Monday, January 10, 2011

To Teach or To Tell

“Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” ~Mark 5:19

[Before I broach my subject today, I am inclined to immediately qualify it with the fact that as of this writing, I am not in a position of leadership in any church or ministry.  The following is merely my opinion; though granted it has been formed by research, prayer, and my experience on both sides of the topic.]

It is a question I have wrestled with for over a year now: to teach or to tell.  I can only say that the answer varies from situation to situation.  There are some instances that beg first-hand accounts: miraculous signs and wonders, events or circumstances that succinctly reveal some part of God’s identity in the telling.  Conversely, there are deeper, more subtle nuances of God’s character that require diligent pursuit and a carefully drafted theological lesson to explain and illuminate.  Yet today, the question gnaws at me because I believe that in certain communities we are lacking a powerful, Kingdom-ordained tool: personal testimony.

It is a wonderful thing to be privy to the healing and restoration of other followers, and then to be able to share parts of their stories (with permission, of course) with others among the faithful.  However, to sit in the congregation and hear a story of freedom told in third person is a lesson; a parable from which we glean truth.  It is distant, impersonal and easy to hide from.  Yet to look in the face, to hear the tremble in the voice of the former captive is to connect to this truth on a personal, visceral level.  It is not a lesson but a reality; tangible and living, physical proof that Christ does save, Christ does heal, and Christ does restore!  To be as frank as I can, it was a testimony that finally led me to faith.  Within my heart sprang forth the cry, “If God can love this person, He can love me!”  It was the first-hand telling, not the teaching, that finally made salvation personal and applicable to me.

Is it risky to let someone tell their story?  Sure.  Who knows what they’re going to say once they have a microphone in hand.  Might the content offend some in the congregation?  Probably.  But Jesus frequently offended [imagine, as a ministry leader, being told that you’re just as guilty as someone caught in the act of adultery].  What if the congregation judges the speaker, or labels them?  True freedom in Christ has a way of protecting hearts.  The crux of these questions being: is God trustworthy?  Can the leaders trust that God has truly called a person to share their story of His redemption?  Can the leaders trust that if anything out of their control happens, God will use it for His good?  Can we, today, trust that God uses His people telling their stories to further His kingdom; or do we only place our trust in carefully thought out, well-annotated, pre-approved sermons?

The subscription to highly organized lessons calls into question whether some people are actually called to share their stories.  [Note I say some, not all.]  Indeed, Christ Himself, tasked the man who had been possessed by a legion of demons not to become one of His followers, but to “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).  Why?  We learn from the surrounding verses that to see a man (who had previously broken through chains and stalked through the tombs cutting himself while night and day crying out) calmly proclaiming his salvation would amaze all who knew him.  Christ didn’t send His apostles to tell the populace of the miracles He preformed.  He sent the person He healed because people needed to marvel at the change; to say, “We knew this person when he/she was wounded; and now, look…!  We can not deny the power and authority of Jesus!”

For millennia, God has been using the stories of the broken, the lost, and the sinner, from their own mouths, to call others into His kingdom.  It could be because God knows we are afraid to admit the depravity in our own souls to Him [though He is aware of it already].  It could be because He delights in our show of love for Him in this way.  It could be because if you are an utterly broken, deceived, and struggling soul, you have a hard time personalizing messages from the seemingly pious folk behind the podium.  And so, you need to hear from someone who has tread the ground in which you are now mired.  You need to see the face of one who has been freed from the prison in which you are languishing.  You need to experience the presence of someone who has been held captive, but is now free through Christ.

Jesus, being fully God and therefore aware of the hearts of humanity, knew that we need to see, to touch, to personally encounter stories of healing and redemption so that we might recognize the need for this power in our lives.  Because in truth, these testimonies give glory to God, with no person or program or production standing in the way.  All the glory, honor, and worship are His!  And the Lord is made famous, not the teacher.