Nehemiah was convinced that the generations of God-followers around him needed to experience something that would move their faith beyond its present condition. Think about what happened. Everyone in the community experienced the wall at some level. The text implies that assignments were made to families and tribes. Remember the people of God were “in disgrace,” suffering from the loss of their reputation and respect. The context of the story created a backdrop for all of the people to see what God could do through them.
Here’s another critical thing to think about when you are trying to raise a generation who find their identity in the story of God:
Make people feel significant by giving them something significant to do.
Several years ago at Orange Conference, Donald Miller shared a story about a friend of his who was having problems with his daughter. The dad was worried because the daughter had gotten involved in a Gothic lifestyle and was dating a guy who was bad news. As a frustrated dad, his technique for dealing with the situation was to yell at her and make her go to church. When he came to Don for advice, Don told him, “I think what your daughter is doing is choosing a better story.”
He went on. “We’re all designed to live inside a story. Your daughter was designed to play a role in a story. In the story she has chosen, there is risk, adventure, and pleasure. She is wanted and she is desired. In your story, she’s yelled at, she feels guilty, and she feels unwanted. She’s just choosing a story that is better than the one you’re providing. Plus, in the midst of placing her in an awful story, you make her go to church. So, you’re associating a bad, boring story with God, who has a great story. Don’t do that anymore. You have to tell a better story.”
The dad became inspired and within a week he had made contact with a small village in Mexico that needed an orphanage. The orphanage was going to cost about $20,000, so he proposed to the family that they raise the money. He painted the picture for them: “Here’s the deal, you guys. I found this village in Mexico that needs an orphanage. Awful things may happen to these kids if they don’t have a place to go, so I think we need to build this orphanage as a family. It’s going to cost over $20,000, and I know we don’t have any money, but we need to do it within two years.”
He brought out a whiteboard and asked his family—who all thought he had lost his mind—for ideas. His daughter piped up and said, “I have a MySpace page and lots of friends; maybe we can use that.” His son added, “We’re going to have to go to Mexico because if we’re going to do this, we need to see the village. And we’ll need passports.”
What’s happening here? They were getting caught up in a real story with risk and adventure. Within three weeks, the girl had broken up with her boyfriend. Why? Because she found a better story, one in which she gets to play the heroine. She gets to sacrifice and give of herself to accomplish something that’s great, and she’s wanted and needed in this story.
The heart will gravitate toward whatever offers adventure and significance.
The bottom line is that everybody needs to experience something bigger than themselves. Whether we provide them the opportunity to so do or not, they will look for a way to participate in something adventurous. The question is not whether they will find these elements in the story they choose. The question is whether the story they choose will be God’s story. Will it have wonder, discovery, passion? If they miss the wonder, they will miss God doing something beyond their capacity. If they miss the discovery, they will miss who it is that God wants them to become. If they miss the passion, they will miss the chance for love and compassion that comes only from engaging the God who redeems this broken world.
What story are you telling in your church, your ministry, your home? What would telling a better story look like for you?
Reggie Joiner is the founder and CEO of Orange, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to influence those who influence the next generation. Orange provides resources and training for churches and organizations that create environments for parents, kids and teenagers. Prior to Orange, Joiner co-founded North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, with Andy Stanley. During his 11 years as the executive director of family ministry, he developed a new concept for relevant ministry for children, teenagers, and married adults. If you end up road tripping with him across the country on Orange Tour, be prepared to stop at every antique store along the way. He has found a way to wear orange for 3,453 days and counting.
Joiner has authored and co-authored books including, Think Orange, The Think Orange Handbook, Zombies, Football, and the Gospel, Seven Practices of Effective Ministry, Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, Lead Small, and Creating a Lead Small Culture.
Joiner and his wife Debbie live in Cumming, GA, and have four children: Reggie Paul, Hannah, Sarah, and Rebekah. For more information about Reggie Joiner, visit ReggieJoiner.com or follow him on Twitter @ReggieJoiner.