The theme for our 2015 Session of our Indiana Conference will be “Share Your Story.” As we gather on May 28-30, we will engage in worship, elect delegates to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences, set a budget for 2016, celebrate the ministry of clergy who are retiring, celebrate the ministry of new clergy being commissioned and ordained, memorialize those clergy and spouses who have died in the past year, and conduct a variety of other business. Our time together will include the usual fellowship, greeting old friends, meeting new friends, and considering our ministry together as the Indiana Conference.
But somewhere in the midst of all that, we will also reflect on the questions: “What’s my story? How does my story fit into The Story of what God is doing in the world? How can I share my story with others?” These questions are personal and individual, but they are also corporate as we consider the story of our over 1,100 United Methodist congregations in Indiana, our many institutions and extension ministries, and our conference as a whole, What is our story? Can we see God at work in our lives and ministries? Can we share that story with others?
In preparation for our 2015 Session, I invite you to reflect on those questions. Come prepared to share your story. Come prepared to hear the stories of others.
The 2008 General Conference of our United Methodist Church, in response to the advocacy of our Council of Bishops, added the word “witness” to our membership vows. Now when persons join our United Methodist Church in any of our congregations, they are asked (or at least they should be - I note that many pastors and churches have not yet caught up to this change), “Will you support the church by your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness?” That last word “witness” can mean everything from sharing your personal story to advocating for change at the state legislature. It means putting our faith into action by testifying to what God is doing in our lives and in the world. That is the deeper meaning of our annual conference theme of “Share Your Story.” What we are called to share is our witness, our testimony, our story of what God is doing. Our story is not really about us – it is about what God is doing.
As we things about “Share Your Story,” perhaps these guidelines will be helpful:
- We earn the right to share our story with others by our willingness to listen to their story. Listening is the first step to sharing our story - not just because it is polite, but because we believe God is at work in everyone’s life and we want to encourage everyone to notice God’s activity in their lives and in the world. Listening is one of the most loving acts we can offer to one another. So listen first.
- Share in “I messages” - it is not helpful to share in “your messages” that try to tell another person what they should be doing or changing. Sharing “I messages” keeps our sharing authentic and real. No one likes to be told “You need to change” or “You need the Lord” or “You need to be saved.” The most effective sharing begins with our personal testimony or witness about our own changed lives.
- Remember that the “hero” of our story is God, not us. What we share is how God is changing our lives, forgiving us, calling us and leading us. We follow the model of the blind man healed by Jesus in the Gospel of John who kept repeating his story, “I was blind, but now I can see.”
- Include the story of our church, sharing how being a part of our congregation or small group or ministry helped us to be supported in our discovery of God’s presence in our lives. While our witness is personal, it is also corporate. Any honest telling of our story will include how other people have helped us to find God at work in our lives.
- Finally, humility is the hallmark of sharing our story. What we share is our own story without claims that we have all of the answers or that we are a perfect example of God’s work. Humility allows the other person to hear our story and to make their own interpretations for their own life.
One final word about “Share Your Story” – any sharing of our story, any verbal witness or testimony about what God is doing in our lives must be supported by the evidence that our lives truly reflect what we are saying. If our lives fail to be examples of what we share, then our witness is phony and counter-productive.
I look forward to hearing your story. I look forward to hearing the story of your congregation. I look forward to hearing the stories of what God is doing. I look forward to sharing more of my own story. Above all, I look forward to hearing The Story of what God is doing.
See you at Conference.
Bishop Michael Coyner,
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church
“Making a Difference in Indiana ... and around the World”