Awkward Titles, Long Stories & Pop-Culture Saturated Sermons – Part 2

I tell long stories. Part of me can’t help it really. I think part of it is I’ve always been drawn in by story-tellers and so I’ve always told them. I’ve even told some true stories over the years – like the time, I won the Heisman Trophy but gave it to Tim Tebow. And like all story-tellers, after you’ve told them a few times, they may contain a few embellishments and exaggerations. The scary part is not remembering what actually, actually happened.

Preachers that story tell always like to remind everyone that Jesus told a lot of stories. It’s true. I think we do that because there are some that are critical of story-telling. “We didn’t come here to listen to your stories or to hear about your favorite historical moments!” It’s been a while since someone has said that to me but I’ve given it is due consideration.

What most people don’t realize is that it’s actually hard to tell a good story from the pulpit. The way we tell stories in our living rooms or in coffee shops is far different than the way you tell stories while preaching. For one, the setting is completely different. Most of the stories we tell are to people that know us and in are in a context of either trading stories or at the very least, wanting to hear one. During a sermon, the preacher actually needs to create some type of a context – he/she needs to tell us why they’re telling the story.

It’s here where some preachers have gotten it wrong, including me. There is this mentality that everyone wants to hear a story – well that’s not completely true. What’s more accurate is that most people want to hear a good story and one that is supportive of your central point.

I can’t give much advice on creating sermon titles, but I can give some advice on telling a good story. The keys to any story are the context and the conclusion.

So include as much context as possible without making it a half hour long. You want to answer the instant inner monologue questions that a listener has, “How old where they when the fire happened? Was this ex-girlfriend of his pretty?”, “Was it an iPhone or one of those other lame ones?” (You know the questions that everyone walks around with ;)

Include the details. Details are not just accessories, they continue to give quick context. They not only answer the inner monologue questions, they provide answers to the questions that aren’t even asked.

Nail the conclusion – by the end of the story, the audience needs to be clear why you told the story – especially if it was a long one. This is the hardest part but with planning and practice, I’ve found it to be a worthwhile element.

Stories do a number of things like reduce the “intellectual anxiety” in the room. Sometimes in our heady type of messages, listeners are thinking, “I’m not sure I understand any of this.” Stories, illustrations, humor allow the audience back in.

I like storytelling because not only do they change the voice and the pace of the sermon, but they change the mood in the room too. By nature, we are better at receiving stories than we are receiving theological commentary and Biblical exposition.

Another feature of storytelling is that they allow for the speaker to give commentary without having to intellectualize and this makes your point interesting. Whether it’s a personal story or a third-person story, the speaker can say helpful things like, “I did this because I really wanted to know what it felt like to …” or “We may think it was very bizarre for them to give all that money back but what they were saying was, “This doesn’t control us.”

Sermons in the evangelical setting are a funny thing because you could be preaching powerfully and eloquently of some of the best theology and people could be literally sleeping. But you start talking about the man you looked dead in the eye that you saw on the way to worship that morning, people wake up and tune in. What kind of a man was he? Was he driving in the car next to you? Was he homeless? Was he the officer that pulled you over?

Fellow preachers, how do you incorporate story-telling in your messages? To those who have endured the best and worst of storytelling, what are your thoughts? Thanks for reading friends.

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