“Jesus never preached without telling stories.” (Mark 4:34)
Pastor, your people love a good story. Listeners who have gone on vacation during the first ten minutes of your sermon will return home in a heartbeat the moment you begin, “A man went into a store….” or “I remember once when I was a child….”
Those who have died early in your message will suddenly spring to life when you say, “The other day, I saw something on the interstate…” or “Recently, when the governor and I were having lunch at a local cafe…” (smiley-face goes here)
We all love a good story. We’re so addicted to stories, our television brings us hundreds a day. Even on talk shows, the host wants guests to tell a story! Drop in on your local cinema and no matter which screen you’re watching, it’s all stories. And the book publishing business–well, you get the idea.
There are a thousand reasons for dropping the occasional story into your sermon, pastor. Here are three….
1) It makes the hard truth tastier, a little more palatable.
A good story sugar-coats the bitter pill you’re asking your audience to swallow.
Leslie said to me, “Pastor Joe, when you performed Mom’s wedding to John, are you aware that Sandra Bullock was in the audience?” Wow. No, I was not. Sandra Bullock is one of the great stars of Hollywood. I do recall hearing that Leslie’s mom Anne was related to Sandra Bullock, and maybe her godmother.
I said, “I wish I had known.”
Leslie answered, “Well, she was only ten years old at the time.”
I still laugh at that.
When a pastor stands to preach, he never knows who is listening. If his sermon is being recorded or broadcast, he has no clue who will be hearing his words. He will do well to make sure he knows what he’s talking about.
This has happened to me a number of times. I’m sitting in a meeting with hundreds of the Lord’s people representing churches across our state or country. A large number of preachers are in the audience. The speaker is sounding forth on some subject of importance to us all.
Suddenly, the speaker comes out with a statement that gets a hearty “amen,” something profound that reinforces the point he is making. He goes on with the message and everyone in the room follows him but one person. Me, I’m stuck at that statement. Where did he get that, I wonder. Is it true? How can we know?
If “Facebook,” that wonderful and exasperating social networking machine, has taught us anything, it is to distrust percentages and question quotations.
A Facebook friend’s profile contained a quote from President Kennedy. I happen to know the quote and while I cannot prove JFK never uttered those words–proving a negative like that is impossible–I know how the line got attached to the Kennedys. It’s a quotation from a George Bernard Shaw play.
Pastor, scan through these offerings and see if you find anything of use as illustrations for sermons. Or, just as good, perhaps they will spark an idea inside you.
Want a great love story, one that will inspire every heart listening to you? This ain’t it!
In 1964, a hitchhiker was picked up on the highway and given a ride by an 18- year-old woman. They chatted, she dropped him off, and they each went on their way. Within minutes, the man decided that he was in love with her. I mean, seriously, head over heels, a real goner.
The problem was that he had no way to contact her. She was gone. But he never forgot her.
Thirty-one years later, he came across her name in the newspaper in the obituary of her mother. So he sent her 5 dozen roses–alongwith all the letters he had written her over 31 years.
Thirty-one years of letters.
By laypeople, we mean non-preachers.
Speaking in church refers to addressing large groups of the Lord’s people.
Many non-preacher types are outstanding on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers come to mind. They are experienced and at ease. But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, may feel out of his element when asked to deliver a talk in front of the congregation.
Marlene said to me, “I’m sorry I took the entire service, Pastor. But the Lord was leading me.” Translation: She was unprepared, really got into her talk and couldn’t control it. As a young pastor, I was inviting church members to share testimonies in the morning worship service, something along the lines of 5-7 minutes. (Later, I learned to interview the individual and keep hold of the microphone the entire time!)
Once Marlene got going, she could not find a convenient stopping place. She kept on for a full 40 minutes. (I could have pointed out a half-dozen great places to stop!)
Now personally, I would not blame my failure to prepare for a speech on the Lord.
I see it happen all the time. It can be almost embarrassing.
I was going to Italy to be the featured speaker for a pastors-and-wives retreat. Those attending are all English-speaking serving churches across Europe as well as a few other countries. I was excited.
My host, head of the International Baptist Convention, pointed out a few things to keep in mind.
While everyone at the retreat will speak English, they are not all Americans. Therefore, I must be careful not to use idioms and references that only those from the USA (or even worse, the Deep South) will understand.
So, I started thinking over some of my choice stories. I have tales of growing up in rural Alabama, of small church preachers and narrow-minded Baptists and Southern ways. I could see I was going to have to revisit all my messages and stories and illustrations. Once we begin in Italy, there would still need to be some fine-tuning and tweaking.
When a preacher ignores the cultural divide between himself and his audience, he could mess up royally.
Good title, right?
Now a confession. I was never afraid to stand in front of a group and speak. In fact, quite the opposite.
In our little West Virginia schoolhouse, teacher Margaret Meadows would invite her fourth-graders to share a story they had read recently. I recall Violet Garten (love that name!) was so good at it. But when she called on me–I’m the kid frantically waving my hand–and I walked to the front of the class, I broke the rules.
I did not tell a story I had read somewhere.
I’ve thought about that conversation ever since.
A friend whom I know only from our internet exchanges wanted to know if in all the articles on my website, there was anything on a text he was researching.
I responded that I could not recall dealing with those verses, but suggested where he might find help. Then, I said, “Are you preaching on that text?”
I had no idea whether he was a pastor or not.
It turned out he was a layman and had been asked to bring a message that Wednesday night to his church. The Lord had laid on his heart a text, and he was trying to find out all he could on it. Good for him.
Then he said something which has lingered with me ever since: I want to give the people truths from this passage which they will remember the rest of their lives.
Wow. Big assignment he has given himself.
After the death of comic genius Robin Williams, someone was reminiscing about the time he preceded Bob Hope on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
For some reason, Bob Hope was late arriving at the studio that night. So, instead of Robin Williams following him, which had been the plan, Williams went on stage first and did his hilarious knock-em-dead routine. People were beside themselves with laughter.
The great Bob Hope arrived and had to follow that.
Robin Williams said, “I don’t think he was angry, but he was not pleased.”
As Bob Hope walked out onto the stage and settled into the chair, Johnny Carson said, “Robin Williams. Isn’t he funny?” Hope said, “Yeah. He’s wild. But you know, Johnny, it’s great to be back here with you.”
Let’s talk about me. I smile. Even the great Bob Hope could not handle that.
No right-thinking person would voluntarily follow Robin Williams on the program.
Let no man despise thy youth (or thy inexperience–Joe). (I Timothy 4:12)
As one who has a great deal of respect for godly laymen and laywomen, I’m always glad when one rises in church to deliver a sermon or a testimony or a report. As a retiree and guest preacher, I get to see a good bit of this. And sometimes….
Sometimes I want to applaud them. “Good job. Well done.” (In fact, I often say it to them following the service.)
But at other times, I want to shake them. “Pay attention to what you are doing! You can do better than this!”
I say this fully aware that we all had to start out somewhere, sometime, someway, and no beginner came to the speaking craft full-grown. We crawl before we walk and walk before we run.
However, sometimes the lay speaker or preacher is mature in years and should know better and still will act like a novice.