Tag Archives: Tim Chester

A Party for Prostitutes

Tel Aviv, December 2005

Last week I shared the story of throwing a birthday party for our friend J who had never had a birthday party before.

In no one indicating that the details are similar, it did remind me of this story by Tony Campolo as retold by Tim Chester;

Tony Campolo tells of a time when he was speaking in Honolulu, Hawaii. Campolo lives on the east coast of the United States so his body was six hours ahead of Hawaiian time. At 3am it felt like nine o-clock to him. Awake and hungry for breakfast, he found himself in a “greasy spoon” café in the small hours of the morning. As he bit into his doughnut, eight or nine prostitutes walked in. They had just finished for the night. Their talk was loud and crude, and it was difficult to avoid listening in. He heard one tell the others it was her birthday the following day. “What do you want from me? A birthday cake?” was the sarcastic reply. “Why be so mean?” she replied, “I was just telling you. I don’t expect anything. I’ve never had a birthday party. I’m not expecting to have one now.” When Campolo heard this he made a decision.

When the women left, he went over to the café owner, a guy called Harry. “Do they always come in here?” “Yes,” said Harry. “Including the one who sat next to me?” “Yes, that’s Agnes. Why do you want to know?” “Because I heard her say it’s her birthday tomorrow and I thought we might throw her a party.” Pause. Then a smile grew across Harry’s lips. “That’d be a great idea.” A moment later his wife was in on the plot.

What Happens Next

Half past two the next morning. Campolo had brought decorations and Harry had baked a cake. Word had got out and it seemed as if every prostitute in Honolulu was in the café – plus Campolo, a preacher. When Agnes entered with her friends, she was flabbergasted. Her mouth fell open and her knees wobbled. As she sat on a stool, everyone sang “Happy Birthday”. “Blow out the candles,” people shouted, but in the end Harry had to do it for her. Then he handed her a knife. “Cut the cake, Agnes, so we can all have some.” She looked at the cake. Then slowly said, “Is it alright … would you mind … if I wait a little longer … if we didn’t eat it straight away?” “Sure. It’s okay,” said Harry. “Take it home if you want”’ “Can I?” she said, “Can I take it home now? I’ll be back in a few minutes.” And with that she left, carrying her precious cake out the café.

What Kind of Church?

There was a stunned silence. So Campolo said, “What do you say we pray?” And they did. Campolo lead a group of prostitutes in prayer at 3:30 in the morning. When they were done, Harry said, “Hey! You never told me you were some kind of preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” Campolo answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry waited for a moment. Then he kind of sneered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that.”

Campolo Comments:

Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all love to join a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning?… But anybody who reads the New Testament will discover a Jesus who loved to party with prostitutes and with all kinds of left-out people. The tax collectors and “sinners” loved him because he partied with them. The lepers of society found in him someone who would eat and drink with them. And while the solemnly pious people could not relate to what he was about, those lonely people who usually didn’t get invited to parties took to him with excitement.

(HT: Tim Chester)

Photo Credit: Tal Bright via Photo Pin

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Does an Encounter with God’s Kingdom People Restore Humanity?

I was reading Mark 5 recently and most of the time, and it hard to argue with this, when I have read this chapter Jesus has dominated my focus.

But this time what struck me was the effect that an encounter with Jesus and his Kingdom has on the people in the chapter.

In v1-20, the multiple-demon possessed man, chased away from community, crying out in the tombs, cutting himself daily is restored to his family, and he goes home. Mark makes a point of recording those words of Jesus. A mother gets her son back, a sister her brother, perhaps even a little boy his dad and a wife her husband.

In v24-34 a women who has suffered 12 years with a menstrual bleeding, who has spent all her money on doctors and instead of getting better has got worse. She would have been classed as ritually unclean, unable to engage in normal sexual activity, unable to bear children and shunned socially since contact with her made others unclean.

Unable to make love to her husband or perhaps unable, because of her condition to find a husband or perhaps even divorced because of her condition. That night perhaps, she could make love to her husband for the first in years. The next day she was free to engage fully in the social life and fabric of her community no longer shunned but clean.

In v35-42 a Father gets his daughter back from the dead. A father distraught, mourning, filled with sorrow at the death of his little girl is reunited with her because of Jesus. That night Jairus can tuck his little girl in, tell her a bedtime story and kiss her goodnight because he encountered the Kingdom of Jesus.

