Preaching Story: Make the Switch

A switch that could make a big difference when preaching narratives.  How do you preach a story?

Common Default Approach – This is the approach that begins the message with the reading of the text, then moves on to talk about the story, noting elements within the text and giving both explanation and application based on those observations.

Strengths & Weaknesses – It is easier to read a text straight through than to interrupt the reading of the text, people know the whole story from the start and it allows great freedom in terms of what you do with the rest of the message.  These are strengths to one degree or another.  However, there are also inherent weaknesses in this approach.  The story becomes a specimen to examine, rather than a narrative to be experienced (once the reading is over).  The inherent tensions within the narrative are essentially lost, although a good preacher will attempt to rekindle them in the elements of retelling the narrative that follows the reading.

Original Force Approach – Okay, I made that name up, but it does convey my point here.  The simple switch I’m suggesting is instead of “read the story and talk about it,” rather try to “tell the story homiletically.”  What I mean by that is allow the form of the story, and the telling of it, to form the spine of most of the message.  In the process of telling the story, combine explanation of context, culture, historical setting, etc., with deliberate application for contemporary listeners.

Strengths & Weaknesses – The weaknesses that stand out to me with this approach are the greater challenges involved in telling a story effectively such as vivid description, maintaining tension, etc. Thus it may be slightly harder to preach well in this way.  However, the strengths of this approach are significant.  The original force of the passage can be recreated for listeners, whether or not they already know the end of the story.  The inherent tensions and intrigue in a narrative can become strengths of the message (you don’t have to create tension with a story, it has tension inbuilt).  Explanation can feel natural as the story is told, application can carry the implicit force of the narrative.  The ability of a narrative to overcome resistance is harnessed rather than lost (in the common default approach, listeners often put their guard back up once you start “preaching” again after the story’s been read).  There are other strengths too – while it may be harder to preach this way, it makes preaching preparation more interesting as you enter fully into the narrative rather than standing over it with scalpel in hand.  So much more could be added . . .

Next time you preach a narrative, instead of reading it and then talking about it, try telling the story so that the original force is felt as the thrust of the sermon.

3 thoughts on “Preaching Story: Make the Switch

  1. I love doing the second approach – especially with something like Esther that is so full of tension – the harder thing seems to be making it not just be story with commentary but maybe thats ok.

  2. One snag, I think, is that however you tell the narrative, most of the congregation know it already!
    How do you tell someone a story (engagingly and with original force) when they’re already aware of the twists and tensions?
    I often like to retell a narrative, perhaps with a modern setting, so the sense of it is kept, but people don’t instantly recognise it and become numb to the shock/tension etc.

  3. Good point. But, I’d say that it still works even if people know it already (not to mention that many people may know stories without having ever “experienced” the story well told). Here’s an earlier post that fully applies to this issue – a story they know

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