“There is this about story: when we get caught up in a story, we don’t know how it is going to end. Nor do we know who else is going to be part of the story …. Nothing in a skillfully told story is predictable. But also, nothing is without meaning – every detail, every word, every name, every action is part of the story.

“… If we get acquainted with church in language that comes to us in the form of story, we don’t know exactly what is going to take place or who will be in it or how it will end. We can only trust or not trust the storyteller to be honest in the story he or she tells. If the story of the first church is told in the form of story, we are given encouragement to understand our new church also in the form of story. That means we can’t know every detail of how it will look, who will be in it, or how it will end. The only thing we know for sure is that it is the story of Jesus being retold with us being the ones listening, responding, following, believing, obeying – or not.

“Knowing that helps enormously in reading Acts….

“Acts is not a manual with blueprints and a set of instructions on how to be a church. Acts is not a utopian fantasy on what a perfect church would look like. Acts is a detailed story of the ways in which the first church became a church. A story is not a script to be copied. A story develops a narrative sense in us so that we, alert to the story of Jesus, will be present and obedient and believing as we participate in the ways that he Holy Spirit is forming the Jesus life in us. The plot (Jesus) is the same. But the actual places and circumstances and names will be different and form a narrative that is unique to our time and place, circumstances and people.

“Churches are not franchises to be reproduced as exactly as possible wherever and whenever – in Rome and Moscow and London and Baltimore – the only thing changed being the translation of the menu.

“But if we don’t acquire a narrative sense, a story sense, with the expectation that we are each one of us uniquely ourselves – participants in the unique place and time and whether of where we live and worship – we will always be looking somewhere else or to a different century for a model by which we can be an authentic biblical church. The usefulness of Acts as a story, and not a prescription or admonition, is that it keeps us faithful to the plot, Jesus, and at the same time free to respond out of our own circumstances and obedience.”

– Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011), pp. 118-119.

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