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?