The Kingdom of Jesus is one that restores our humanity, brings life and healing. And even more so than these stories the cross of Jesus restores our relationship with the Father – connecting us with the source of life, hope, dignity, love and mercy. When people encounter the Kingdom of God, it results in a restoration of their humanity, expressed primarily through their relationships.

That got me thinking… What results from the presence of God’s Kingdom people in my city? How does the city experience the people of the Kingdom in our city? All too often the result of our presence is mere words, a disengagement and a condemnation – rather than a restoration of humanity, expressed through restored relationships.

“The church… a glorious outpost of the kingdom of God: an embassy of heaven. This is where the world can see what it means to be truly human.” (Timmis & Chester: Total Church)

What is Storying?

Previously I wrote about why I thought story was a key missional practice in reaching and effectively discipling both traditionally oral and functionally non-literary hearers.  In literary societies the priority lies mainly with the teller, we read books and attend lectures or sermons by experts.  However in a non-literary context, “The missional mind-set places the priority on the hearer, not the teller.”[1]

This is not to discount the role of the storyteller or relativize all truth to purely subjective experience.  There is objective truth but there is also a subjective interaction and appropriation of that truth to the individual and a community.  Storying invites an interaction with an objectively true biblical story in such a way that those who participate are learning, discussing and engaging with the story firstly at a subjective level that invites them to consider whether this story fits with their experience of the world.  If it does they must then consider whether it is objectively true.

But what does it “look like” to do Biblical storying?[2]

REWRITE the biblical story keeping close to the biblical details but looking to simplify (e.g. remove details like place names, less significant people etc) and highlight repetition, turning points, tension and eventual resolution.  This is not a creative retelling (e.g. modernised setting), although this type of story may be helpful in itself; negatively it detract from the biblical text and limits reproducibility.  The average story ought to be about three minutes long.

REVIEW: Begin each storying session with a review of the previous story or stories as a group.  “Who can remember the story we did the last time?”  Try not to move on to the new story until everyone is up to speed.

TELL: Tell the story from beginning to end, resist the temptation to stop and add extra information or explain something. Stick to the story!  Be real and natural.  Be yourself, relax and have fun.  Use your voice to “explain” the story- change the tone, pace, volume as the story requires.  Do not read the story- tell the story.  Storying works best when the storyteller memorizes the story.

RETELL the story as a group asking everyone to participate in the retelling.  You could also retell it in pairs or smaller groups, or even have one person attempt to retell the story with help from the group.  To literary learners this may seem redundant and they may be tempted to skip this step.  Oral learners are comfortable with repetition and this is a key step for aiding memory and creating a reproducible story culture.

REFLECT: The storyteller leads the group in a time of dialogue and reflection on the story. This is not the time for the teacher to preach or for the expert to engage in a Question and Answer time.  This is a time to guide listeners to discover the truths in the story NOT from YOU.   For those of us who are teachers, this requires us to let go of our need to be the expert and allow the Bible story to do its work through the group’s reflection on the story. The teacher will aim to direct the group with a few well-chosen thoughts or questions.

The leader will always simultaneously look to direct questions back to the story and redirect questions back to the group.  Learning to ask the right kind of questions is a key skill for this to work well.  Learning to be patient is also key; allow time for people to process, for differing opinions, tensions, questions and wondering.  This is not a curriculum; this is not a rush to see who learnt the most from the story and who can get the right answers.  Storying is an invitation to reflect, to meditate, to wonder and to enter the world of the story and explore it, pick it up, turn it over, take it apart, put it back together and as we do that to God’s story, the Holy Spirit does the same thing to us.

Mark Miller says it well:

“A sermon tells people what to think.  A story forces people to do the thinking for themselves.  It can feel dangerous because it allows for interpretation… Do we trust people and the Holy Spirit enough to allow them to think for themselves?  Can we leave something open-ended, knowing the conclusions might not come until later that day, week, month or year?  Can we allow people to own the stories?  Or do we do all of the interpreting and leave nothing to the imagination?… In our attempts to make the Gospel clear, we have often squeezed the life out of it.  Jesus’ parables were intriguing, open to interpretation, playful, interesting.”[3]


[1] Mark Miller: Experiential Storytelling (Zondervan: 2003); p45 cited in Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p54.

