I was trained to be a preacher in seminary—how to do hermeneutical exegesis, an introduction, three points, and a proper conclusion. They even showed me how to hold a Bible in one hand while signaling the worship leader with the other.
We each took turns preaching in front of the class while the professor sat in a sound booth recording constructive commentary on top of our sermons. The more we yelled, the better we did. We even got bonus points for arranging our sermons into acronyms.
When I entered the real world, I was surprised to see my sermons fall flat. They were perfectly suited for note taking, but I was shoe¬horning content into my messages just to serve the structure I was taught.
And then one day, I changed the way I spoke.
Sure, I continued to exegete scripture, pour through commentaries, and parse the meaning of words, but I didn’t stop there. I began crafting stories that conveyed the principles of scripture. When I did this, something amazing happened—my congregation came alive.
God wired people to respond to stories. Who knew?
Unlike data, stories captivate us. They awaken our hearts and release our imaginations. There’s a reason we pay to see them in theaters and tell them to our children at bedtime. And it’s no wonder.
All stories reflect the one, true epic of life—the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—the story of salvation. Make no mistake—we are storytellers. And ours is the greatest story ever told.
The trouble is, when it comes to preaching, most of us simply present the results of our research. This is nothing but a bland construct of data that makes us appear smart but does nothing to awaken the hearts of our listeners.
Storytelling is not the art of communicating fluff. It’s the practice of taking our sermons to a whole new level. It’s what JRR Tolkien did by allegorizing the gospel with Frodo and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. It’s how John Bunyan explained the Christian life in The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s how William Paul Young taught on the comfort of God in The Shack.
And it’s how Jesus described the Kingdom of God.
Several years ago, a young, blind man named Alex attended my church for a short while. It was hard to communicate with him at times, but he was gracious whenever I slipped-up with a thoughtless “I’ll see you next week!”
One Sunday, my wife and I spent a few minutes catching up with Alex after the service. At the time, my son Wyatt was just a baby, so I was holding him in my arms. As we talked with Alex, he knelt down to talk to Wyatt, who he thought was standing next to us. Alex didn’t know how old he was. He had never seen him.
He leaned down to my kneecap and said, “Hey buddy, how are you doing?”
This put me in an awkward position. I didn’t want to embarrass the guy, so I dropped down with Wyatt until we met Alex’s focus. Reaching out, I took hold of Alex’s hand and pulled it toward my son. I carefully moved his fingers across Wyatt’s face and ears so he could feel how small my son really was. I wanted to make my invisible son visible to Alex through the only way he could “see him”—through his sense of touch.
This is similar to what Jesus was trying to accomplish through stories. Spiritual truths are invisible to us. We can’t see the kingdom of God, so it’s hard to live by its principles. But by telling stories, Jesus was, in effect, taking us by the hand and helping us see invisible truths. He was giving us parameters for a life of faith.
There’s been a resurgence of academics in ministry and that’s good for some contexts. But whenever Jesus encountered people with an intellectual argument against his personal claims, he called them a brood of vipers. It was those who responded to his stories that got the keys to Heaven.
Arguments access the mind. Stories access the heart. Guess which one God wants.
I understand we’re limited by what we can pull off with a rigorous, Sunday-to-Sunday schedule. But we are in desperate need of models such as C.S. Lewis, who showed us how to combine great theology with great story.
Stories don’t take away from sound theology. They build upon it. They take the dry, ugly skeletons of our data-filled sermons … and put skin on them. Sermons with skin on them help our audiences see the Word of God, the Christian faith, and their individual roles in the kingdom as they are: alive.
Source: COLLIDE MAGAZINE