The Story Sermon
The Story Sermon
There’s one more kind of sermon that I want to explore before we leave our review of the various types of sermons that we can put in our preaching tool belt. (Again, if you are new to this blog, the first in this series of reflections on kinds of sermons is linked here.) The Story Sermon is not directly mentioned in the Bible, or described with a specific word, but it is obvious that Jesus used this method of preaching often.
The Power of a Story Sermon
A man in my first church was dying, and decided, with his wife, to host an open house celebration of life. They invited all the people who had influenced them in their life together. I and my wife felt privileged to receive an invitation, and readily accepted.
It was an amazing experience, because I hadn’t seen most of the people there for over 30 years. It was exciting to share stories of the 4.5 years I was their pastor. The host of the party had some specific memories, however, that surprised me. He said, “I’ll never forget you standing up there and becoming a Bible character.”
That was interesting to me, because I had preached some 400+ sermons during my years as pastor in that church (we had morning and evening worship services, with a different sermon for each). Yet, he remembered what I did in only a few of them. It was the Story Sermon that caught his attention, and became a kind of stake in his memory.
I believe there is great potential for God to use a story sermon. It has a special power to move people, partly because it’s different than what we often do, but also because it taps into peoples’ love of story, and the emotions that accompany.
What Is It?
There are a couple of different kinds of story sermons.
The Fictionalized Bible Story
One way to do a story sermon is to fictionalize a Bible account of events. I used this strategy especially during the high holidays of the church year, Advent and Lent. I studied a section of scripture, doing exegesis of a passage (looking at the historical context, the literary setting, what else the Bible had to say about that passage, what it meant to the original hearers, etc.). Then I went into a time of meditation, trying to picture myself in that situation. Once I believed I had a sense of what the people did and felt–notice that the story sermon is high on emotional content–I began to write a sermon from a first-person perspective.
Once the message was written, I practiced it over and over, until I needed no notes, no prompts to remember the main points that I wanted to get across from my exegesis. Most times, I dressed in character.
As I reflect on those messages, I am surprised at how much information I was able to pass on to my congregation. I told stories about a shepherd in Bethlehem, the Gospel writer Luke, and Herod.
Needless to say, this requires a bit of acting skill to pull it off well.
The Narrative Sermon
Another way to preach a story sermon is to use what is called a Narrative Sermon. Jesus told stories in his preaching, and didn’t even always explain the meaning to his audience. Most of his parables would be in this category. For instance, the story of the Sower who went out to sow is a wonderful example of a story sermon (Matthew 13:1-23). Jesus tells the story, and then challenges the audience to understand what he’s saying. Then, when his disciples come to him to ask the meaning, he gives it to them.
A great example of this kind of story sermon is this one. Here’s the link to a written version of this parable of the life-saving station. Father Richard Rohr, well-known priest, author and speaker, shares the story as an introduction in the video below. Note a couple of things: 1) he first read the story some 40 years earlier. That’s how power a story sermon can be. 2) he uses the story as an illustration, but it could very well, with a little embellishment, stand alone. It would be helpful, of course, if there was some kind of discussion afterward that points people to Scripture, but it could stand alone.
Try The Story Sermon
Do you feel brave enough? This kind of message is a challenge to produce for most of us, but people will remember it if you do it well. Here are some quick guidelines for doing a story sermon:
Use your own words to tell the story–it’s easier to remember that way.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Look for spiritual truths in the story.
Arrange your thoughts around those spiritual truths, and include reflections on them in the story.
Provide some kind of follow-up for people to reflect more deeply.
Try it, sometime, assuming your congregation is ready for this. We’ll talk more about discovering the culture of your church and its readiness for innovation in a future post.
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