Thoughts on Narratives


There are lots of ways to preach a passage of scripture.  One is to put the narrative into a formula such as this: Give it a title; identify a thesis, make three points, preferably alliterated, and find other stories to illustrate.

For Example:  David and Goliath:

  • Title:Taking on Giants
  • Thesis: You can overcome the impossible.
  • Three Stones:
    • Stand Tall
    • Say a Prayer
    • Shoot!
  • Illustration:  maybe an Olympic Athlete who overcome a hard life to win a gold medal.  If you are up to speed, play a video.  If you are a big church, invite the athlete to speak before the message.

Nothing really wrong with that.   You have heard a sermon like that if you attend a church with a preacher.  Maybe you can see a certain preacher delivering this message. You could probably preach it yourself.  But, do you think that is really what the story is about?

I’ve come to think of preaching narratives differently.  The Biblical stories are already crafted.  They need to be presented freshly. some obscurities need to be explained and the larger context of the story needs to be pulled in.  But mostly the preacher needs to stand to the side and let the story speak as intended.

Here are my thoughts in bullet points:

  • Narratives have a built in structure. Do not squeeze them into your formula – such as three points and a punch line.
  • Narratives are illustrations. They don’t need you to illustrate them so much as explain what is not clear.
  • Stories have power.
  • Use a little freedom in telling it, but make clear what is in the story and what is your own take on it.
  • Don’t over-principalize.  One author has built a book on a sentence of scripture. That seems to be using the text as a scaffold for adding your own thoughts.  It is not hearing the text.
  • Let them remember the story, not the preacher.  People will be telling the story of David and Goliath a lot longer than they will talk about Pastor Bob.  That is a good thing.
  • I prefer the word “Story” to “Narrative.”  Yes, narrative is a literary category, but it has also become an over used bit of semi-scholarly name dropping.  “Story” is  short and clear.

If I get my listeners to hear the familiar in a fresh way, and they have the Biblical story in their minds, I can trust that the Original Author can apply the story to His listeners.




I joke about having a sermonizer.  It changes in appearance from a race car to a ray gun.  today I was taking a cup of coffee along the river by the church when this amphibious cars when by. I said, helpfully, “I think you missed the blacktop.”  they just waved.

Well, right after that I settled on the sermon outline that looked like this.


the semon is on the Bag.

Attention Span for Preachers


I know lots of preachers divide any and all topics into 6 parts of less.  I have been in and out of Matthew for parts of two years. I deal with the attentions span issue by taking a recess.  Now I am wondering if the other approach is better for our time.

In Calvin’s Geneva, he preached all the way through Job.  That is something from another era.

So how best to be connected to the Biblical story in its own context?

Preaching at what level?

scribe.2So the message last week was based on Matthew 12:15-21 – Servant King

Someone after the message, more or less implied that this kind of preaching is a bit over the heads of people.

Now I did adapt an academic paper on the use of Isaiah 42 in Matthew 12 for this message.

Yet, I adapted it to a more popular level.

It was not a story or testimony, but an exploration of the ministry of Jesus seen through this lens.

Is this too deep?  I don’t think so, but then each week I have already spent a week with the sermon.

How hard or easy should a sermon be?

Should it stretch our thinking?

Should add a few more polishing strokes to the smooth stones in our minds,

Or add a new rough piece that will need some time and thought to accommodate to our thinking?

Is Faster Better? On preaching Matthew



I am preaching in Matthew, more or less a chapter at a time.  Now I have come to Matthew 5 – and as far as I am concerned, I could spend the rest of the year on the Sermon on the Mount.  However, to study Matthew as a whole with any kind of sense of progress, I am taking the Sermon a chapter at a time – really taking a nice tasty bite out of each chapter.

Now here is your part.  Would you prefer your preacher to show down in passages that are as rich and dense as the Sermon on the Mount, or are you ok with keeping the pace going.  The side information is that I also follow the sermon text in the Adult class on Sundays.

