When you are preaching a narrative, I think it is healthy to begin with a default approach of tell the story, highlight the main point and then apply that main point. With many narratives, this approach works perfectly well. Last week I preached Luke 19:1-10 and found that telling the story of Zaccheus with explanation along the way worked well. That story flows through the plot, then has a twist at the end (in verse 10). So I told the story, made the point and applied it to our lives.
Yesterday I preached Mark 2:1-12. I could have told the story, made the point, then applied it. However, this approach didn’t feel right this time. The tension of the story comes in the middle. The men bring their paralytic friend to Jesus to take care of his physical need. Jesus then addresses the deeper spiritual need, which causes a stir, before proving his ability to do so by healing the physical need. I wrestled with how to preach this and decided on essentially two movements. First there is the bringing of the needy guy to Jesus (vv1-4) and Jesus’ healing act (vv11-12). Having made the point of this element and applied it to us, I then moved us into the “missing” part of the story (vv5-10). This made the crowd’s response more clear, but it also allowed me to build the tension more for this “forgiveness” core of the story. I could have told the story and pointed out how Jesus is the only one able to do the amazing feat of total forgiveness. Yet in this case the story told straight might have lacked something of the wonder and tension.
I am not saying I chose the right way. What I am saying is that when we preach a narrative, we may start with the approach of tell the story, make the point and apply it, but sometimes we may change that approach. Yesterday I changed it to “tell part of the story, make the point thus far and apply it, then tell the rest of the story, make the main point clear and apply it.” I did this for the sake of heightening the wonder of the core of the narrative. Sometimes this approach makes sense simply because the biblical narrative is so long (and people need it to touch down in their world before too much time passes by!) There are no set rules for preaching narrative, but don’t overlook the simple option of telling the story!