Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kiwi made preaching: stories can be a sermon’s best friend

There’s a new blog, focused on preaching, which has been quietly growing over the last months, steadily adding some great content. It’s focused on preaching;

  • a team of 25 contributors posting short weekly articles
  • a range of resources
  • an ‘images that speak’ feature with photos that speak

Yep, it’s “Kiwi-made”, but perhaps even little Kiwi’s might have something to contribute to discussion around preaching today. I’m one of the weekly contributors and my recent contribution: Stories can be a sermon’s best friend has just gone up. So click on over, or simply click here to read what I wrote:

stories can be a sermon’s best friend

They make great introductions, serving to capture attention, orientating people from their world to the world of the Biblical text. They can aid application, serving to illustrate exegetical material or embody the gospel in life today. They can provide a way to engage the Bible, amplifying plot and character in the narrative genre’s of the Bible. Indeed, some of the best feedback I have had in recent years came from telling two Jesus encounters in Mark 2:1-5 from the perspective of the friend of the paralysed man. The feedback was extraordinarily positive. Such is the power of story.

Yet stories can also be a sermon’s worst friend. This struck me as I sat in a funeral last year. The sermon commenced with two stories. Both made an excellent point that illuminated the hope of “my Father’s house.” But both stories were told as “I” personal stories and so the focus became the preacher, rather than the deceased or the Biblical text. Story had in fact become the sermons’ worst friend.

So how to use story well?

Here are three suggestions and I am sure you will have more.

First, consider the crafting. A jotted note “tell story of falling off bike”, is bound to include extraneous details that can obscure the point and waste the listeners time. Stories require as much care as any other part of the sermon. This includes the opening sentence, the closing sentence, the punchline and the careful selection of detail.

Second, be aware of point of view. It can be helpful to think of a story in the same way we hold a video camera. Will we zoom in, or stand back? At what moment will we start shooting? How will we end? Will we tell from a first, second or third person point of view?

Take the example from the funeral. All that was required was a change in the point of view, from “When I was young I fell asleep in one bed and woke up in another. You see, my parents carried me when I was asleep” to “Consider being young. Imagine falling asleep in one house and waking in another, carried by the arms of a loving parent. Which can help us make sense of John 14.”

It’s a simple change in the point of view, yet allows the focus to move from the speaker to the Biblical text. Both remain truthful accounts of what really happened, yet crafted, act to serve the sermon, rather than spotlight the preacher.

Third, keep a mental checklist of your stories. When a sermon includes a number of stories, or when you use stories regularly, it is easy for blindspots to emerge. It is more embracing to tell stories from a range of leisure activities, rather than use yet another rugby story. Do our stories regularly profile women, migrants, Maori, children, or the elderly, as heroes of the faith? Or are mainly middle-class men always ending up the good guys? I love the way that Luke 15 introduces Jesus first with a story of a women searching, before moving to a story of a shepherd. In so doing, a woman in a domestic situation becomes a model of discipleship.

It is a great example of how, with a bit of care and forethought, stories can become inviting and embracing, working as our friends rather than our enemies.

Posted by steve at 08:15 AM


  1. I am eight weeks into a new job, and am enjoying including a story or two in my sermon. From the conversations over coffee, my new congregation seems to be enjoy them too.

    One piece of feedback I got was “I really like your baptist style of story telling”.!

    Comment by KSW — March 24, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

  2. that’s interesting.

    are they stories about you? or stories in general?

    the reason i ask is that one of wonderings is around how if a leader uses personal stories, especially really vulnerable ones, it can be part of culture change and can greatly help in terms of bonding in the initial stages of ministry.

    can be overdone of course,


    Comment by steve — March 26, 2010 @ 11:25 am

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