I am a regular viewer of the AppleTV show Ted Lasso. Like many others, I found this gem of television during the pandemic. Its authentic way of holding story through all its characters is a remarkable feat of writing and production. While the show is named Ted Lasso, it features detailed stories of no less than six different characters, of which, Ted is one. The “star” of the show is something beyond the characters. (My GenX cynicism tells me that the show’s payroll may not confirm this!)
I have been considering what it means to hold stories over these days since moving to Seattle in 2022. Often a pastor or ecclesial authority seeks stardom. Sometimes churches themselves seek the same. The rise of celebrity culture has seemingly permeated the church as much as any other institution. In the same way, denominations hold influence by maintaining their exclusivity and primary status. This is certainly not news to anyone. (As a person who recently left one denomination for another, there were many who were supportive and others who made me feel like I left the only one true church.)
What begs my wondering is what the very nature of the church, or just “church”, must be. Pastor Matt Smith, who is Co-Pastor at The Table in Sacramento, CA recently shared a book with me by Andrew Root entitled: Churches and the Crisis of Decline: A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for Secular Age. Like any good author, Root places words of clarity around fuzzy ideas in my head.
“The church is the narrator, not the star. The narrator serves the story and the primary characters in the story.”Andrew Root, Churches and the Crisis of Decline, p.91
The church’s work, according to Root by way of Karl Barth, is to make God the star of the show. This begs the question of how well Christians, or the organized church actually do this. What happens when people come to see the star of the show and, instead, see a lame opening act? Our call is to be faithful to the job of “Narrator.”
The church’s work, post-pandemic, is one of engaging people in the story of a living God who is dynamically loving this world. Our work is not maintaining broken things or propping up old systems which are easy because they are familiar. The much more challenging work is 1) Find where God is already working, 2) Share a compelling story of what God is doing, and 3) Celebrate how God is renewing all things in Jesus Christ.
We are not the star of this show. God is the star. We have the joy of telling God’s story in Jesus.