Yesterday I began to respond to Anthony’s question about preaching longer narratives:
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?
We saw that how a story is told is critical (more critical than the amount of information included). We saw that not every detail requires equal focus. This leads on to another thought that is sometimes hard for some people to accept:
4. True expository preaching does not always require every verse to be read out. With a long text, tell the whole story, but read selected highlights. The readers can look down and check what you are telling is accurate, but you don’t have to read every verse in the preaching of the text. If you preach a narrative in first person, you probably won’t read any of the text, but still you need to preach the text!
5. Remember the three ingredients in a sermon. A sermon consists, according to Don Sunukjian, in the combination of three elements. A biblical text plus the big idea plus a preaching purpose. Often sermons are lacking one or two or even all three of these ingredients! The biblical text ingredient means that the message is the text’s message, not a superimposed preacher’s message. Usually this means the text will be opened and read before or during the sermon. However, in a longer message, the text may only be read in part. For instance a single sermon on Romans as a whole will not read the whole thing, but probably will include the reading of 1:16-17 and a few other key highlights. The same is true with a long narrative.
What is always important is not that every word be read, but that the listener is confident that this message is the true and exact message of this text. They can look down while you’re preaching and see it there, they can pull a Berean attitude and check it out later for themselves. Usually the best way to build confidence in the biblical textual nature of the message is to read the whole text and let the exposition show clearly there, but that is a typical strategy, rather than an absolute requirement. With a long narrative the sense of purpose and a clear statement of the main idea are critical, but the biblical source of the message can be conveyed without full detailed exegetical explanation of every verse, or even the reading of every verse.