The best story

By Jena Marie O'Brien

My grandmother was the best storyteller. She would captivate anyone who was close enough to listen. She lived a very full life, and it was always a good time to sit and hear her relive her life through these stories.

Some of the stories were the happiest. She was a mom to eight biological kids, all born in a 10-year span, and fostered several children as well. She told of the mischief the kids would get in or remember how they did something cute and funny. Her big belly laugh, as she slapped her knee in joy, was contagious! And then there were other stories of heartache and brokenness, she lost a son to SIDs when he was just a few months old, and the day she passed, she was still expressing through tears the longing she had to hold him.

I believe it’s safe to assume everyone loves a good story. As Christians, I believe we especially love when it comes to the testimony of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. I am a sucker for a story where God is glorified because of who He is. However, the longer I am in church, the more I see that these stories often become the end point of knowing the Lord. It’s often how we encourage each other.

I started realizing this when Brad and I were going through times of suffering. We have had five miscarriages over the course of our 10 years of marriage, and I remember feeling confused when people would tell me, “I had a miscarriage and had a child just a year later, God is good and faithful.” Or just a couple of years ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer and I often heard stories that ended like this: “I am sorry your dad has cancer. I knew someone who had it and had a full recovery. It was our prayers that saved his life. Just keep praying.”

This is when I knew there was something drastically wrong with the way we encourage each other. Everyone was well meaning, and I did appreciate their attempt to empathize with me. But if we continue in this way, there will be a negative impact on community.

Just a few months ago, I had the privilege of teaching a group of women in ministry. The directive was an expositional teaching of a passage that has had an impact on my life or ministry. I was so excited about opening my Bible with a bunch of women and allowing the Word of God to do His work. It is my personal experience that we often attend events or engage in conversations where we talk about our experiences more than we speak about Scripture itself. We may have a verse to support the faithfulness of God in our stories, in our testimonies, but Bibles are not opened. It became even clearer to me that this may be one of the issues as to why many people are a part of a declining or dying church. We feed off a good story, but are we forgetting the best story? Or not making it the most important story?

Churches that choose to replant have most likely prayed and yearned for a turnaround in their beloved church and would agree to the importance of knowing Christ. I fear that some of these churches have clung so closely to the stories of their beloved church that it has become detrimental to the flourishing of a healthy church. We get stuck in the excitement of how God has worked in the past.

Thom Rainer wrote a blog post titled “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,” and in it he gives several reasons why he believes churches die. I remember reading through this list and having two points stick out: “Members became more focused on memorials” and “The members idolized another era.” It makes sense. This is where and when they saw God’s hand move! I get it! But what can we do to move past this so that (1) we can work through these feelings, and (2) we can make sure we don’t end up here again?

I believe the answer is somewhat simple. Instead of letting our focus become what was, let’s dive deep into what is. I am not talking about our story that is being written in our individual lives or even in the life of our churches, which are beautiful testimonies of God. But let’s base everything off of the greatest story ever told! Sisters, it is a must that we get into the Word. This means in our own personal worship time, as well as equipping others to read and fall in love with God’s Word.

We know we have all we need in Christ, not because of good testimonies, but because Scripture says so. We know God wants flourishing local churches that are on His mission, not because there is a new pastor or a new vision in a church, but because Scripture says so. We know God wants each of us to know all His attributes and His character, not because someone else has experienced it, but because Scripture says so.

Change can be hard in the process of replanting a church. The progress sometimes feels excruciatingly slow. So as our husbands work tirelessly to rebuild the bones, let’s be faithful disciples to draw other women into the Word of God. Let us pray and experience the Word of God with the sisters who are still hanging on. Instead of trying to change their minds on the color of the carpets or the need for updated decor, or sitting around remembering the “good ol’ days,” let’s draw them into the Word. Let’s be faithful in spurring on the saints to fall more in love with Jesus every day through his Word. This means for the sweet lady who sits in the back row who has been following the Lord for 65 years, as well as the woman who recently found the freedom of knowing Christ.

When we are in the Word, we become less self-focused on our desires and our mission, and we fall in line with the story God is writing. And by His grace, we get to be a part of that amazing story, which will one day be told to the next generation about the “good ol’ days”!

Published February 27, 2018

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Jena Marie O'Brien

Jena-Marie is the wife of Brad O'Brien, a replant Pastor in Baltimore City. She is a stay at home mom of 3 little girls, ages 6, 4, 2. Jena-Marie grew up in Richmond, VA before moving to Durham, NC where she met and married Brad. Brad has worked as a Pastor in a Megachurch, as a Church Planter and a Replant Pastor, therefore Jena-Marie has experienced the joys and the trials in each context. She recognizes that being a Replant Pastor's wife has its unique challenges and has a passion to share what God has taught her to encourage other wives.