Don’t miss part 1 of the interview, in which Kyle Idleman shares how stories take strange turns, bringing together such diverse realities as Taco Hut toilets, drunk drivers and outreach in the center of God’s grace.
Practically, how does Southeast circulate these stories of grace?
We learn and tell stories strategically and corporately. In our church we do that during baptism most weekends. We get a little peak into a person’s story. We do that with communion and we talk about what God has given us that we don’t deserve. Every week we meet with a small number of people who are new to the church and say, “Hey, how did you end up here?” As leaders, we connect with our people’s stories. One of things we do as elders is gather together every Tuesday morning, and we pray together for people who are struggling in various ways. We learn their stories. As we pray together for God’s redeeming work or conviction or repentance, it aligns our hearts with grace. It almost forces grace front and center.
Do you think all great stories find their center in grace?
When you hear someone else’s story about receiving or giving forgiveness, it automatically triggers a personal connection. I believe it’s true with almost any redemptive story that it can’t help but engage others. On Dateline, 20/20 and 60 Minutes you often see the story of a person extending forgiveness to someone who doesn’t deserve it. When I hear the background it almost always reveals someone who has experienced the grace of God. They are giving what they have received. That is, by definition, grace. It flows. You receive it and you give it.
How do you empower a community to tell honest stories?
In the last 15 years, a key word in the church has been authenticity. I think vulnerability is probably a little bit deeper. The more vulnerable people are in telling their stories, the more powerful the potential.
In Grace Is Greater, Idleman tells an embarrassing story about himself.
It was Thursday morning and I was lying in bed next to my wife. She had fallen asleep but I was awake, staring at the ceiling and thinking about my sermon for the weekend. The focus on my message was on learning to live with regrets. I suddenly heard a crash come from our bathroom. I hopped out of bed and ran in, and saw that the full-length mirror that had been hanging on our closet door had fallen off and was in pieces on the floor. When that mirror fell, it exposed something that I deeply regretted.
How did the closet door end up with a hole in it? I got into an argument with my wife. To be honest I don’t even remember what it was about. But I got angry, lost my temper, and punched a hole in the closet door.
After the mirror fell and broke, I stood there and looked at the hole in the door and then down at the floor. I could see my reflection in the broken shards.
You shared that story the following Sunday during your sermon. Why tell a story about punching a hole in a door?
I know, you’re already thinking, the guy who punches a hole in the wall, you don’t want to be that guy. But that was the point: I was that guy. I felt like God wanted me to share it. It also fit perfectly with my sermon about regret.
What was the reaction to you sharing the story?
The power of sharing was really surprising to me. People lined up after the services and they were saying, “Me too.” So many guys came up to say, “I’ve never told this to anyone, but I’ve done that.” By being vulnerable it created a greater culture of grace with one another in our community. It was safe for people to be vulnerable themselves. When I was vulnerable, I repented and discovered grace and other people did too. This is what I mean by a culture of vulnerability where it’s safe to be honest. Instead of pointing a finger, the church raises a hand and says, “Me too.”
But it makes you look bad.
It was really hard, not just because it was embarrassing to me. It was embarrassing for my wife and for my kids, but it was true. I once read a quote from a pastor named Jean F. Larroux III: “If the biggest sinner you know isn’t you, then you don’t know yourself very well.” When I first read that I was a little bit defensive. Paul says something similar in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Some people assume Paul was talking about his past mistakes as a persecutor of saints. But Paul doesn’t use the past tense. He says am not was. When I know myself better, I realize even the good I do is often times motivated by my selfishness, my pride and my desire to impress other people.
What are the consequences of not understanding the depth of our own sinfulness?
In Hebrews 12:15, the author pleads: “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” The idea of a bitter root is that it’s a poisonous plant.