A paper I wrote a couple years ago was recently published in Restoration Quarterly. The piece was called “Germany For Christ: The Churches of Christ and East Germany, 1945-1989.” In it, I tried to document efforts among missionaries and evangelists in West Germany to reach people on the other side of the Iron Curtain with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This morning, I received an email from a minister in Germany who has a trove of information and materials that would have given more flesh to my article, had I known they were available. This man’s voice is a valuable contribution to the story, and without it I’m afraid my telling of this story is provisional and incomplete. I discovered that there is more information out there. More voices to be heard. More work to be done.
That’s true of all stories, though. The raw data—people, events, experiences, reflections—are so vast that, when we tell our stories, something gets left out. For example, were I to relay the process by which I came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I would definitely include people like my parents and my grandmother who were the first to plant those seeds in my heart. But I couldn’t possibly name all the Bible School teachers and VBS volunteers and friends and mentors who helped me understand the love of Jesus. They too are an important part of the story, and without me naming each person, the story is incomplete.
This is why congregational narratives are always provisional. Rarely have we heard from everyone. Rarely has every event been accounted for. The story is always told from the perspective of the storyteller, because it couldn’t be any other way. But what of other perspectives?
We’re currently studying the Story of the Churches of Christ on Wednesday nights. Over the next ten weeks we will not say everything that needs to be said. We will forget to talk about important people, important events, and important ideas. There will be questions that will go unanswered. We may come out of this more confused than when we started. But we have to start somewhere. We’re not telling the Story of the Churches of Christ. We’re telling a story, one of many.
The same is true when, in a couple of months, we study the Story of West University Church of Christ. We’ll hear from some voices, but not enough. We’ll hit some big events that have set us on our particular path, but we’ll forget small events, the kinds of events that subtly shape and form us as a people. The story we tell will be incomplete. There will be more to tell. More work to do.
But we must tell our stories—our individual autobiographies, our congregational narratives, the histories of our movement and of the whole Christian church. They’re not just our stories. These stories—provisional, incomplete, lacking in detail and not fully developed—are also the stories of God.