You Have to Know Your Story

Last week I was in Dallas to lead worship with some friends of mine. My in-laws also live in the area, so I spent the night with them, and ended up driving around Arlington, marveling at how the area had grown (and shaking my fist at Texas Stadium, but that’s another story). Driving through the warm Texas fall, I noticed something that I found utterly fascinating.

Arlington has mostly always been a place of strip malls and—to my eyes anyway—awful urban planning. It has been marked by the worst of our public space and architecture, of a lack of awareness of history and human scale. In some ways, this trip merely confirmed all of that: ugly buildings that were merely twenty years old had been destroyed to make way for new ugly buildings. Chain businesses that had been thriving years ago had been rebranded and become new chain businesses that were now (for the moment) thriving.

But then I noticed something else.

Astonishingly, in the midst of this urban/suburban renewal and sprawl, I found two unlikely establishments that had somehow weathered the storm, and were still open,—twenty-plus years later—and were still going strong.

photo-4Out to breakfast with my father-in-law, we were driving down Division street when I asked him to slow down. There, set back from the street about 50 yards, was  “The Gold Nugget”. This place was really special to me and my wife, since it was the place where we really began dating. Back in the day it had a stage, and a volleyball court out back, but here’s the deal: in 1992 this place was a bit dingy, and a throwback. How in the world is it still in business? 

As I left Arlington and drove to Garland, I drove up Collins Street, past Cowboys stadium. Almost immediately across from that monstrosity was a tiny restaurant called “The Pitt Grill”.

That’s right: that’s the name.

Image via

Image via

I don’t know how long the Pitt has been in business. I know that I used to go there and get greasy eggs and bacon (mmmmm bacon) twenty years ago, and as best I can tell, greasy eggs and bacon are still on the menu today.

The Pitt has no website; neither does the Gold Nugget. Yet these two businesses somehow have weathered the storm of development that has utterly remade (and erased) most of Arlington.

There is no sleek, modern design in their dining rooms…

They don’t serve sushi…

They don’t serve any form of fusion…

I’m pretty sure their bartenders don’t have ironic handlebar mustaches…

While I have no doubt that their bills are manageable (seriously, they’re really not the nicest of places), I think what struck me about The Gold Nugget and The Pitt is that ultimately they knew who they were. I’m sure that over the years they grew a little, and got really good at what they did, essentially these businesses are doing the same thing that they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. They’ve seen probably fifty businesses come and go around them, and they still plug on.

The Gold Nugget and The Pitt remind me that you have to know who you are.

The Pitt and the Gold Nugget know what they do, and I have no doubt that they do it consistently.

I have no doubt that they have great stories to tell.

I think of churches that I’ve talked to that have essentially a beautiful traditional service that suddenly feel called to create an awkward and sparsely attended rock and roll service, merely because “that’s what you’re supposed to do.”

I think of leaders who are trying to be something that they obviously are not, struggling with authenticity (by the way, the people you lead can see it) without questioning why they are trying embrace this.

Meanwhile, all that many people “out there” in the world are asking for is for churches, organizations, and leaders that

  • quietly and confidently live out who they are (sometimes in the face of a radically changed world)
  • tell stories about what they’ve seen and what they’ve done

How well do you know yourself? How well does your church or organization? Are you living out your story? Or someone else’s? 




11 thoughts on “You Have to Know Your Story

  1. Really well said, and so true. One of the things we are focused on in our business. Being true to who we are, not trying to be who we are not.

    • I agree… you guys have that down pretty well. “Drift” is always bound to occur, but if you’re not changing your DNA, it’s just window-dressing… window-dressing doesn’t really cut it anymore in this culture. thanks man!

  2. I totally agree that authenticity helps you weather the storms. The problem is how much is necessary to reveal? All of it? I stopped leading worship in February just before I had an affair. Technically, I was NEVER qualified because of my self-righteousness to lead; however, this kind of shows some major character flaws: all of which are being redeemed. In some ways I am more “qualified” now than ever…he who has been forgiven much, loves much. However, being authentic doesn’t mean being undisciined, and sometimes an excuse for not rubbing off the rough edges. I would love to lead again one day, but now I wonder what sort of hoops I may have to jump through to “prove” myself. Thoughts like this are distasteful. And pondering it is like a circle of questions that never get answered. But after all is said and done, when the timing is right, I will use my gifts to minister to God’s heart because I have been forgiven much, just like everyone else. That makes me qualified. If I never lead again…well, that’s really in God’s hands. I don’t plan to make any public announcements in the name of “authenticity” but I know that with what I have experienced these past 9 months, I am more real than ever. The question is…is the church ready for me?

    • Wow… thanks so much for sharing. In my mind, the need “authenticity” needs to be balanced with the idea of who you can trust with your story. Sometimes, sharing too much can be difficult because some people aren’t capable of processing our stories in a healthy way. I agree that your—ideally of our—humility actually makes us more equipped to lead, but it can be a tentative path to walk through with a community.

      Thanks so much for you comment!

  3. I think I can say all of my nephews and niece know where their roots and values came from. They know who they are and have a very good idea of what direction their lives are going. Mistakes, sure , but they have all learned from them as I have.Their partners are evidence in the wisdom they all share. Their parents have been blessed with wonderful family’s and I have been blessed to be their uncle.

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