Parable Preaching: Preaching Like The Master
We live in a story-telling culture. A culture that tells big stories on the big screen. Woody and Buzz. Harry Potter. Superheroes, too numerous to mention. The Hunger Games. Stories. Stories. Stories. Will anyone ever get serious? Why won’t they listen to serious things, like the truth of God’s Word? Why do people perk up when we include some inane story in our sermons … and then slump back down again, minds wandering to the nfl, when we get back to the precious word of God? Where are their priorities? Woe is me!
Why is our culture not only enamored with stories, but also fixated on the belief that there is no absolute truth? Why does this generation believe that truth is simply in the eye of the beholder, that truth is nothing more than a construct, ‘proven’, as it turns out, nothing more than a story or personal experience? Woe is me!
We have the Word of God in all of its truth and purity … one would expect that the Church today would resemble the Church of the book of Acts. Yet we see something very different—there is not a person among us who does not grieve our steady decline in membership, who does not mourn the steady drumbeat of one congregation after the next being moved to “not calling” status and then finally closing its doors. Woe is me! Woe is the Church! What shall we do???
Is it possible that one reason for our decline is that we are not communicating the Good News of Jesus as clearly as we would like? Is it possible that we are somehow getting in the way of what the Holy Spirit desires to do? After all, He desires that all are saved and come to the knowledge of the [Absolute] Truth. Are there more effective ways to communicate the Gospel in all its fullness to our culture, to our story-
Allow me to share a story with you. Way back in seminary I remember being taught about the exploits of some early lcms missionaries. They sought to bring the Good News of Jesus to Native Americans. In their passion to reach these lost children of God, they began by instructing the Indians in German. Then, when that task was complete, they imparted the precious word of God, in its original German language, of course, to all those who had learned German. We all admired the missionary zeal of our forefathers … and we all took note of how our Church had learned a great lesson from their mistake. Today, zealous missionaries learn the language of the people … rather than making the people learn the language of the missionaries.
Are we, in our preaching, forcing people to ‘learn German’ before they can hear the Good News of Jesus? What is the “language of the people” to whom we are preaching?
Check this out: our Savior and Mentor, Jesus, also lived in a story-telling culture. Yes, the Master Preacher lived in a culture much like our own. Now Jesus could have chosen to use the language and style of C.F.W. Walther and Franz Pieper to teach and preach among the Jews of the 1st Century. But how many hearts in that generation would have been gripped by such a preaching style? How many of that story-telling generation would have been convicted of their sin? How many would have rejoiced to hear that Gospel of forgiveness? How many would have been sanctified by the Spirit? Given Jesus’ assessment of the situation, He chose instead to use the language of the people. He chose to preach this way: “A farmer went out to sow …” “A man had two sons …” “A man planted a vineyard …” “Consider the lilies of the field …”
Most of us would be able not only to finish those stories of Jesus but also to accurately summarize the point that Jesus was making about the kingdom of God. Why? Because the stories resonate with our hearts. The stories grip us—we are also part of a story-telling culture! These stories are easy to remember, easy to recall, easy to apply. In fact, to paraphrase Scripture, their applications are new every morning.
To be concise, and the editors have asked me to be nothing but concise, it is high time we consider preaching like the Master. From time to time, and perhaps even more often than that, let us consider not using Spiderman as an illustration of some text. Let us use Spiderman as Jesus used the lilies of the field; let us use Spiderman as THE text. Tell the Story! Captivate minds and hearts! Use the stories to lead people into a firm belief in Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
“Consider Peter Parker, who was bitten by a spider, and with that spider-bite, was changed, was made new, and was called to go forth in spider-power to change the world.” Does that not preach??? After telling that story, could we not preach powerfully about how baptism changes our lives? Could we not use story-telling to convince people of the (Absolute) Truth?
“Consider Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger! Space Ranger, that is, until that day when he discovered that he was NOT a space ranger. He was only a toy. What??? Only a toy??? Hardly! In fact, he was Andy’s Toy! And with the realization of whose he was … he found new life!” Does that not preach??? After telling that story, could we not preach powerfully about Isaiah 43:1 and the importance of bearing the name “Christian” in our everyday lives?
Parable Preaching. Some Sundays we will want to preach a text, and find an illustration to match. But other Sundays we can learn from the Master Preacher; we can use Parable Preaching to reach out to this generation. Given what we know about our generation, it is likely that God’s Holy Spirit will communicate in a mighty way through this ‘new’ way of preaching, a new way which is really as old as the Master Himself.
Rev. Jeff Scheich
Pastor, Christ Lutheran Church
Check out http://room211.org/parable-preaching/
for some examples of Parable Preaching by the author.