Why family stories are important in ministry

Stories stick. People remember them.

Let’s not kid ourselves both as parents and leaders. We may think it is our most inspired words or profound teachings that shape the people around us.

Yet, it is the little things people remember—like telling real, honest stories.

My husband Rick repeated, at home and in the pulpit, the story of his dad’s instructions upon Rick’s first day of his first real job. Rick grew up near his grandmother’s dairy farm, so his earliest job was on the farm working for family. But there came a day when Rick moved on to work at local truck stop. Rick’s dad had coached him on a very important family core value—work ethic. And before Rick ever clocked in, he heard his dad’s voice in his head saying, “You do EVERYTHING your boss tells you to do, and when you run out of things to do, you find a broom and sweep the floor.”

So, the legendary work ethic story began and lived through repetition to every Ferguson kid as well as sprinkled generously throughout his sermons over the years. All you had to say was “broom story,” and our kids, and even church members, got it.

Shockingly, the story is still being told.

Two months ago, on Facebook, one of our former church members referenced the “broom story” because he had shared it with his son.

Another family story, that didn’t put me in such good light but explained a very important message about marriage, is one Rick had asked my permission to share in his sermon series on love. It went like this—

I (Kathy) put two five-gallon buckets, full of paint, in the back of our huge conversion van. I drove them all across Denver, CO running errands before finally parking in our driveway. Rick drives up and sees paint dripping out of the back of the van. The lids weren’t secure (oops!); both buckets were strewn across the van floor—sideways. But the only one who knew about the great spill was Rick because I was out with some friends; that is, until my daughter, Kate, called me whispering, “Don’t come home Mom.” It wasn’t a pretty scene. She then explained that her dad had stripped down to his swimsuit and gotten our son, Justin, to help him clean up the HUGE mess, which took hours and hours.

Yes, I stayed away until things had calmed down a bit.

Yet, ironically, Rick told the story to illustrate what love really is. Basically, he said,“My wife is not perfect, but I love her anyway.” It turned out to be very tender and emotive moment in his sermon. When he was killed a year later, many recounted the “paint story” to me. Clearly, preaching about unconditional love is one thing and practicing it in the grind of real life is another.

Please consider being generous in telling stories; they will stick!

Published June 2, 2016