Last week, I published a post about sermon illustrations: how to find them, manage them, store them, and retrieve them. In this post, I hope to help you learn how to become a better preacher by being a better storyteller.
First off, I don’t write this post flippantly. I am well aware that I am (1) not the best preacher in the world, far from it, and (2) I am not a leading expert on delivering sermons or sermon illustrations. But I do believe there are little things that preachers can do to get better. One of them is to learn how to tell stories well.
For some guys, telling stories well comes naturally. For most of us, however, this will be an art that we will be constantly crafting throughout our ministry. So the best thing that we can do is to work at it. But how?
First, listen to good storytellers. Find them on the radio (public radio is great for this), find good podcasts, really listen to the shows or movies you watch – how do actors phrase monologues or even single lines in dialogues. I even find it helpful to listen to good comedians who don’t tell one-liners but weave their act through a story. I don’t recommend telling jokes during the sermon, but you can learn a lot from a good story-telling comedian.
Second, practice. Practice while reading to your children (or grandchildren) books. Practice by thinking about how you tell people stories about your day. You don’t have to exaggerate in order to tell about a funny or odd situation that happened.
Third, get out of your manuscript when you preach. There is nothing that will make your congregation check out quicker than when your face is looking down at a paper on the pulpit. You don’t have to memorize your illustrations or your points, but, at least, engage them. You will have their attention if they have your attention.
Fourth, illustrate with details. Use as much description as your can. Paint a mental picture for your people. A good illustration will make people feel like they are really there with you. A good example of how to illustrate a story would be to read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien can go on for pages just describing the scenery. It’s not drudgery: he makes you feel like you are really there! The same goes for C.S. Lewis, especially his space trilogy.
Fifth, evaluate. Ask someone to critique you. Your wife would be a good one for this job. She can be honest and loving. Find someone who will not always praise you, but will always build you up. A more painful way to critique is to listen to yourself. Listen to your sermon recordings and find out whether or not your phrasing was effective or if you landed the plane well.
Storytelling is difficult, but you must work at it. A good illustration will make a decent sermon good. A good delivery of the illustration will make a good sermon great.