Among my acquaintances, friends and interwebz connections, I believe I’ve spotted a trend: More people are getting discouraged about promoting the reading, writing, and publishing of Christ-influenced fantastical fiction. I’ve recommended one way to fix this: We can’t skip over Jesus’s appointment of His institutional Church of churches to get His mission done — as if we need only individuals and the internet for the calling/ministry of fantastical stories.
Now — after some delay — it’s finally time to deliver on what I promised before:
Geeky fans sometimes do find a place in a local church and can begin to share the stories they love. It happened to me, anyway, and I hope to share some of my own story.
Intro: my local church
From spring 2007 to November 2013, I was an attender and then a member of Providence Community Church in Lexington, Ky.2 As a church “wanderer” before then (because reasons), I was finally able see a biblical local church born and grow and start maturing as a vibrant body.
Providence was (and is) a great option for a church home. Its teaching pastors3 explore Scripture book-by-book and verse-by-verse. They teach the biblical Gospel without moralism and without basing the “sermons” on joyless-cautionary or fluffy-inspirational anecdotes. As for the people, they are friendly and diverse in backgrounds and ages. You get the small families and large families, older empty-nesters and younger college students, and hardcore Southern Baptist Reformed theologian types and folks who care little about the “isms” and prefer reading other things.
Turns out there was plenty of place for me there: someone who enjoys studying the “isms” and semi-thick theology books, but also loves to explore and share fantastical fiction.
Both enjoyments can glorify God, though in a church you’d think theology books would get more traction. However, I was convinced that if fantastical fiction is a gift that a redeemed saint can use to worship Him, then why not worship Him together using such a gift? Was there any way to do that? I started thinking about a “new” kind of church activity …
SpecFaith goes live
Some years before Providence, my family and I attended another church: Tates Creek Presbyterian, also in Lexington. This was during the Lord of the Rings films’ theatrical releases. And two folks at that church4 were hosting a groundbreaking (for me) study about a book other than the Bible: the actual The Lord of the Rings by the actual J.R.R. Tolkien.
Surely those fond memories inspired me to try the same at Providence. But I hadn’t done anything like this before — something you’d think a fantastical fan would not be intimidated to try.5
Yet try we did. We started with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, following the same homemade syllabus you can still find right here at SpecFaith. Next we moved to The Hobbit, timed quite well for the first film’s release date. That summer we shifted to movies, starting with the original Star Wars trilogy and then also watching and discussing The Princess Bride, WALL-E, and one of my favorites, the underappreciated The Spiderwick Chronicles.
Here’s how we organized the church story groups.
- We met weekly or once every two weeks at the church. For the reading groups we met on Saturday afternoons. The final movie groups were on Sunday afternoons.
- We encouraged participants to read book chapters in advance.
- We also read chapters — or chapter selections — aloud during the reading group.
- Fun voices are optional. Acting your character is encouraged. Trade narrators often.
- Celebrity impersonations: mandatory (at least for myself, such as constantly calling dibs on the role of Aslan as he could have been portrayed by Sir Patrick Stewart).
- Don’t be awkward. No aw-shucks or nervousness! If you love these stories and know that you can use this love to help worship God with others, then show it. Even “fake” that confidence until it becomes real. And suddenly you realize you’ve leveled up.
- Prepare in advance. No I’m-just-a-nerd nervousness! If you love these stories and know you can use this love to worship God with others, then show it. Even “fake” the confidence until it becomes real. Suddenly you’ve leveled up as a Christian and a fan.
I’m no longer a member of Providence, only because in late 2013 my wife and I moved to Austin, Texas. One of these days I’ll try to start another church story group — or find new ways to encourage others to attempt starting story groups in their local churches.
Maybe then we can encourage Christians to see fantastical stories in a biblical light. Maybe then we can view them just as joyfully-seriously as we should view other gifts of God.
And maybe then — much further down the road, and further than we would have liked — we can also build up more desire among Christians for stories that beautifully and truthfully explore the fantastical wonders of God, realistic people, and amazing worlds.
Would story groups work in your church?
- If you struggle in a church that is unbiblical or ungracious, I would like to pray for you, maybe even in the comments. ↩
- Let’s name names, getting real specific and incarnational — not just “my church,” in that vague sort-of-anonymous-internet way, but with skin and proper nouns. ↩
- Biblical churches should best have more than one pastor. The role is also called a “shepherd” or “elder” in the New Testament texts. ↩
- A brainy organist and a friendly English teacher. I wish I could recall their names. ↩
- I also had limited experience leading groups or teaching classes. ↩