Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

Story-Formed Disciple-Making

  • Tim Brister Pastor, Author, and Blogger
  • Updated May 14, 2019
Story-Formed Disciple-Making

Our church has been working through the book of Exodus each Lord’s Day, and one of the things that continually strikes me is the emphasis God makes on story telling. Basically, God says “Here’s what I am going to do to bring glory to myself,” and following that explanation, He says, “Now you are to remember what I have done and tell it to your children and generations to come that they may know it as well.” The act belongs to God. The story telling belongs to us. God’s people are responsible to tell others what God has done for them. At the end of the day, faithfulness to God is a matter of stewardship to tell the story.

The Precedence

When God brought judgment upon Pharaoh, He declared to Moses,

“Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:1-2)

When God made provisions for his Passover, He gave the following instructions,

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.... You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped (>Exodus 12:14, 24-27)

And when God instructed His people regarding the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, He added,

You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’  And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year (Exodus 13:8-10).

Remembering the story of what the Lord had done in bringing deliverance through the Exodus was central to the existence of the Israelites. They remember in order to tell it to others, especially their children and generations to come. Take a look at how Psalm 78 explains this importance:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God (Psalm 78:5-8).

When the people of God failed to remember and be shaped by the story of their deliverance, we read the following words,

How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe, when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in the fields of Zoan (Psalm 78:41-43).

I could go further in making the case for the importance of story telling and being story-formed, but these should suffice for now. It should be noted, however, that the acts performed were not only stories to be told but songs to be sung. Take the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 or how many of the Psalms (Bible’s hymnbook) were written to tell the story again and again (e.g., Psalm 78, Psalm 105-107).

The Practice

This emphasis of story-telling in Scripture is intended to make the case that we are a story-formed people. In the same way God’s people in the Old Testament were formed (literally) by the Exodus from Egypt and shaped by the remembering and retelling of that event, so too are God’s people in the New Covenant to be formed by the Exodus through the Cross of Christ and be shaped by remembering and retelling of that event.

Of course, the story is broader than the Exodus and the Cross of Christ (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration), but everything seen in this story points forward or backward to the world-transforming event of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The question we must ask ourselves is: How important is telling the story of the triumphs of Christ and being shaped by it? How necessary is being story-formed in our disciple-making? 

I’m convinced that being story-formed is far greater in importance than we have considered it to be. Discipleship tends to focus on practical how to’s and doctrinal categories, which I would argue are important. But I don’t see God telling His people to test folks on doctrinal precision. Rather, what I do see is God setting up for His people in both Old and New Testaments ways of being shaped and formed by the redemptive events that are retold by God’s people. Why the Lord’s Table? We are to remember regularly through eating bread and drinking wine our own Exodus from Egypt through the blood of the Lamb. The remembering is experiential, not just doctrinal. It should shape our identity and govern our lives.

I said earlier this year that I believe discipleship could simply be stated as the process where the story of the gospel rewrites the story of our lives. The more I read and understand how God raises up His children, the more convinced I am that such a brief definition could not easily be exhausted. In all our disciple-making, dear friends, let us be remembering the Story.

Tim Brister is a pastor and elder at Grace Baptist Church. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.