Satan vs (insert ministry name here)

Gargoyle

My photo at Notre Dame Cathedral

Now there came a day when, in the court of the King, His heavenly subjects were before Him and Satan was found to be among them again. The crowd murmured against him, but Satan, though defeated, had not yet reached the end of his time. And seeking to spread his misery, he approached the King. “What brings you here, O wicked one?” the King exclaimed.

So it was that Satan brought forth his carefully crafted claim. “You, who know everything, know exactly what I have seen. You claim perfection and omnipotence. You claim that through the Death and Resurrection…” And here the impious creature lost his composure as he seemed to choke on the words.  “…you claim all has been made right. But you are neither perfect nor all-powerful because you tolerate imperfection. I have found a ministry of yours that has failed its purpose.  Hear now the case I make.”

The King gave permission for the case to be presented.

Satan spoke, saying, “Surely an organization staffed entirely by your underlings would have unparalleled success because all have been made new in your image and all have one purpose and all would have access to the mighty power that you claim to possess and, in fact, to have given to them. Yet that is not the case. [Insert your ministry’s name here] has failed to achieve its mission and fulfill its vision. There is still much that it has failed to do. Its failure is, in fact, a sign of the tenuousness of your reign and proves your dominion over the earth is provisional at best!”

Hearing this, the King called forth one of His elders and said, “Let us review together what has been written in the Book of Deeds about this ministry. Go and bring the book here to the assembly that we may establish the facts.” And so the history of the ministry was reviewed that judgment might be made upon it. The elder returned, and standing on the dais at the side of his King, he placed the book on the podium, opened it, looked up at the assembly and then began to read…

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Insert here details of your ministry’s

  • mandate from God (its mission),
  • distinctive values,
  • vision,
  • major successes,
  • major failures or shortcomings,
  • a brief narrative of the epic stories that have become part of your ministry’s lore – its “myths and heroes,” and
  • major challenges  yet to be conquered.

Insert also anything else you would like to include in God’s permanent record of your ministry’s life.

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The elder finished reading the entry in the Book of Deeds, closed the book and sat down. Having heard the record of the ministry’s history, the assembly turned its eyes to the King and awaited His judgment.

The King did not consider long.

“Satan, you continue to misunderstand the times. Your definition of success is not Mine. You judge by externals because that is all you can discern. I judge by the heart. The issue to be judged in this case is, given their present level of maturity and understanding, are My people who work in this ministry doing their best to discern and obey My will?”

The King stood to His feet, gathered His robes around Him and announced for all the congregation of heaven to hear, “Just as My kingdom has been established in fact and is also being established in experience, so also this ministry has been established and is being established. Like an acorn that grows into a mighty oak tree, this ministry is growing and progressively fulfilling its mission and vision as its staff remains faithful to My call and open to discerning My continuing guidance. On that basis I declare that [insert your ministry’s name here] is successfully fulfilling its purpose.”

As the assembly bowed to worship the King and marvel at His wisdom, no one noticed Satan withdraw from the assembly, defeated yet again and realizing ever more fully the awful finality of his cosmic defeat at the Cross.

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Storytelling

Leaders are storytellers, so you should learn how to create your own stories. Practice writing stories, even if you never use them exactly as written, because you will use stories in your speeches, interviews, newsletters, orientation sessions and fundraising appeals, not to mention writing posts for your blog. The story you tell will reinforce your ministry’s goals, values, and its way of life every time you tell it, so you want to craft it in a way that is interesting and memorable, that touches people emotionally and taps into their own aspirations.

Writing a story

Your ministry’s story is a big story, so if writing narrative is new to you, you might start with a much simpler assignment and just craft a story about something that happened to you, such as I did when I discovered ink on my face. It took only a few minutes to write the basic story about how the ink got on my face, but it took another two-and-a-half hours to craft it into the version that was posted.

That was time spent thinking about how to set the scene for maximum humour, how to create empathy for me, and how to bring the reader to suspect what was happening without my saying anything. I wanted my readers to squirm a bit and be very glad that the story is about me and not them!  I was thinking about the rhythm of sentences, and using paragraph breaks to focus the reader’s attention and provide some pacing that highlighted the moment of horror. I changed it from the past tense to the present tense, to further involve the reader in an unfolding calamity and I used imagery that should be pre-existing in most readers’ minds, so they could better imagine exactly how it was. The application point took time as well. And then further time was spent stripping the story of every unnecessary detail and honing it into as few words as possible.

Uses for stories

A good story takes time to develop, but then it is useful in so many ways. The ink story will be a great one for me to tell (in the right circumstances of course) because it shows I am a fallible human (an equalizer with my audience), willing to poke fun at myself (not pretentious) and I think it builds rapport with people who have vicariously shared an experience with me. You can use stories to position yourself with your audience too.

I crafted the heavenly court story as an assignment for my doctorate program in which we had to creatively tell the story of our ministries. I did not intend to actually use the story anywhere, but writing it was good practice in creating an attention-grabbing opening, a plot-line, a building of tension towards a crisis point and then a resolution that satisfies the listener (or in other situations, a call to action). And, since I have a practice of getting three uses minimum out of everything I write to justify the time spent writing something, I’ve just got my second use by using it in this post! Now if I can only find one more place to use this heavenly story, I’ll be happy!

Ghost Writers?

Some people have others write their material. I don’t know their circumstances, but for me I write everything that has my name on it because a) I want to be honest, and b) I want a personal connection with you. Except for technical writing, I deliberately insert my personality into my writing so you can get to know me better. What you read are my real sentiments, not what somebody else thinks will be most effective. I want you to hear my voice, not a ghost-writer’s. And I think most leaders would want the same. So it is worthwhile learning to write well.

Getting started

If you want to become a better writer, you can read all you want about how to write, but you only actually become a better writer by writing, so why not try your hand at creating an opening and conclusion for a story about your ministry? At least try to write a really good opening sentence. And please share the opening line or paragraph of your story so we can all get our creative juices flowing. Be daring and share!

I took an open enrollment university course about fifteen years ago on how to write fiction. It was very helpful in learning the elements of a good story. I got a lot of practice doing the assignments in that course. By the way, the absolute best book I’ve ever read on writing well is called, funnily enough, On Writing Well! Part One alone (just 48 pages long) is enough to fix virtually every bad writing mistake most people make. That book will help with the content of your writing. For help with grammar and formatting, I’m sure you are familiar with the standard reference book, The Elements of Style.

Have fun crafting your story and please post your opener!

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Thoughts on Satan vs (insert ministry name here)

  1. Darren

    Great post John! I’d also add that practice crafting stories and becoming better at writing well are also good tools for the speaker who is wanting to improve in their speaking. The best way to do this is to practice telling the stories that you’ve written!

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