When Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich was asked about the most revolutionary way to change society, he answered:
Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step … If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.
In 2011 I moved with my wife and three sons to Silicon Valley. The day we moved, I had just three people committed to my dream and just three thousand dollars in the church bank account. I'd never felt so scared, or so excited. We were pursuing a dream—to start a church that would engage our city with the gospel in a new way. It was a move of faith. I had no guarantees. But it all felt so right, like the next chapter in the story that God was writing for my life.
I assume that all of you who are reading this share my dream—that you care about seeing deep change in the people around you. As I seek to love and touch people in my city, I focus my energy on two main things:
- listening to their personal story
- telling them the Big Story.
Two big tasks. Listening and telling.
I've always sensed that my life is part of a bigger story. Whether I've been navigating a season of excitement or suffering, it's always been my grip on the "Big Story" (or the Big Story's grip on me), that has made sense of life's ups and downs. It's the times when I've forgotten this bigger story that I've felt the most lost in life.
When my wife and I moved into our new home in Silicon Valley we began getting to know our neighbors and praying for them. But we could never seem to make contact with the people who live directly across the street from us—they left for work and returned from work by pulling quickly in and out of their garage. They never came outside. But, I eventually noticed that I had a fifteen-second window each week where I could get to know my neighbor: when he would take his trash out to the street each Sunday night.
So on Sunday nights, the second I heard my neighbor wheel his trash cans out to our street, I would dash outside, "just happening" to wheel out our trash before the garbage man arrived in the morning. Each time I did this I would say hi to my neighbor and try to make a little conversation. I learned that his name was Kaywan and that he was Persian. I thought he hated me. His name and his ethnicity were all I could learn. He was a man of few words, who quickly went back inside.
The Sunday night ritual continued. Slowly, Kaywan began to open up to me. After several months our fifteen-second interactions turned into two-minute interactions, and eventually five-minute conversations. With a lot of listening I began to piece together Kaywan's story. He was a restless man in search of truth and open to talking about God.
After months of listening, my wife and I invited Kaywan and his wife to visit the community group that gathers in our home every Wednesday night. To our surprise, they actually came! And, even more surprising, they kept coming! Then they started coming to our Sunday worship service. I kept listening and telling the story that I believe, explaining to Kaywan and his wife how only Jesus offered the rest, peace, and purpose they were searching for. I invited him into the only story that is big enough to make sense out of all the beauty and all the brokenness that has been part of his story. Then, the moment came. God used me to lead my neighbors to place their faith in Jesus, to baptize them, and to begin a process of further discipling them. Today I can't imagine life on our street or life in our church without them.