What is your opinion? Is faster better? or do you like slow?


Vacation Over

sermonizerI have a running gag on Facebook about the status of the Sermonizer.  The name has it’s origins in the “transmorgifyer” in Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.  One gets inspiration in many places.  No one has seen the sermonizer.

Sermonizing is a complex process. It involves both analysis and study as well as a bit of artsy reflection on shape and form.  It is important to think of the people who will be there on Sunday, which is a constantly changing mystery.  The whole process should be started as early as possible, but usually isn’t.  It is humbling to think, “Now that one is Gone” when we get to the final song.  It is also humbling to think, “Oh, that is what I could have said!” after it is over.

All preachers should be Calvinists (not the kid with the tiger, the theologian from Geneva) when it comes to entrusting the effort we put in to the sovereignty of God.  It is a fools exercise, but then as the text says, “the foolishness of God is stronger than the strength of man.”

This preacher has advice for you who listen:  Take what you receive as the work of a servant; and pray for the preachers.

An 8 Point Sermon – John 9

isaiah-3.jpgSo much for three points and two jokes.  I could find no other way to preach John 9 than to retell the story.  Squeezing a passage into a sermonic form seems to be more about the preacher than the text.  So I have sometimes followed the read and observe method.  I am not sure if this would get me out of homiletics class.


Names of God – He has an app for that!

A number of the names of God are attached to historical events.  I will be exploring this in a sermon series at Bethany Church this summer.  The title is “He has an app for that.”  The idea is that there are a variety of places or circumstances we can fall into where we need to call on the Lord for help.

I’ll also be telling the scripture as story before the kids head off to Junior Church.

Keep it Simple

Billy Graham used to say that you have to work hard to make it simple.  This is the challenge to a pastor who wants to be aware of scholarhsip, do serious study, and at the same time, communicate to regular people meaning and connections to life.  Our success rate in this vaires from week to week. The dangers are

  • Lost in Abstraction
  • Too many Obscurities
  • Disconnect of book and life
  • Riding an irrelevant hobby horse
  • Using jargon instead of English
  • or, on the other hand, joining the Know-Nothing party
Here is my work at explaining Prophet, Priest and King theology

“People need the Lord” says a worship song,  but they may come to him by differing paths.  For example:

  • Because they are Lost
  • Because they are Guilty
  • Because they are Overpowered.

Jesus provides all that is needed in each case.

  • The Lost find the Light because Jesus is a Prophet.
  • The Guilty find forgiveness because Jesus is a Priest
  • The Overpowered find power because Jesus is the King.

Lazarus – John 11:43-44

Jesus asked for the stone to be removed from in front of the tomb.  Martha, the practical sister, pointed out that after 4 days the body would smell.  But Jesus persisted.  Then after a brief prayer, he turned toward the tomb and shouted,

“Lazarus, come out!”

Lazarus came blindly stumbling out of the tomb, still wrapped in the grave clothes.  So Jesus commanded those there to un-wrap him and set him free.

This is a parable.  This raising of Lazarus tells us something about new life now and new life in the future.

Now – when a person hears the Gospel and comes to new life, it is a miracle from the Lord.  Yet in this life we start out blindly and dressed in the clothes of death.  Lazarus did not look glorious at his new life, but he was in need of help.  This is one reason the Lord gives us Christian Fellowship. We are here to listen to the Lord’s command to “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Are you surprised by the sins of fellow believers?  These are the grave clothes.  So it is our task to help un-wrap the old dead things from our lives and to all the freedom of new life to take place.  We do this by love, patience and prayer.

In the Future – When Jesus came forth from the grave, he was clean and glorious.  He left his grave clothes behind in the tomb.  And so when he returns to raise the dead, the dead will be raised like him – clean and glorious.  At the Shout of God, we will come forth in victory and righteousness to the new life God has prepared for us.