[2] Drawing from Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p61.  And Caesar Kalinowski: Story of God Training

[3] Mark Miller: Experiential Storytelling (Zondervan: 2003); p37,41 cited in Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p63.

Why Story?

Storying is a well-established practice used by missionaries in the non-Western world.  In non-literary or oral cultures story-telling is the normative manner in which information is taught and cultural and religious values and beliefs are transmitted.  Stories are simple, repeatable and often told.  In the last 100 years (as far as I can work out) there has been a growing realisation that this is the best form of discipleship and evangelism in these cultures.

In the last 20 years or so there has been a growing realisation that story and story-telling is a methodology not just for the non-western world but one that is equally at home within a changing western world.  And we have seen the rise of storying within the post-modern, young, organic, emerging, cynical western church.  As with all movements storying is a mixed bag- some use it as an alternative to objective truth, Biblical inerrancy or authority of elders.  But I am an evangelical, comfortable with objective truth, subjective interpretation and hold to the Bible as the inerrant, sufficient, authoritative and inspired word of God.

Here are a couple of reasons why I think storying can work in our context:

1. The universal connection to story

There is something about story that has an almost universal connection.  Recently while discussing books and movies with the bartender at my local, I commented how he really knew his stuff.  His reply; “I just love narrative!”  Story rather than bare facts connects us to other human beings and opens us up to events and experiences bigger or other than ourselves.  Stories capture the imagination, fuel our dreams, break our hearts and help us to understand our world.  When old friends get together they normally tell the same old stories (with much embellishment), everyone knows what happened, how they end and who did what but everyone is caught up in the same old stories- laughing, correcting, denying details.  It is the stories that bind the group together and give them a collective memory and a collective identity.  Donald Miller notes; “I don’t know why we need stories but we always have.”[1]

2. The Bible is full of narrative

Approximately 70% of the Bible is narrative.  Furthermore although the Bible is undoubtedly a written work much of the teaching described in the Bible is non-literate in form.  When their children asked about the meaning of the Mosaic law the Israelites were told to tell them the story of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).  God built story-telling into the fabric of Israelite society (Joshua 4:4-7).  Jesus himself taught primarily it would seem through stories.  “If we are to allow the genres of Scripture to shape our teaching then stories will be a significant part of our communication.”[2]

3. The Bible is a story

Although the Bible contains different genres and many different human authors it all works together to tell one story.   The Bible clearly attempts to give us a meta-narrative (big story) through which we may understand our own place in the big story.  It has a clear beginning and moves throughout a drama set over thousands of years to a climax with the coming of God’s King towards an as yet unresolved but anticipated ending with the renewal of all things.  Interwoven into this big story are hundreds of little stories, laws, poems, songs, sermons and well thought out rational discourses, which all find their context, depth and significance when they are seen within the big story of the Bible.

4. We are in Africa

Much has been written of the success of storying in non-literary (or non-literate) oral cultures.  The majority of people in our country are non-literate learners; they are oral rather than literary learners.  Oral learners learn best through stories and proverbs.  They enjoy learning in groups, reason intuitively, think holistically, are comfortable with repetition, value traditional knowledge sources (such as community elders) and integrate their learning relationally.[3]

For non-literate and oral learners even an interactive Bible study can be intimidating and feel like an English comprehension exercise.[4]  The majority of theological education in South Africa is conducted in a highly literary context in order to equip for ministry to an assumed literary (or even literate?) people.  If we wish to reach and disciple effectively in our country we have to reconsider the primary learning styles of our context.

5. We are in westernised Africa

Increasingly the western world is becoming functionally non-literate, particularly among younger people and non-university educated people.  The functionally non-literate are those who can read and write but who rely solely on non-literary sources for their information and everyday functioning.  The technology explosion, and in particular the internet and social media has created a new non-literate people group.  They get information from television, Youtube and social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.  When they do read it tends to be online through blogs, news sites or web pages.  Storying has the potential to connect with both the more traditional African culture as well as the new technologically driven functionally non-literate westernised culture.

