Top 10 Mistakes Preachers Make Preaching Story

As we come toward the end of this series of posts on preaching Biblical narratives, let’s have a list post (they’re always popular!)  How about the top 10 mistakes preachers make when preaching stories?

1. They don’t tell the story!  They refer to it, they draw lessons from it, they theologize all over it, but they omit to actually tell the story.  Big oops!  The story is not there to be exhibit A in your demonstration of your theological acumen.  The story is there to change lives, so tell it!

2. They don’t tell it well.  I don’t like adding to the sin lists already in existence, but making God’s Word boring or telling a story poorly must surely qualify as a transgression or iniquity on some level.  God has given us everything necessary for a compelling message – tension, characters, movement, progression, illustrative materials, interest, etc.  To tell it poorly is to miss an open goal with the ball placed carefully at our feet and thirty minutes to take a shot!

3. They think their thoughts are better than God’s inspired text.  I’ve blogged before about the nightmare I suffered when a preacher read the story of Jesus turning water into wine, then said, “you know the story, so I won’t tell it again…” then proceeded to offer us his fanciful imposition of a theological superstructure all over the text.  The text is inspired, it is great, God is a great communicator (so please don’t think God is desperate for you to add a good dose of your ideas to His – please preach the Word!)

4. They spiritualise details into new-fangled meanings.  Suddenly listeners start thinking to themselves, “I never would have seen that!”  or “I never would have made that connection – the donkey represents midweek ministries, brilliant!”  Actually, they never would have seen it without you, not because you are God’s gift to the church, but because your fanciful insertion simply isn’t there.  Preach the text in such a way as to honour it, not abuse it.  And can I be provocative?  Sometimes people force Christ into passages in ways that seem to undermine the whole richness of the text in its context – just because it is Christ doesn’t make it right.

5. They don’t let every detail feed into the powerful point of the main idea.  Every detail counts, but it counts as part of the writer’s strategy to communicate the main point of the story.  A story doesn’t make lots of points, it makes one point.  Develop a sensitivity to the role of details in the communication of the single plot point.

Tomorrow I’ll finish the list with another five…

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8 thoughts on “Top 10 Mistakes Preachers Make Preaching Story

  1. I fail at #2 not because I don’t try, but because I am a TERRIBLE story-teller. My mother tells me that, my wife tells me that – I feel like a hopeless case. Can you point me to any resources that can help me become a better story-teller?

    • I have a book on my shelf by Grant & Reed entitled Telling Stories to Touch the Heart. Honestly, I don’t know if it is a good resource or not, but a friend recommended it (I have more than a few books that I haven’t read yet!) Perhaps you could read it and comment on here as to whether it is helpful or not?

      There are non-preaching resources on storytelling too, which may be helpful. I suspect that the whole interplay between creative storytelling and holding to the inspired revelation would be an issue to discerningly consider if you went down that route.

      It would be good to analyse why you struggle with story telling. Is it in ordering materials, or in bland description, or lack of energy in the voice, or wooden non-verbals, etc. It’s easier to fix a car when you know what’s not working.

      Some would suggest telling stories to children, any stories, as it forces the story teller to become more engaging and interesting. Personally I feel much more capable of telling biblical story in preaching than I do with “entertaining” other people’s children (although I do ok with my own).

      Just a few thoughts, maybe someone else has suggestions to add?

    • If you have difficulty telling the story, use God’s own words to tell it. Some of the most powerful lessons can come to people just by hearing God’s word read aloud. It worked for first-century Christians, why not us? If the story is a longer passage, read the main sections and use short transitions to carry you from passage to passage. The point is, it is the word of God which is our sword, not our words.

      One caveat: if you do intend to read the Scripture, please read it well. If you are uncomfortable reading such lengthy passages, practice.

  2. I’m having trouble getting my mind wrapped around just telling the story of the crucifixion in John 19. John’s purpose was for people to read this and believe. So that should be our application. I don’t understand why, but whenever there is a single application for believe, I panic in my prep.

    Do you have advice (maybe point me to one of your posts) for this?

    • Hi Steve – I think some people have been trained to always preach tangible and measurable application points. This is better than vague and immeasurable application points, but there has to be a place for a response of heart in worship to the truth of a passage – especially when you’re preaching the crucifixion. So what do we fall into? Either the “go tell someone” evangelistic arm-twist. Or the “so let’s go read our Bible and pray more” piety arm-twist. Perhaps it would help to define the purpose statement of the passage – what was John seeking to stir in response? Then define your purpose statement in light of your congregation, and plan the message to achieve that. I need to be thinking about a similar passage for next week!


  3. Thank you for the response. Yes, I saw the post today and was impressed with the thought of letting the passage engage the audience emotionally. One thing that helped here was the new idea of doing communion in response. thank you again for you excellent work here.

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