Last night was the first night of our "Encounters with Jesus" storying group. It's a group that's going to meet for the next couple of weeks around stories from the Bible of people who encountered Jesus and were changed by him. I'm working on developing the narratives, discussion questions, and response activities. Our target audience is people who have not read the Bible and do not attend church, but who have a level of spiritual interest that motivates them to attend. In my case, the spiritual interest has developed with this group of people over a long period of time and a significant relational investment on my part.
You can get a copy of the narrative and planning materials here. Once we have all the weeks completed, I'll edit them and get them into one booklet kind of thing and post that on the blog and my website.
So let me debrief the evening. The narrative in this case is quite long. It's the story of Nicodemus's encounter with Jesus and how it changed him. The source material for the narrative is the Biblical passage of John 3 and The Expositor's Bible Commentary and the Interpreter's Bible. I spent several hours researching and reading. The Nicodemus passage is so complicated and theologically deep that I knew there would be a lot of background that people would need to understand it. I built some of that background in, but it still felt like maybe there wasn't enough. We had to spend time during the discussion explaining what the Jewish ruling council was, how and why the Jews were longing for a political rescuer, and quite a bit about the story Jesus referenced from the Old Testament about the Serpent in the Wilderness. A person leading the discussion would probably want to take some time to make sure they understand those things and be able to explain them.
As far as the response time, there were a couple of interesting things. First, those who attended who are from the church were surprised at how open everyone was related to the question of brokenness. People had no problems sharing how they are longing to see God intersect their lives and the things they are struggling with. For church people, who are accustomed to presenting the best possible facade of their lives to other church folks, the inherent realness about brokenness that exists in the world can be quite shocking. For me, it's one of the things I love most about walking with people outside the church.
Second, we noticed that the idea of "life with the eternal One", which is what the commentaries say "eternal life" means in this passage, was something that people struggled with. For those who were trying to imagine what life with the eternal One looks like, they drew pictures of paradise. Even while acknowledging that Jesus was probably talking about how life with the eternal One could start now, their visions of what that means was idyllic. So one of the goals for the next few stories is to continue developing this idea and giving people a picture for what walking with God in the present means about life in the present. I don't know about you, but my life is far from ideal. Even so, walking with God gives me an eternal (and mostly hopeful) perspective that allows me to thrive in the midst of difficult situations. While I long for people to know the peace of eternal life in paradise, I also really want them to know the peace of life with the eternal One now. And that is what Jesus invites people into.
Overall, everyone enjoyed the conversation and we had some fantastic questions and observations from the group. If you're not familiar with the storying concept in general, you should definitely check out Michael Novelli's Echothestory.com. I am following and adapting his process for use with the adults in my world.