Top 10 Mistakes Preachers Make Preaching Story – Part 2

Yesterday I offered five common mistakes made in the preaching of Bible story, let’s finish the list:

6. They come up with a list of “principles.”  A story isn’t given in Scripture to make masses of points (some preachers see launch points for pet thoughts throughout a story).  To nuance this error further, stories aren’t given in Scripture in order to offer seven principles for a successful business venture, successful pet ownership or successful anything else.  This is not some ancient text currently in vogue because of its timeless wisdom for living life.  It is a story about people living under the question mark of God’s Word to a fallen world – will they trust Him, or not?  Will we?

7. They make it into a human level story – be good, be better, be like.  Don’t be blind!  The Bible is not just about humanity.  There’s a constant theocentric, christotelic, eternal and heavenly dimension.  Whether God is overtly stated or not, the Bible story you are reading is written with at least an implicit assumption that these characters are living their lives, making their choices, facing their struggles in the context of response to God.  Preach the story theocentrically, not anthropocentrically (i.e. it is God that is the main character, not just a human). 

8. They treat it as a context-less moral lesson.  Okay, I’m repeating the moral lesson bit to make a point, but actually the error here is to miss the context of the story.  Not only does it have a historical context, which the preacher must plumb to make sense of it and preach it well, but it also has a written context.  Why did the author choose to put it here in this sequence?   It is both historically accurate and artistically presented to convey a theological point.  You typically need to observe context to spot this.

9. They don’t apply the main idea of the story.  Either they apply every sub-idea along the way, or they don’t apply at all.  Stories mark and change lives.  Help listeners to see what that might look like as the story preached is translated into their life lived.  Never assume people will take general truths and apply them specifically.  Never assume that application is automatic.  Never believe that positive statements of gratitude from listeners equate to application.  Instead, be overt and be specific.

10. They avoid preaching it altogether and stick in discourse sections.  This is a mistake.  Maybe they think stories are for children, or they think stories aren’t theologically rich enough, or they think that churches only need to be fed the food of epistolary discourse, or they think that they aren’t any good at preaching story, or for whatever reason, they avoid preaching story.  This means somewhere between 50-70% of the Bible will remain unpreached in their ministry.  I think it was Tozer who said that nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.

There are lots of other things that could probably be listed, some of which are specific to certain sections of narrative.  But let me make the unstated assumption stated – stories are good for preaching, good for listeners and good for the church.  Go for it, preach stories and preach them well!

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2 thoughts on “Top 10 Mistakes Preachers Make Preaching Story – Part 2

  1. point 9 is actually the reason why pastors often feature those lists as in 6 (just a rhetoric device the numbers). It becomes a problem if they don’t reflect or explain enough on how 8 has been applied (knowing that hermeneutics happens naturally all the time). I like point 2, but that is also a matter of gifting. Puzzling about 4 is that the church fathers seem to be doing that all the time. 7 should not be neglected, but, strictly speaking, 9 seems to threaten 7. There is obviously a need for balance.

  2. Some of the church fathers did do a lot of 4. They did other things I wouldn’t want to replicate too.

    I think there is a danger with 9 threatening 7, but it depends how we view application. If we have seen the text to be thoroughly theocentric, then I suspect we won’t be so quick to offer a moralistic application.

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