6. Story disarms hostility and scepticism

Cape Town has a strong Christian culture and almost everybody has been exposed to some form of Christianity and heard something of the Christian message.   For many this has served either as an hostile inoculation or as a fluffy over-familiarity that has no grounding in real life.  Storying invites you in to participate, explore, meditate on and discuss the Bible stories in a way that gets behind your preconceptions.  “Stories convey truth in a way that transcends what can be said in simple prose.”[5]

Great stories disarm you, get behind your prejudices and carry you along to an ending that dumps you on a foreign shore re-evaluating all you once held dear.  We have lost the wonder of story because we are surrounded by too many non-stories.  We are to once again proclaim the great story and call others to come and join their story with the Great Story.  We have lost The Great Story and so have lost our own story.   We have grown used to asking “Where does God fit into the story of my life?” when the real question is where does my little life fit into His Great Story.[6]


[1] Donald Miller: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Thomas Nelson) p80

[2] Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p40.

[3] J.O. Terry: Basic Bible Storying (Revised Edition) (Churchstarting.net: Fort Worth: 2008), p16

[4]  Tim Chester: “Bible Teaching in Missional Perspective” Porterbrook Network (Advanced Year Module); Unit 6: Introducing Storytelling, p46

[5] Tim Chester: Lord of the Rings: A Splintered Fragment of the True Light (Part 1) http://timchester.wordpress.com/2010/10/02/lord-of-the-rings-pt-1-a-splintered-fragment-of-the-true-light/

[6] Christopher J. Wright: The Mission of God (IVP: Leicester: 2006) p534

How Not to Plant a Church

Tim Chester wrote a post called Planting Biblically-Rooted Churches.  I recommend the whole post but I found his description of the dangers of church planting very helpful

Here are some dangers when planting a church:

  • to replicate your sending church or your past experience of church (a replica church)
  • to plant a church defined by what it is not (a reactionary church)
  • to plant the church you and friends always wanted to be part of (ideally suited to Christians, but not missional)
  • to attempt to reproduce exactly what went on in the first century apostolic churches (restorationist church which tend to be inward-looking)
  • to plant a church which is so ‘incarnational’ or ‘missional’ or ‘contextualized’ that it assimilates to the wider culture (and so in the end has nothing to offer)

Read the whole thing here

The Crowded House UK Trip 1

This is my second trip to visit The Crowded House in Sheffield, this time Jo and the boys are with me. We have paid hardly anything for this trip, we are really excited and more than a little bit nervous about three and a half weeks in a foreign country (make that another continent!) with two very busy under fives.

Two planes, two trains, a taxi, a whole lot of waiting, being caught in rush-hour at King’s Cross Station and very little sleep we arrived in Sheffield Tuesday afternoon.

A much needed shower, pizza for supper and a very early night followed!  Discovered though that our hosts only drink decaffinated coffee… going to be a rough morning!

Went for a walk in the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Wednesday morning, it was really beautiful and the boys got to run, shout, chase each other and pretend to be bears.  This northern industrial city surprises me more every day I spend here.

Wednesday evening the mini-conference that Jo will be mainly attending while I look after the kids began. They call it a house party, but that just conjures up, for me, images of Tim Chester dropping some rhymes while everyone chants “throw your hands up!”  Apparently it is acceptably understood by British Christians though….

And our hosts bought us some real coffee… true gospel hospitality 🙂

Wednesday evening I did, however, get the opportunity to go to a men’s event with Gavin Peacock (former QPR, Newcastle and Chelsea footballer and TV football pundit), who spoke on Biblical Manhood.  Although as you can see from the picture below he was fascinated by my explanation of the 4-3-3 system in the modern game.

Gavin‘s talk was particularly helpful, below are a few quotes Steve Timmis tweeted.

“God asked Adam, ‘Where are you?’, the Second Adam stepped up to answer and take responsibility.”

“A man can cry & be afraid but a man cannot whine, complain & blame”

“The call to manhood is not a call to be macho but a call to be mature”

“What is it to be a man and not a woman? A defining question of our culture”

“We’re called to be leaders by virtue of the fact that we’re male. It isn’t a competency issue; it’s a design issue”

“Be watchful, stand firm, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love”. (1 Cor 16:13,14). God’s Word to men”

“Overcoming sin in your life isn’t an effort thing so much has a faith thing.”