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Friday, May 27, 2011
For those of you who are wondering what narrative preaching is, here you go...
The parables Jesus preached had a knack for inspiring and surprising listeners. Furthermore, the parables did not always tie up loose ends in the name of practical relevance. Jesus’ parables were structured by a narrative, not linear, logic. This is not to say that the only sermon that will honor the name of Christ is the narrative sermon; but we can conclude that if Jesus, the master preacher, employed narrative elements in his sermons, there has got to be wisdom in utilizing this form.
What a Narrative Sermon Is Not…
A narrative sermon is not merely a few video clips thrown together to support the points the preacher is sharing. It is not necessarily the stringing together of a few personal stories from the preacher’s life to convey a handful of propositional points. Making points and then illustrating them with a variety of personal stories, though not homiletically diabolical, does not a narrative sermon make. No matter how many little narratives are placed within this kind of sermon, it still incorporates a linear logic overall.
Even if the genre of the main preaching text is narrative, the sermonic form may still be more linear than narrative. Summarizing the story about a biblical character, say Moses, through linear points (i.e., Moses Prays with Passion, Moses Obeys with Passion, Moses Leads with Passion) forces a narrative text into a linear sermon that may rob both the text and the sermon of their power.
Sermons with a linear logic flow from the introduction to point one (with proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to point two (with proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to point three (with proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to the conclusion. This form made good sense for a Modern world that, thanks to scientific empiricism, sought to dissect and explain the sum of the whole by reducing it to parts, or points. The desire to know, master, explain, and simplify a biblical text, drove the homiletic machine of yesterday.
What a Narrative Sermon Is…
The structure and goal of a narrative sermon is quite different. The narrative structure is not built with points but with the elements of a good story. Setting, character development, problem, plot, climax, and resolution make for a good story and, I would add, an excellent narrative sermon. The difference between the two sermonic forms is striking:
Linear Logic Sermons
Point 1 (explain/illustrate/apply)
Point 2 (explain/illustrate/apply)
Point 3 (explain/illustrate/apply)
Conclusion (or more points)
Narrative Logic Sermons
The preaching landscape, especially in the West, has changed. People shaped by postmodernity tend to crave inspiration more than information, and experience over knowledge. This is not to suggest that postmodern people do not want to be well-informed; most do indeed. However, the people in our world and church must first be inspired before they even care to be informed concerning Christ and His kingdom.
Narrative has been the most successful mode of communication for inspiring people across cultures and centuries. Simply put, story speaks to us in a manner that inspires movement toward an encounter with God. The Bible, in its canonical form, really is a unified meta-narrative that tells the redemptive story of God’s saving love for the world. Perhaps this is the reason why the Bible is the number one selling, cross-cultural book ever.
While I have incorporated various sermonic forms in my preaching over the years, the narrative expository preaching of a single biblical passage has impacted my own faith development significantly, not to mention what it might have done for those who have heard those sermons preached. While linear sermons are a necessary and helpful form for communicating didactic information, narrative sermons seem most-suited for transformational inspiration. The church will always need informative teaching but my preaching “gut” tells me that the narrative form has a better track record for opening up the door of didactic desire.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Theology: What will this worship experience reveal about God? There are so many things that can be said about God that perhaps we don’t know where to begin or what to say at all. We must, of course, find a way to say something substantial about God in the context of worship. If the worship service reveals nothing about God, no matter how emotionally therapeutic and engaging, it essentially fails to be a Christian worship service.
Bible: What major part(s) of the biblical story will this worship service rehearse? The Bible contains one complete meta-narrative that moves from creation to corruption to salvation to mission to restoration. Identify the major chunk of the biblical story the service will emphasize. Perhaps it will audaciously touch on all moves in the story.
Anthropology: What realities of the human condition will this worship experience highlight and address? The service might focus on human angst, joy, suffering, peace, hope, sin, or disappointment. The local, national, and global human contexts should influence, to some extent, the vision of Christ the service holds up. We usually call this relevance.
Tradition: What orthodox and historical church traditions and practices will guide us in this worship service? It is vital for those of us who lead worship to keep in mind that Christian worship has been going on long before any of us arrived on the scene, for nearly two thousand years actually. There are rich liturgical traditions and practices that have stood the test of time and can enrich contemporary Christian worship.
Theme and Flow: What is the best way to position the parts of the service so that the theological theme is clear and flows from the gathering of God’s people toward the sending of God’s people? The gathered people of God benefit from a worship rhythm that ushers them intentionally toward an encounter with God that reveals a transformational theological theme.
If you are the pastor of local church or the leader of your church’s worship team, the 5 questions above are worthy of your most prayerful, thoughtful, and creative attention. Of course, there will always be those important practical issues to address as well. But all of the best practices and methods without the thoughtful underpinnings that surface from wrestling with the questions above will fall far short of the potential of Christian worship.
