Last week, I lead a few tours as a part of the grand opening for a new apartment building the company I work for had just built. Even though the new building wasn’t a project that I worked on, after a walkthrough with the team who spent the better part of their last three years making the building a reality, I was back in a familiar element.
I was a tour guide at the college I went to. So twice a week, and the occasional Friday visit day, I spent an hour or two of my day walking around campus with one or ten prospective students and their parents who were considering the school that I went to as their future home for the next four years.
The admissions office had it down to a science. The tour routes were exact, guides strategically selected (no electrical engineers escorting potential nursing majors around campus), and the script highlighted all the great things about our school and was wordsmithed to make the imperfect appear palatable and unimportant. But even with all the systems in place, there was a prevailing rule to make a tour great: get off-script.
We learned quickly that a twenty three-to-one student-faculty ratio would quickly be forgotten by the “prospies.” But they would probably remember that Bradley was a school with small classes and individual attention if I told them about the time my senior year I fell asleep in my class of twelve students. There’s no hiding when you’re sitting in a circle discussing the book you didn’t read. (Pro tip: Falling asleep isn’t a good way to avoid being called on.) Generic statements about cool school sponsored events didn’t register like when I would point to the grassy knoll next to my old dorm, and talk about the time when one of the RA’s bought a roll of plastic and a bucket’s worth of cheap soap and invited all the floors out for a slip ‘n slide when the sprinklers turned on at midnight during my freshman year.
Our jobs were to convince prospective students that this campus was a place that they could call their school and their home. And while we had an arsenal of facts programmed into our head (“A top five school in the region according to US News: Best Colleges!!! And the four schools ahead of us probably don’t even have your major. Or this cool statue that spells out Bradley if you spin in a circle three times and look at it upside down.”), the thing the admissions office expected to close the deal were our own stories.
I think that’s how God wanted us to share his story with our neighbors. He gave us a book that we sometimes confuse as a script (“Hey! Read these sentences in Romans. Now you’re a Christian! High five/side hug!”), rather than remembering that it’s a compilation of stories and changed lives.
Jesus was a tour guide who walked around the earth and told John, Peter, Thomas, and the other disciples how his father was working in his life and shaping who he was. And then he invited them to walk with him. And they lived and learned, and in turn walked through life with others, sharing their experiences with people who became names we recognize like Paul and Timothy. And they shared their hardest times and proudest moments with others that that led to others that led to you and me.
It’s not that we need to skip the script. We absolutely need to know the script and know it well. But the script itself was inspired by stories, and we need to bring it back to those roots. It’s easy to fall back on just the script: the facts and the life verses that have guided us through hard times when we’re sharing with someone for the first or tenth time. But maybe we were meant to let them see deeply into that hard time, and see how that verse was the only thing that we could hold on to in those days because everything else we had held on to had fallen apart. Even if that hard time is happening right now.
That’s what Jesus did, teaching from the script but also inviting people to walk with him from town to town and day to day. And that changed lives.