Perhaps you have read Between Two Worlds by John Stott? It is a classic textbook for preachers. In it, Stott lists the biblical metaphors for a preacher: a herald, a seed sower, etc. Then he reverently adds his own – the preacher as a bridge-builder. Well, this is not a classic textbook, this is a blog post. And I am not John Stott. So I am going to offer several only marginally helpful metaphors for the preacher. They are probably helpful as far as they go, and it is also helpful to not go too far!
A Video Painter – When you are preaching biblical narrative it may be helpful to think of yourself as a video painter. You might be thinking these metaphors are only marginally helpful because this is not a real thing, but hang in there. Narratives are powerful. They grip listeners with the tension of a plot. They stir identification and association with the reality of the characters. When a narrative 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 strip out those narrative features and perform an autopsy on a dissected and dead story? Or are we supposed to preach that story in words that paint moving pictures on the internal video screen of our listeners’ imaginations? A good preacher of narrative ignites the imagination, paints pictures that move, and allows the text to do what the text was inspired and designed to do. There is more to preaching narrative than that, but there shouldn’t be less.
Next time we will add another!
You know what I mean. People are sitting and listening, sort of, until you say a key phrase, then suddenly everyone is really listening carefully. Let’s make the assumption that having people really listen is a positive thing. Now let’s consider some examples of “switch on” phrases and consider the implications for our preaching:
“How does this apply to us?” – People do tend to listen more when the message is about them, their lives, their needs, etc. We could critique that theologically and point to the self-obsession of humanity. Or we could be thankful that all Scripture is both God-breathed and “useful” – i.e. life changing. And then we could stop leaving application to the last three minutes of a message and look for ways to include it throughout. Compare and contrast an introduction infused with relevance and applicational preparation for the message to follow, with the standard switch off phrase “Last week we were deep in 2Chronicles 17, please turn with me to 2Chronicles 18 . . .”
“Let me tell you a story . . .” – People of all ages love a good story. “Once upon a time” does wonders for children of all ages. This kind of phrase is much more of a switch on than “let’s talk about the story.” I’ve said it before, when the passage is a narrative, tell the story! Even when it is not, how can the message be engaging and interesting, rather than mere lecturing and information transfer?
“Here’s how I struggle with this . . .” – People are always interested in appropriate vulnerability from the preacher. Haddon Robinson urges preacher to neither be the hero, nor the jerk, in the stories they tell by way of illustration. He is right, but he is not saying be absent from your illustrations. People are far more interested in you as a real person, than they are in Napoleon or Lenin. It is good to personalize aspects of the message, as long as it doesn’t make you look too good, or too much of an idiot. Credibility and interest can increase or crash with personal stories. Choose wisely, but choose some.
Some things switch on listeners, but integrity demands that we don’t use them. Over-promising and then under-delivering, offering success guarantees in a messy world, promising healing or wealth when the text doesn’t support that application. We must have integrity so that we’re not mere pragmatists. However, it is easy to go to the other extreme and fail to learn from the reactions of listeners. What other phrases switch on the listener? What might be the implications for our preaching?