Ryan Rasmussen is this Sunday’s guest post blogger. Ryan currently serves as Lead pastor at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. Ryan is an incredible storyteller in the craft of preaching. He recently opened a series, through the book of Hosea, by telling Hosea’s story in first person.
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Storytelling In Preaching
I hate preacher debates. If you’re not a preacher you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about, but if you happen to share my occupation you are likely part of a few Facebook groups or have seen (or joined in on) some twitter conversations on theology, ecclesiology, hermeneutics, or other fancy sounding words we pastors like to throw around to puff out our pasty, unimpressive, clergy chests.
One of the debates I find invading my newsfeed fairly regularly is whether it’s better to preach expository (straight through books of the Bible) or topical (using text to support a topic, such as marriage or forgiveness). The methods are different and people certainly have their preferences, but there is one component that I believe bridges both John Piper and Andy Stanley alike- the power of storytelling.
I don’t have to spend much time convincing individuals of the power of story. There’s a reason Hollywood is booming and folks like J.K. Rowling are living the good life. Everyone loves a good story. A good story teller can take people on adventure and then bring them to tears. They can open a persons heart or cause them to laugh for hours. Truth be told, a good story can actually change a person’s life.
Now, I’m certainly not the first to point this out, but Jesus understood the power of storytelling, choosing parables as his most common form of teaching. He loved painting a picture for the crowds gathered around, whether through the tale of a prodigal son or a good samaritan, he left people often hanging on his words. Jesus’ own story changed all of eternity.
That being said, when it comes to story telling there are four components I try keep at the forefront when piecing together an illustration or narrative element to a sermon or message.
I have been blessed over the years to speak at youth events, men’s retreats, conferences, church camps, as well as preaching each Sunday at the church I pastor. In doing so, I’ve seen first hand the importance of a relevant story at engaging an audience. I’ve learned not to be too sappy at men’s retreats or talk about my kids too much at youth events. I want what I’m saying to connect with my audience. Truth is, if you tell the wrong kind of story to the wrong kind of crowd, you’re accomplishing the opposite of what you set out to establish in telling your story in the first place, that being connection.
This is hugely important. If you’re using a story to kick off you’re sermon then it probably shouldn’t be a long, drug-out tale. Keep it succinct and get to the point. If you’re story is closing out a message it can be a little longer, but only if you tell it well. Also, mix up what types of stories you tell. If you start every message with a funny story about your dog it won’t take long before your audience secretly despises your pure bread.
This may be Preaching 101, but storytelling is so much more than simply telling a story. A good storyteller will pace themselves, create dramatic pauses, or find moments for laughter, even in the tearjerkers. Don’t just “get through” your story in order to get to the point. Remember, the better your story is the more your point will drive home.
I used to simply write, “Tell story here,” in my notes and skip over the spiel when running through my message. It saved me time on the preparation end and I could focus more on perfecting the “meat” of the message. It didn’t take me long to realize the fault in that approach.
If you want to be a great storyteller you have to practice. Don’t take shortcuts!
Finally, I believe the best stories typically have three elements:
TRANSPARENCY Don’t be afraid to show your congregation that you’re a real person.
HEART People will connect better with you if they like you.
THEY’RE MEMORABLE Very few people will remember your three points, but they’ll remember that time you opened up about your childhood.
Let us be communicators, who through the power of story, have the opportunity to see Jesus made famous. Let’s work hard on our craft. But more than anything, may we be truly passionate about telling the greatest story of all-time, that Jesus loved us enough to rescue us.