As a confessional church, we like to be clear about what we believe. We value adherence to shared confessions. We ask new members to agree that what our church teaches is correct. We ask leaders to indicate their agreement by signing the Form of Subscription, which points to three historic documents that together make up a kind of boundary within which we think and talk about God and all things spiritual.
On a congregational level, that same inclination to delineate what we believe shows itself on our websites, where we articulate how we are different from the church down the street. We do that in order to persuade website visitors to appreciate our uniqueness and perhaps to join our church.
Another purpose for being explicit about what we believe is to have that serve as the foundation for our values, policies, job descriptions, and performance reviews. A well-written “what we believe” statement gives elders something to go by when they look at what our ministry staff are doing.
However, in my humble opinion, calling this set of shared statements “what we believe” is a misnomer. Perhaps we could call it “what we aspire to believe,” or “what we want to believe,” or perhaps “what our parents and grandparents would like us to believe.”
That is, unless, as a faith community, we regularly embark on an extended journey to hear each other’s stories of faith formation, to discover together all the different faith stories present in our midst.
What if we believed in our hearts that every person associated with our church has been sent to us by God for such a time as this—and that God had shaped that person with just the right upbringing, background, and experiences to bring a unique perspective on walking with God, a perspective we could all learn from in one way or another?
What if our leaders provided us with the coaching needed to help people rediscover their voices and encourage them to bring their spiritual journeys to the table? Imagine the great power in discovering and validating that in and through our respective journeys, God has been with us (see 1 Sam. 7:12)?
I believe that everyone has a story. For some, perhaps, that story even resembles the story of Joseph and his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Imagine discovering a similar thread in your own personal story!
We could really bless each other by sharing our stories with each other, comparing notes, and finding common threads. And, then, perhaps only after that, we can try to put on paper “what we believe.”
What is your story?