We live in a world that is marked more by narrative than we tend to acknowledge. Stories are not just for children, the movie industry is massive, so is TV advertising, and sports journalism, and all of these are profoundly narratival in form. So what might be the biggest lesson for preachers from children’s books and movies?
How about this: people still appreciate them second and third time.
I have a two and a half year old who will happily hear the same story over and over again each night. There are numerous books to choose from, but she will often pick the same one to experience again. Somehow knowing how the story goes doesn’t change her appetite for hearing it.
I think most of us will gladly watch certain movies again. Even with the constant stream of new movies being released, there is something familiar and powerful about experiencing an old favourite again. Even knowing the ending, there is always more to appreciate.
So what does this mean for preachers? When you have a familiar narrative to preach, be sure to tell the story!
It is tempting to think that people know it and so you can skim the storytelling part and dive into some nuanced theological construct or applicational point. Don’t do that! Be sure to tell the story and tell it well. Why?
1. Stories work even when people know the ending. The point of a story is not simply to find out what happens, but also to experience the journey. The identification with characters, the tension, the resolution, etc., will all work in people who know how it turns out.
2. God inspired many narratives because they do a work in people. When we finish reading the Bible that does not mean we have exhausted it – we have only just begun! God knew that life is lived in narrative and so we identify most readily with narrative. Let the text do its work in listeners and don’t short change them.
3. There is always more to see and feel in a story. The story may be the same as last time it was preached (although don’t give yourself or other preachers too much credit here – there are a lot of Bible stories preached poorly!) But your listeners are not the same people they were last time . . . life has happened, their story has moved on. So they will engage the story in a fresh way.
4. People appreciate hearing the narratives. Our goal in preaching is not originality of content, but presentation of the gospel and transformation of life. Telling a familiar story well will do both.