My training in psychology prepared me to look with careful attention to the past and to analyze how stories from family and childhood experiences that shape our lives.
Not just our personal stories, but also stories embedded in religious rituals (i.e. communion), folk legends (i.e. Paul Bunyan), and civic narratives (i.e. voting rights) hold power to shape our self-understandings. These stories also give contour and texture to our identities.
Stories from the past are not the only ones that contribute to self identity.
Stories we tell ourselves about the future also fashion our self-understandings here and now. Also in my doctoral program at Vanderbilt, I learned the power of “future stories” by reading pastoral theologian Andrew Lester. I knew Andy Lester from my MDiv studies, but he published this book while I was serving in the parish.
Lester helps us see how we are the stories we tell to ourselves (and others) about ourselves. Those stories narrate both our past experiences and the future hopes, plans, and dreams we live into every day.
In terms of the practice of ministry, this way of thinking about future stories is valuable in many ways. Here are a few that top my list.
- Future stories allow us to give better care to people when we can see how they are impacted not just by what happened to them last week, last year, or in their childhood or infancy. We can explore with them how their future stories — about health, family transitions, job changes, etc. — are shaping their identities right now.
- Future stories help us as we lean into learning the practice of ministry. They give us away to imagine our future growth rather than thinking we must know everything now.
- Acknowledging our future stories and seeing multiple possibilities for our future(s) expands the hopefulness we can embrace in the current moment.
- When we listen to one another’s future stories our possibilities for partnership and empathy grow.
This week’s episode of Three Minute Ministry Mentor considers future stories in the context of ministry partnership. In this week’s video Pastor Carly, a participant in the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project, listens carefully to the future stories of Zambian pastors.
They help her to see their situation more clearly. They also imagine a future of care for children who are orphans of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. The pastors tell a future story that builds on their pastoral wisdom, and it opens up a more meaningful and hopeful future for the children in their communities.
How does the notion of “future stories” help you think about your practice of ministry? We would love to hear from you and receive your feedback here! Your ideas and feedback will really help us with the future stories of 3MMM.
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