It was 12:30 a.m. when my phone went off. I answered the call, awakened from my deep sleep. A familiar voice apologized to have disturbed me at that hour but requested I talk to him. I got out of the bed, went to my reading room, and began to speak with him. He was sharing a story of distress. One hour passed. I sighed to end the conversation. But he asked me to be on the line for a little more time. He shared his story full of burdens for well over ninety minutes before we ended with a prayer.
People want to share their stories. It could be the person seated next to you at church. Even when church members know each other and address each other by name, they may fail to notice others’ joys and pains. We take notice only through sharing stories, but not many opportunities are provided for members to share their stories. By sharing stories, we not only know others’ names, but also who they are.
The Bible encourages us to share our stories with one another. The psalmist says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” (Ps 107:2). Paul shared his story whenever he had the opportunity (Acts 26), which brought people to listen to him. Paul instructs, “Bear one another’s burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:12). While bearing a burden means helping carry another’s weight, emotionally and spiritually it means to share what is in the heart—a heart burden—to one who can be trusted.
Joshua Gowin writes in Psychology Today that when someone shares a story to a friend, he or she can transfer that experience directly to their brain. The receptor can feel what the remitter feels. The listener empathizes with the storyteller.1 Philip Pullman affirms Gowin, stating, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”2 He states further that sharing stories brings people together. When people share openly about their experiences, challenges, hopes, and joys, they connect with others on a deeper level.3 I believe the deeper level of sharing stories involves personal spiritual practices.4 By sharing personal stories, both the teller and the receiver develop trust and a sense of acceptance and oneness. When one shares in full trust, the other shares as well. The bond is created for further conversation and prayer. I know that sharing stories comes with the challenge of gossiping. But when it is done prayerfully, people go from sharing day-to-day stories to sharing spiritual and transformational stories.
In my church I introduced what I call kayamuya time. This is a fifteen-minute period between Sabbath school and the divine hour of worship. Kayamuya simply means “chitchat.” Those fifteen minutes are allotted to chitchat and sharing stories, and the church and foyer become a little noisy. But I feel that is where God’s people share their stories and bond together as one body of Christ. When the opportunity is provided to share stories with one another, the acceptance level between the members improves. Genuine sharing also may protect against gossiping and judgmentalism. Sharing stories connects people—especially those who feel isolated, neglected, marginalized, and stigmatized—by giving them an opportunity to call someone a confidant and feel included in the church.
“Social meetings” and “Adventist hotels” were key to inclusivity and engagement among the early Adventists. They were instrumental to the growth of the Adventist movement. Social meetings occurred in places of systematized worship service. These meetings were informal worship services where believers prayed together and shared personal testimonies.5 Adventist hotels were just Adventist homes, where many Adventists gathered for their quarterly meetings. So many believers stayed overnight in different Adventist homes, which were well supplied with spare beds. All women helped with the housework. There were interesting things to talk about. On these occasions, ties of friendship were strengthened, never to be broken.6
LET US SHARE OUR STORIES
Sharing stories can be part of the regular worship service: During meet-and-greet time, the pastor in charge asks the members to turn to someone other than their own family and ask a specific question to engage in conversation. The pastor proposes a question or inquiry, which is not too personal, to begin a conversation. Such questions could be:
- Tell me about your week.
- What specific challenges has life thrown at you?
- Tell me something interesting that happened to you this week.
- Tell me about your hobby.
- What do you like the most in the church?
- What is your favorite dish? Why?
- What tools do you use to help you in your spiritual journey?
As the plan is implemented, and after the people get accustomed to the different model, the questions can be designed to evoke more emotions. This exercise will enable people to know each other in person, connect at a meaningful level, grow closer, and begin to feel included and accepted.
Ellen G. White says it is our love, embracing all humanity, that proves we are members of the family of God.7 Once members attain this level, they are more likely to stay, for they will have friends with whom to share their joys and sorrows.
1 Joshua Gowin, “Why Sharing Stories Brings People Together,” Psychology Today, June 6, 2011.
2 Philip Pullman, “Sharing Stories to Bring Us Together,” Family Councils Ontario, February 15, 2017, https://fco.ngo/blog/sharingstories-bring-us-together.
4 Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Reveal: Where Are You? (Published by Willow Creek Association, 2007), 70.
5 Theodore Levterov, “Early Adventist Worship, 1845–1900,” in Worship, Ministry, and the Authority of the Church, ed. Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, Studies in Adventist Ecclesiology 3 (Silver Spring, MD: Biblical Research Institute, 2016), 55–79.
6 Luella B. Priddy, “Stories of a Pioneer Church,” Youth Instructor, January 19, 1926, 10.
7 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing: Health and Happiness (n.p., 1990), 104.
Paulasir Abraham, PhD, DMiss, is an associate pastor at the Southern Asia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, MD, USA.