THERE’S A METHOD TO THE MADNESS!
My homiletics professor in seminary told me that preaching is both an “art” and a “science”. There are many different styles and methods to preaching and ultimately each preacher has to find a style that best fits their own gifts and personality. Some preach topically on a selected subject using multiple references both from the Bible and other sources, including stories, quotes, and visual images or object lessons. Others choose to preach exegetically, working verse by verse through a particular book of the Bible, emphasizing the historical context and meaning of the original language. Still others preach in an expository manner, emphasizing the practical applications of the biblical text for our current situation. Though different people will like different styles, there is no “right” or “wrong” method as long as the truth of scripture is faithfully being communicated.
When I first went in to the fulltime preaching ministry I spent a lot of time using the exegetical, verse-by-verse method. Since I really enjoy that type of in-depth study myself, my sermon preparation time was one of my favorite times in the week. I could sound pretty “scholarly” if I wanted to, so I was sure my sermons would be memorable! Ok, maybe I was wrong about that!!
However, somewhere along the way I began to remember the sermons that had most impacted me as I grew up in the church as a child, then as a young man preparing for the ministry at college, and finally as a Youth Pastor or Associate Pastor serving on a church staff. As much as I personally liked the more exegetical style, and actually served with a Pastor who was absolutely brilliant at it, those were not the sermons I remembered. That realization perplexed me! If that was such “good stuff”, how come that’s not what I remembered?
What I did remember were the stories told by the pastors, camp speakers, evangelists or my college chaplain that illustrated biblical truth. Often times they used humor, historical accounts, pictures, and personal stories from their own lives and connected that to a point that was clearly evident in a scripture passage they were preaching from that day. The “story” or “visual tool” made the point become alive. It showed how these scriptural truths were relevant to my life and situation. It was no longer a matter of understanding what the Bible said….it was whether or not I was willing to live by it and obey. Whoa! That’s getting pretty close to home!!
Back in seminary my homiletics professor had reminded all of us “fledging preachers” that Jesus’ favorite preaching method was to use parables…..teaching stories taken from normal, everyday scenes that illustrated God’s truth. Years later I think I finally understood why and that realization changed my own preaching style.
Don’t get me wrong…..I still enjoy exegetical study, and use it often in classroom studies as we work our way through various books of the Bible. But now I normally preach in a much more expository way, taking a clear principle I see in a scripture passage and trying to find ways to make that point “memorable”. I tend to often look for humorous stories, video clips, or other visuals that help folks see the truth of those points in a way they won’t forget as soon as they walk out of the door. If they can remember the story, the joke, or the video clip, they just might remember why I told it and what point I was trying to make. If people can remember those points, they’re much more likely to put them into practice…….and that’s the goal of all preaching.
I will never be confused for one of the world great orators, but rarely have I spoken when I haven’t felt like I was able to keep the audience’s attention. I think that’s because I like to tell “stories” and most of us seem to respond to “stories” more than “concepts”. If we can relate, laugh with, or be challenged by such a simple device as a parable, a humorous anecdote, illustration or video clip, then perhaps we will be able to grasp the profound truth of God’s Word we may not have grasped before.
I still miss the days of going verse-by-verse like I used to do on a regular basis, and I look forward to the opportunities when I get to do that in the classroom or the pulpit. But more often than not I’ll choose to preach in the way that made the most impact on my own life, hoping that those tools I use – stories, quotes, jokes, video clips, and object lessons – will drive home a scriptural point in such a way that those who listen can’t help but remember it. There really is a method to the madness! It’s certainly not the methodology for every speaker or preacher, but it’s the one that fits my personality and my own spiritual journey the best! So, I think I’ll go ahead and keep using it, asking God to once again work through “the foolishness of preaching” to encourage others……even from a story-teller like me!
Grateful For the Privilege of Preaching!