Insight: Using narrative tension in Church Planting - Text

Thursday, 30 April 2015 16:30 Paul Thompson

Insight: Using narrative tension in church planting

Paul Thompson



Many scholars have pointed to the fact that like every good story the Bible has narrative tension. In other words you don’t’ know what’s going to happen, how the story will end. This is true in the Old Testament, but Jesus makes sense of the story. He becomes the story, it's all about Him firstly, not us. We get our meaning, purpose and identity as we connect oursleves to Him. Only then is the tension resolved about our sin, now suffering makes sense in light of his.

The Bible does of course tell us how it’s story ends and maybe we should begin reading at Revelation and not Genesis. Graeme Goldsworthy surely is right in suggesting we can only properly interpret the Old Testament through the lense of the New Testament. This makes sense in light of Jesus words to the discourged disciples following his resurrection that the "scriptures speak of Me.." The burning hearts they experience are because Jesus resolves the tension of his abandoning them at the cross and now they are finally overcome with peace and joy unspeakable because he is with them again and making sense of it all.

The Bible's story starts literally out of nothing, creation is amazing, almost overwhelming only to have an almighty crash in the fall and our first's parents shame and separation.  Hence the tension begins but God's promise of salvation in Christ (Genesis 3:15 ) really sets the narrative up for the rest of the story slowly but surely plays out in the history of the Old Testament. There is often incredible the tension, how will this play and so we must keep reading to the end of Revelation when the end to the story or the beginning of the end is equally overwhelming and glorious. We do live in the tension of the "now and the not yet." It is foolish to seek to resolve or neutralize this tension. God uses suffering and his providences to remind us time and again we are the creature, the child, the servant. Yes we are seated in heavenly places are prophets priests and kings, but our identity critical and encouraging as it is doesn't resolve the tensions in life or the church.

Constantly through the Old Testament there is narrative tension. We see it with Joseph and his brothers in the closing chapters of Genesis. We see it in books like Ruth and Job. We see it in Exodus under oppression and the life of David in all his struggles. The exile of God's people is his loving pressure cooker time to push them back to Him in weeping by the rivers of Babaylon.

As image bearers of God we have a sense that we are in a drama, not just of our own lives but that history really is unfolding with this narrative tension. We all want to leave a legacy to be remembered. We all experience suffering and conflict and although these are ordained by God for our eternal good and maturation they still create in us this unresloved tension. Why we ask with Job, how will it work out, what will happen we ask?

Can church planters use narrative tension in their ministries?

Interestingly Hollywood knows all about narrative tension and billions have been made because of it. Just read Dickins or Shakespeare of the Lord of the Rings or C.S Lewis and the Narnia stories to see that drama resinates with us. Why? We are in the drama. The drama of God's big story. You are significant and your Church planting drama filled as it may be is part of God's way of saving His people. In your Church Plant you get to live and work in minature what God does in salvation. Let me clarify. We are never saviours, we are humble servants. Yes we plant and sow but God give the increase. He the Old Testament He gathered and people and lead them and provided for their every need. He does this in Church Planting, gathering and leading and discipling. The Saviour is the real Church Planter saving people and shepherding them into a flock. We are beggars helping others beggars find food.

Doen't Church planting involve risk and tension and uncertainty. It is all about the now, the now of lets build community and disciples and equiping and service and growth. But tension and conflicts come and so peacemaking and love and grace are need to relieve pressure that builds with the body. Yes it is an great exercise of faith to plant, I joined a Church very new and know the joys and sorrows, highs and lows.  I have been through the pain of Church splits. Few men have the God given gifts and determination to undertake Church planting. Yet God often uses the tension and risk and conflict to birth another community of faith and the gospel. God who wrote His story knows all about tension and stress and suffering. Is he unjust and mean? No, a loving God knows this world and ourselves are flawed and in need of a Savour to rescue, renew us and grow us. This process of becoming like His Son is carried on strangely under the guise of suffering and tension.

What are some practical ways narrative tension can benefit you and your church planting ministry?


The most obvious benefit is that you more than anyone in the plant knows how the story ends. At the end of the day whether the plant succeeds or fails is not up to you. What a relief. Yes you are to use everything within you and around you to succeed. The means of grace and to be just that. They are essential for the journey. But unless the Lord builds the house, your labour is in vain.

You know that your story, your mission makes sense only because it’s part of God’s big story. It is a missionary story, the Bible with heaps of tension in the narrative that finally has been relieved. How? Jesus life, death and resurrection solve every conflict and bring a release of peace and forgiveness and new life that no one else ever can. What a relief that he has ened the conflicts and stress and pressures of ministry. Why? He is the Church Planter. He is building His church, you are joining Him in this glorious task.

How will it end? Doesn't Revelation complete the story, isn't the amazing ends in victory when all the Satanic forces that would destroy Christ and his church are overcome so enthralling? It's the hope of eternal fellowship and bliss around the throne. It's God glorified and us worshipping as Adam failed to do but we will then get to do for ever.

So next time your depressed and stressed because things are going badly think about the narrative tense and how the story ends in victory and joy and worship. Use, yes use this tension of the now and the not yet to believe and trust and perserve in hope. God's mission has been accomplished by Christ, is being accomplished by Him and will be at the end of time.

Show in your servant ministry to people you are one who believes the story ends very well. If you contantly don't others will find it hard to follow your lead. There's that tension so use it in a positive way to grow and change  yourself  first then in others.

There is victory and glory for God and Jesus and we get to share in that as Christians in the tension of the now and the not yet, so embrace it and find renewed joy and strength through it.

And as you serve the unchurched who experience tension and stress just because they are  living in a fallen and broken world and are fallen and broken themselves, explain to them why they are in tension and stress. Share the gospel and how Jesus alone can be the hero in their story and that he alone has come to bring peace, peace between them in their rebellion and God who is justice and holy and righteous.

How can they live in this tension and stress. They can’t but Jesus came to give their life and peace and joy in the midst of the tension. Now that’s good news. His life, death and resurrection resolves the tension between us and God.

What a job you have, yes it’s full of tension and conflict but it ends happily in the new creation.

So keep one eye on the ending, hold on to Jesus the victory and plant that Church God has called you to plant. Jesus is building with you and through you. What a joy, what a privilage.  So use the tension on yourself and your Church and live and work knowing it is resolved in Jesus and ends gloriously in Heaven with His bride. Now that's worth dying for!

Additional reading

For more on narrative tension

Making sense of other peoples stories

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 June 2015 06:37