Preaching Longer Narratives

Anthony asked the following after one of the posts last week:

I preach only occasionally, and have tackled a couple of narrative passages recently. I like to respect the narrative chunks in the text, which often have a clear beginning, middle and end. But last time I ended up preaching two whole chapters (75 verses), which was probably a bit much!

I’d be interested to hear what you think about this. How do you handle the tension of wanting to tell the story as it was intended to be told and not wanting to overload the hearers?

This is an important question.  After all, not every biblical narrative is contained within a few verses like some of the parables, there are some substantial narratives in the Bible.  The David and Bathsheba narrative lasts for nearly 60 verses if you include Nathan’s visit.  Anthony is referring to one lasting for 75 verses.  A few points to bear in mind:

1. Listeners are more overwhelmed by how something is told than what is told. Especially with narratives, if they are told well, listeners will be glued.  Tell children a good story in a compelling way and they won’t be asking you to stop so they can go to sleep.  Let’s assume the narratives are good ones since God inspired them, that just leaves the storyteller to do their job well.  I’ve sat through the most compelling stories told painfully, but it shouldn’t be that way.  Let the story live, tell it well.

2. Good storytelling involves both detailed description and pace change. When you’re telling a Bible story, there are times when you need to add detail to the description to help the images form on the screen of the listener’s heart.  There are other times when the story can move ahead in leaps and bounds.  The text does this, so can you.

3. True expository preaching does not require equal attention to every detail. The traditional read a verse, explain a verse approach to preaching can become burdensome with a 75 verse narrative.  Tell the whole story, but focus in on the details at key points in order to convey the true message of the passage.  This requires absolute attention to every detail in preparation, but selective focus in delivery.

A couple more thoughts tomorrow on this . . .

2 thoughts on “Preaching Longer Narratives

  1. I did Esther in three parts – 3-4 chapters a time, it was a lot but it was such a way to get caught up in the story and to see what was really going on. Did Luke’s gospel in 60-75 verse chunks too a few years back (chapters 9-19 at least) and that seemed to help hold the well known stuff together in its contexts, and let grace shine out of the text. Long is good, but telling it well is then very important.

  2. This is always difficult because you have two classes of listeners in the audience. Those that will be there next week & those that may or may not be there. In my preparation, I have to be able to feed both of them. If I am doing a large section, my regular attenders are aware of it in advance & I encourage them to read ahead. Yet, I try to present each message as “stand-alone” so that the visitor or occasional attender is not lost or feel left out.

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