While on mission to Indonesia, an American pastor felt insulted that the group of national pastors to whom he was preaching did not look him in the eye. For the duration of the sermon, these pastors kept their faces down, fixed solely upon their papers. Of course his concern was alleviated when he learned that each one was actually listening with extra care, given their intention to pass along the same sermon soon after. A sense of insult transformed into a sense of honor.
When we preach, we don’t just preach to our church but through our church. We preach in order to create conversations that follow in small groups, at dinner tables and in coffee shops. What we offer from the pulpit needs to be able to be served at the table as a palatable meal by our people. These are the people we walk with daily and the ones who will walk the good news we preach into every corner of our community while we are home recovering from the sermon.
We have found that the integrative form of preaching is particularly useful in encouraging preaching through our churches. This sermon form described in Choosing to Preach (Zondervan 2006) and Preaching with Conviction (Kregel 2001), shapes the sermon around four significant questions. It is our experience that sermons shaped around such questions are more readily assimilated by our listeners and are then passed along more effectively within small groups and through informal conversation.
What’s the story?
Every text tells a story and is an integral part of the larger biblical story that describes God’s rescue of the fallen world through the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Identifying the details of the story can help our people see the humanity in the text, creating an experiential encounter with the message that will not easily be shaken off. This first question asks the listener to look at the scene in the biblical passage as the curtain opens: “Who is on stage? Where is the action happening? What has been happening up to this point?”
Take, for example, the story of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion in Luke 23:26 and following. Clearly, the goal of a sermon from this text would be to lead people to appreciate the sacrifice made by the Son of God on the cross and the salvation that it makes possible. In order to appreciate that point, however, the congregation needs to be lead to identify with the human situation. The best way to achieve this, is through helping listeners identify with the human characters who carry the story in the text.
As an example, we could tell the story through the eyes of Simon from Cyrene. What motivated his “spur of the moment” decision to carry Jesus’ cross? What did he risk by making this kind of move? Was he trying to identify with Jesus, or was he showing sympathy for Jesus’ plight? Was he hopeful in that moment, or was he resigned to the failure of Jesus’ cause?
Of course, to make this powerful, we have to actually tell the story, painting a picture of the situation, so as to place the listeners in the text. If we are successful at helping listeners feel present to the story of the text, it will embed within them, emotionally as well as intellectually. Such sermons have staying power and are more likely to be re-told or re-presented by our listeners in the days to come.
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Orignally published in Preaching magazine.
Kenton C. Anderson and Robert Campbell (pastor of Santa Margarita Community Church).