© Lenny Luchetti
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Well, I just finished 16 enjoyable weeks with our onsite Master of Divinity students in the preaching course. After listening to 18 sermons (2 from each) from these student pastors, I am optimistic about the future of Christian preaching. They are passionate about God, His word, and the churches they serve as pastor. To be honest, they are also one of the wackiest groups I have ever taught. Of course, you have to be a little wacky to believe that the almighty God might decide to show up through the preacher's sacrament of words to accomplish the impossible in the lives of people.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher of the 4th century BC, wrote a ground-breaking work on communication theory called Rhetoric. In this book, he notes that it’s not just the logos, (content) of the speech but the ethos (character) and pathos (empathy) of the speaker that determines the level of audience receptivity to the speech. Aristotle highlights for speakers the importance of building rapport with the people to whom we speak. In a day when suspicions run high toward leaders in business, politics, and the church, rapport between the preacher and listeners has never been more necessary.
Whether you are the unfamiliar guest speaker at a community service event or the well-known pastor in a local church setting, there are a few practical ways you can build rapport with any group that you address.
• Commend the Crowd: Parenting experts, perhaps an oxymoron, suggest that parents should be as quick to tell our kids what they are doing right as we are to correct what they are doing wrong. These experts say that commending our kids builds them up and opens them up to receive correction when we give it. The same is true for preachers when addressing a crowd or congregation. We should be as quick to commend as we are to challenge people with our message. If you are the guest speaker for an event this is especially important. Let the people know you appreciate, for example, their hospitality toward you, or the work they are doing in the community, or what they clearly value. If you are the pastor of a local church, find some good things to say about your congregation that relates to the message you are preaching. Remember to be honest (see below), creative, and insightful when commending a crowd.
• Use Self-Deprecating Humor: One of the ironies of public speaking is that, more often than not, the less seriously we preachers take ourselves (within reason) the more intently the congregation listens to our message. The Apostle Paul was quick to admit his weaknesses, even humorously criticizing his lack of eloquence and poor eyesight, in order that the message of the cross of Christ might have prominence. The people to whom we preach are measuring our level of egotism. If they sniff out pride in us, it will most certainly diminish their level of receptivity to the message we proclaim. Self-deprecating humor, done naturally, wisely, and sparingly, gives the impression that we preachers see ourselves not as one above the people but as one among the people of God. Be careful not to overdo it. There is a line that can be crossed using self-deprecating humor that will actually diminish congregational receptivity to your message just as much as prideful egotism does. Our use of humor should not come from a position of insecurity but one of security in Christ.
• Be Brutally Honest: While the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, it is bad news first. Before people even reach out for Christ they must face the bad news that we are sinful, broken, and needy and that life is often unfair, lonely, and empty. Unless a preacher voices the painful realities of life that humans know and endure, the hope stemming from the good news that God sent His son Jesus to redeem what was dead and to restore what we lost won’t be received with as much impact. If our preaching tends to sugar-coat the angst and suffering of the human condition, most people will quit listening to our message. They will conclude, “this preacher is living in la-la land and has no idea what it is like to live in the real world…my world.” Preachers are most guilty of this in funeral messages when we are so anxious to console the grieving that we never name death for what it is and say “death stinks!” Of course, the preacher must be just as honest about the good news too, even when the realities of the human condition attempt to veil the hope of the Gospel.
• Demonstrate Passionate Conviction: One of the most essential ways to build rapport with the people to whom you preach is to communicate as if you really believe you have something important and life-giving to say. As our intimate connection to Christ increases, the more passionate love for people and for God surfaces in us. Some preachers can fake passion well; maybe they even write on their sermon notes “scream loud now,” or “pause and cry,” or, my favorite, “strain your voice and whisper so people think you have passion.” I confess there have been times when I got up to preach and felt my lack of passionate conviction about the sermon I developed. Those sermons, as you may know, are hard to preach and perhaps shouldn’t be. I have observed that the messages that incarnate good news worth living and dying for naturally creates the passionate conviction that builds rapport between the preacher and the congregation. Simply put, passion is stirred in the preacher when the sermon has obvious potential to both glorify God and liberate people in significant ways.
• Scratch Their Itch: Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of New York 's Riverside Church, once said “No one comes to church to find out what happened to the Jebusites.” Fosdick was humorously advising preachers to steer clear of our pet issues in order to address the deep questions that the people in the pews (or chairs) are asking. Preachers are often guilty of scratching in places people aren’t itching. When I ask my wife to scratch my back, she doesn’t scratch my belly. Yet, we preachers have a tendency to scratch where people aren’t itching. We commit this crime in two ways. First, we raise questions in the sermon introduction that people aren’t asking. Our rapport is diminished as people start day dreaming about stuff that really matters to them, like what they’ll eat after church. The second way the preacher commits this crime is by promising, usually in the sermon introduction, to scratch a certain human itch and then failing to actually do the scratching. This second form of the crime is worse than the first because it leads to a greater sense of disappointment in listeners whose expectations are built up and then let down. So, a word to wise preachers- make sure your sermon raises and addresses a significant human itch.
Which one of the tips above comes most naturally to you?
Which one of these tips is most challenging for you? Why?
What are some other tips for building rapport that you might list?