Free file for youth pastors:
I can remember looking out of the car window very intently while riding through Alberta, Alabama as a young little dude. Trying to see all the way across the street and into the Krispy Kreme restaurant, I usually could catch a glimpse of my Uncle Paul there in the evenings. From what I remember, he would love to meet his friends there pretty regularly to have a cup of coffee and a doughnut with them. I always used to wonder what they would talk about so often for so long. Now, without even ever getting to be a part of those conversations, I’m convinced I know. How do I know? I’ve been around people for 30 years now. Old, middle-aged, married, single, college students, teenagers, and children…we all love to sit and talk about life in stories.
One of the most frustrating things for a youth pastor (and I’m sure you can attest to this as well) is asking a teenager what they remembered from the last sermon, lesson, or study they heard last from you. It seems that they will inevitably answer something about the cool illustration you used. THE ILLUSTRATION?! The illustration is only a window to look through in order to see the point! But now because teenagers (and everyone for that matter) remembers illustrations the most, I’m afraid many youth pastors are tempted to write sermons, pick-out Scripture passages, and choose topics…based on a good illustration they can use.
What if? What if when we asked our students what they learned from last week’s sermon they answered, “I remember how Moses was told to count the people of Israel, and how one day the people around the throne of Jesus Christ will be a number no one can even count, dude!” Could you imagine the smile sweeping across your face, wrapping your arms around your student, and jumping up and down screaming, “My child, my child, you finally get it. You’re the best. You’re my favorite. I’m going to buy you a car now!” Okay, so that scene will NEVER happen, but how can we help students to remember Jesus, to remember the gospel, and to remember the Scripture text of every sermon? I honestly think it is by preaching in narrative, preaching in story.
If everyone already loves to tell stories and talk in story, if what everyone remembers most from us is our stories, and if the Bible is primarily made up of stories of biblical history, stories pointing us to Christ, stories specifically of Christ, and stories of living out the gospel…then why would we not want to preach/teach in more of a narrative form? They love songs that tell stories, they love movies with a good story behind, and they want the story of their life to make a difference.
The answer! I really believe the answer is 3 fold. 1.) Tell the story of the passage. We need to be faithful to understanding the specific passage of the text we’re preaching/teaching, and be able to tell it from memory. 2.) Point the story of the passage. We need to point every biblical text to the main biblical storyline…following the Person and work of Christ. If you need examples of this, look at any/all of the “STORYLINE” sermons on this blog. 3.) Apply the story of the passage. The biblical story shouldn’t stop short of Christ, nor should the biblical story stop short of application for the Christian. I think far too often we take a Bible story and just apply it to our lives. But we should NEVER bypass Jesus Christ to understand Christian application…otherwise its not CHRISTian. But every sermon/lesson should encourage the hearer to believe in Christ, to follow Christ, to repent of sin, and to live in a way that is obedient to the passage given attention to in that lesson.
Stories are powerful and memorable! I’ve heard so many stories in my life about missionaries who go overseas to countries who can’t read or write. Many of these people groups have NEVER had their own language written down…NEVER. From what I’ve heard in these cases, the missionaries teach the Bible to these illiterate people groups by using stories. The missionaries teach them as many important biblical stories as possible over the course of several years. Then before the missionaries leave, they ask the people important theological questions. How do the people answer the questions? They answer the questions by cross-sectioning stories in their heads! And apparently, they get almost all of the tough, theological questions correct. Amazing! I’ve also heard that when the missionaries leave, and then come back years later, the people still remember the stories very accurately as they were holding each other accountable to getting them right. And the best part…they used the stories to bring others to Christ through repentance and faith. Does it get any cooler than that?
Now I’m not calling a teenager an illiterate tribesman from a third world village…although…nevermind. But how much could our teens remember since they have their Bible, can read their Bible, and could hear the stories of the Bible told, pointed to Christ, and applied to their lives…by their youth pastor? Are you catching the fever of narrative preaching yet? What about you? When your pastor preaches, do you remember his lists, his points, …or his stories? More still to come on how to preach/teach teenagers.