Marginally Helpful Preacher Metaphors – Part 3

We have thought about the preacher as a video painter, and as a gallery guide.  Here’s the third in my list:

A Quirky Detective – When you are preaching epistles it may be helpful to think of yourself as a quirky detective.  You might be thinking that quirky is a strange qualifier to add, but hang in there, I have a paragraph to come up with a justification for that bit.  Epistles are powerful.  They offer a unique presentation of gospel truth and application of theology to a specific situation.  When an epistle does its work, it can really work in the heart and mind of a listener.  So what is the preacher to do?  Are we supposed to ignore the contextual features and offer sterilized theological argumentation using a blend of biblical and theologically loaded terminology?  Or are we supposed to hold out the epistle in all its uniqueness, helping listeners to see how the letter was designed to change lives then, and consequently, watch them feel the force of it now?  A good preacher of epistles ignites the imagination, clarifies the thinking of the writer, demonstrates its compelling relevance to today, and allows the text to do what the text was inspired and designed to do.  A detective holds up something as apparently insignificant as a piece of mail and shows how it unlocks and clarifies a real life (and death) situation.  And since people might expect an epistle to be just another boring letter, it probably doesn’t hurt to be a bit quirky too (all the best TV detectives are a little bit unique!)  There is more to preaching epistle than that, but there shouldn’t be less.

As before, feel free to add your own metaphors in the comments and I might develop some (giving credit).

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Feel the Force: Discourse

This is where we sometimes struggle the most.  When preaching the epistles (less so the speeches of Joshua, Jesus, etc.), we can easily fall into logical information transfer and presentation of facts.  But the fact is that all discourse is set in a narrative context.  How do we make sure listeners feel the force of the discourse sections of Scripture, especially the epistles?

1. Be sure to set the scene contextually – the text is a glimpse into a narrative. It is when we treat the epistles as timeless statements or creeds, rather than letters, that we lose sight of the specific situations that sparked their composition in the first place.  Help people to feel the emotion of Paul writing his last letter to Timothy, or his anger at the corrupting of the gospel in Galatia, or his connection with the Philippian church, or his passion for the unity of the churches in Rome.  It takes effort and skill to effectively set a text in its historical context, but it must be done for listeners to really feel the force of the text.

2. Consider how to appropriately target the message to the listeners. If we are facing similar problems today, then perhaps the text can be preached with a sense of directness, rather than held at arms length as an exhibit from the ancient world.  Perhaps the Galatian error hasn’t been introduced in your church (although perhaps contemporary churchgoers are closer to that than we’d like to think!)  So if the original purpose and thrust doesn’t quite fit, would it work to imagine how it might and then preach directly?  Somehow we need to hear what God is saying to us, now.

3. Build on the imagery included in the text. The epistles are not pure logical argumentation.  They regularly refer to people, incidents, imagery, examples, rhetorical devices, etc.  As a preacher we can build on these to make sure our preaching of that text is not mere lecturing on the facts with tacked on application.  Most texts are far richer in imagery or wordplay than we tend to think.  Not only in poetry and narrative, but also in the epistles, the text will often yield plenty of “illustrative” material if we observe carefully!

4. Build a sense of progression into the structure. How easy it is to simply produce a parallel set of points that do not build, do not progress, do not intrigue and do not pack a punch.  A good outline is not only somewhat symmetrical (and not always that), but reflects the progression and punch of the text.

As we preach the text, let’s make it our goal to help listeners to feel the force of the text.  Understand it, yes.  Apply it, yes.  But more than that, feel it (for when the force of the text is felt, understanding and application will increase!)