Can a church experience genre shock? Maybe.
Let’s say you have been preaching through a narrative series – perhaps a gospel or the life of Abraham or David. Then you start a series in Romans. This could be a shock. From flowing plots and character development to tight and complex logical sentences, abstract theological explanations and loaded terminology.
Is there a way to ease the transition? And if there is, is it necessary? I would say probably not in most cases, unless the last series has been a long one and the shift in genre is stark.
Here’s how not to avoid genre shock – preach every text as if it is an epistle. This is certainly a popular approach for some, but it has real weaknesses. For instance, narratives get choked by multiplied principles and preaching points. Poetry gets dissected so that the emotive force of the imagery is lost in a torrent of triple-pointed outlines. And epistles feel like more of the same, when they should be like theological dynamite for the life of the church. Let’s not go with this “every-text-an-epistle” approach.
Here are a couple of ways to transition from one series to another of a vastly different genre. I am certainly not saying these ideas are necessary, but they certainly are ideas:
1. A genre intro message – Let’s say you are going from a gospel to a prophet. Instead of diving into the complexity of apparently disordered prophetic burdens about places we’ve never heard of, why not preach a message that introduces people to the blessings of being in the prophets . . . and then start into the specific book the week after. This might allow time in a more familiar passage by way of transition and preparation.
2. A new series intro message – Let’s say you are going from the Life of David to an epistle. Instead of getting bogged down in the opening verses and complex sentences, why not introduce the series with the story of the letter. If it’s history is rooted in Acts, then you have the chance to give the setting in a narrative fashion. Tell the story, set the scene, taste the epistle by previewing the series and maybe put the main idea of the book up front so it doesn’t get lost in the progression of passage after passage.
3. A big story bridge message – Let’s say you are going from Genesis to John or Philippians. Instead of forgetting Genesis like yesterday’s newspaper, why not take a message to trace the story you saw in Genesis through the canon to set up the next book? Most people in our churches do not know the big biblical story as they could. Why not use a message to trace the story forwards and set up the next series?
Whatever you do, make sure the transition message actually has a main idea and is not mere buffering. You may be preaching something creative, but be sure you are preaching something.