Generosity. Several years ago I was introduced to The Generosity Project, an intergenerational stewardship series grounded in story. It gave me the opportunity to explore more deeply the story of The Feeding of the Five Thousand from John 6 with folks of all ages. While listening, we got a chance to see ourselves in the characters, as part of the story. 

You know the story. Jesus and his disciples are being followed by a huge crowd. Jesus asks Philip where they can get enough bread for everyone. It’s one of Jesus’ tests and Philip jumps in: “It would take more than half a year’s wages for each one to have a bite” (John 6:7). Then Andrew notices a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish, and mentions it to Jesus. Jesus invites the crowd to sit on the grass. Then, the boy gives all his food to Jesus, and Jesus gives thanks, and distributes it to the people. We know the rest. Everyone ate their fill and there were even twelve baskets of leftovers. 

Every time I read this story with others, we talk about who we might have been that day. Philip, the one questioning whether we have enough in the budget? Andrew, the one problem solving maybe even when it’s not needed? The boy, who gave it all away? A family in the crowd who saw the bread and fish being passed and wondered if there would be enough, so they opened their own bag and shared what they had with the people around them? This story is about the miracle of Jesus feeding that crowd, but I also know it’s about God using each one of us, inspiring each other in actions and words, to make the impossible happen, together. 

Engaging with stories grows generosity and faith. There’s been plenty of talk about how, in stewardship, we must tell impact stories to show congregation members how important giving is. It’s true, but I think creative storytelling does so much more. Stories knit people together in a shared experience, deepen our imaginations and emotions, nudge us to look outside ourselves, and focus our attention on the observable effects of God’s Spirit moving us to be engaged and generous. 

But we must tell the right kind of story. 

  • Stories that engage us in what we are hearing on an experiential and emotional level make the story “out there” intertwine with the story “in here.”  
  • Good stewardship stories intentionally engage us together as followers of Christ to do God’s work in the world. 
  • Good stories avoid the trap of boasting about all we’ve done and listing numbers. Numbers are important, but they tell only part of the story. 
  • Good stories invite listeners in to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Here are some thoughts on crafting good stewardship stories. You may want to do this process with a group of people, and write the story or stories together—or, invite others to respond to questions on their own, collect their stories, and weave them together yourself. 

  1. Start with prayer. Stories are about our encounters with God, Christ, and the Spirit. 
  2. Ask powerful questions. What brings us joy in our ministry? How is our ministry making a difference in the lives of people? What positive impact does our shared ministry make in our community? What inspires personal involvement? These questions ensure each of us can be a storyteller – with a story to tell. 
  3. Identify themes and commonalities in the questions’ answers that will help tie your story together. 
  4. Connect to scripture by including quotes, or summarize how your story and God’s story align. 
  5. Think through the beginning, middle, and end of your story, both with words and with images. What pictures do you want your listeners to have in their minds as you tell the story? What do you want them to feel?
  6. Start writing! 
  7. Practice telling your story. Stories that are told and not read are always much more engaging – and your stories are about God’s action in and through the people in your congregation and community. Remember to look at people as you tell your story.
  8. Share your story. 
  9. Close with thanks to God for all those who have joined in God’s work in your congregation. And invite everyone to participate in your ongoing ministry story in concrete ways.    

Most importantly, remember that God is with you as you imagine, write, practice, and share your stories. Feel God’s holy hug as you live into God’s call to be the hands, feet, and words of Christ in our world.

  • Karen Johnson Kretschmann

    Karen Kretschmann works with our ELCA Mission Support Team as the Coordinator for Storytelling Engagement. She recently retired after 6 years with the Delaware-Maryland Synod as Director for Evangelical Mission (DEM) and Associate for Generosity have the privilege to work alongside new ministries, congregations seeking vitality, as well as supporting engagement, generosity, and storytelling. Karen seeks out and loves to tell stories that engage us all in our ministry together. To hear some of these stories check out our ELCA Stories of Faith in Action at livinglutheran.org/sofia.

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