Telling the Story
As a global team in a faith-based nonprofit, a big part of our job is to tell our story. Depending on the audience, we might craft the story a little differently or choose to hone in on a specific kind of story that resonates best. But our job is to tell the story.
It is the story of Freedom to Lead International. They are the stories of men and women in Asia and Africa who are being developed as Christ-centered leaders in their areas of influence. We tell stories of people who are seeing communities impacted and churches coming together and peace being made. Yes, there are even stories of hardships and challenges with prayerful hopes that God will make his way in these situations.
Telling the Story Well
As storytellers, however, we want to be a good steward of that which has been entrusted to us. We strive to tell stories with integrity and honesty. We want to protect the stories of people who could stand in harm’s way if their story gets out to too many. We want to tell stories in such a way that we do not become the heroes of this story; rather, it is the under-resourced leader in West Africa who is the hero. We want to tell stories so that it is not done in a superficial or overly spiritualized way, but in a way that reflects real people in real circumstances where God is most glorified.
Telling this story well is one of our greatest tasks.
Because this is the challenge: people are drawn to the “sensational” stories. I’m certainly not immune to this. In our Hollywood-era culture, I like stories that give me goosebumps of delight or fire in my bones against injustice. I love hearing stories of whole communities coming to Christ as a result of a gospel presentation. I love reading headlines about a group of girls that were recently rescued from a sex-trafficking ring. I get excited when we hear of orphans from Eastern Europe finding forever homes, refugees from Central America being welcomed into a new community, a group of 1000 people getting baptized in a river in South Asia, or a whole village in southern Africa getting clean water for the first time. I rally behind a Christian organization when they claim that someone is coming to Christ “once every four minutes” because of their ministry. Even stories of destruction and calamity and persecution keep me refreshing my news feed every few minutes.
And there’s something to these stories. We need these stories. We need the encouraging stories to keep us hoping and we need the discouraging stories to keep us praying. There’s nothing wrong with these sensational stories, not in and of themselves. We believe in a big God that can move mountains.
However, as storytellers faced with this challenge we have a great choice before us. We can either give our audience only the great stories that will completely amaze and awe, because we certainly have a few of those, OR we can tell it like it is. We can either inflate the details a little bit to make the “wow” factor pop even more…OR we can tell you stories that show that leadership development is long and hard and difficult to measure, but God is still working.
There’s a story we tell in Freedom to Lead about one of our participants in East Africa who took our material and training from our Peacemaking module and made peace with 38 former witchdoctors who are hearing about Christ for the first time. We often tell the story of areas that are so dangerous to Christianity that we work with leaders across the border who are taking it back to these hostile areas on their own initiative. We like to tell the story about a small group of Christian leaders in a country that has been in the middle of a civil war for decades having a plan for peace for the first time. All these stories are true. Every single one of these stories is true and they need to be told. But we don’t get these stories every day (or even on most days). To give our audience the impression that we do is dishonest. And to make the public think that these things are happening solely because of the ministry of FTL lacks integrity.
The Everyday Stories
No, the everyday stories are stories of the woman we met in East Africa four years ago and seeing her soften her approach to people over time, becoming a leader of influence rather than a leader of position. But it took four years for her to get there.
The everyday stories are stories of an older man who is taking the principles of the “rice field” kind of Jesus leadership and is seeing good things happening in his marriage and among his adult children. But that didn’t happen in a fortnight.
The everyday stories are stories of a young guy who has a mentor for the first time and is now able to mentor others in the same way. But there have been some painful lessons for him along the way.
The everyday stories are stories of people who traveled 600 kilometers over two days to get to the training because they see the worth as evident by the good changes happening within their churches at home. But these leaders have had to learn patience because their people are not responding to these changes as quickly as they’d like.
The everyday stories are stories of Christian leaders from a large range of denominations, ethnicities, and languages, coming together for the very first time and wrestling through these leadership issues together to become like a “family” at the end of four years. But the first several years were a little “touch and go” for awhile.
Because leadership development is long and hard and difficult to measure, but God is working in these everyday kinds of stories.
Our greatest delight here in Freedom to Lead is not merely in the act of the storytelling itself. Our greatest delight comes from responding to God’s invitation to be in the midst of these stories and inviting others to participate as well. Because of people’s prayers, financial gifts, partnerships, interest, contribution, and support, we all get to play a major part in these stories, too. That’s perhaps the biggest “wow” factor of all.