Preachers Don’t Need to Be Storytellers

Posted on April 5, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Ridiculous Article
As I perused a Christian website, I came across a headline which read, “3 Reasons Your Sermons Need Good Stories.”

stand-up-comedy-mic

I rolled my eyes, but clicked on the article anyway. As expected, it was ridiculous and unbiblical. Of course the premise was that if preachers are too solemn while orating from the pulpit, they will “lose their audience.” This premise is utter nonsense and one reason why the Western Church is so weak and ineffective.

We do not need preachers to make us feel good or tickle our funny bones. I have had my fill of preachers who consider themselves stand-up comics rather than sober-minded Bible teachers.

Church should never be regarded as a place where people will be entertained, and preachers should stop paying so much attention to the latest opinion polls. Pastors need to preach and teach the Bible, and if people are offended, it is between them and God. But one thing is certain: preachers do not need to be storytellers.

Not Totally Against It
I am not against the practice of preachers inserting a brief story or two into their sermons to help make their points. After all, Jesus spoke in parables, which are stories – stories, however, which impart a spiritual truth.

Jesus’ parables, however, were not humorous, nor were they designed to make people feel good. They generally had to do with the Kingdom of God and how individuals could enter that kingdom. Jesus’ parables were taken from everyday life, something his hearers could relate to. He often used agriculture (wheat, seeds, grain), nature (birds, flowers, weather), money (“talents,” wealthy people), work (masters, servants, laborers), rituals (weddings), and human nature (the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son) to illustrate His spiritual truths.

jesus parable

However, we never read where Jesus had to “warm up” His listeners, to make them feel at home and comfortable. On the contrary, Jesus was anything but a “feel-good” practitioner fearful that if He said the wrong thing, He would lose His “audience.” Hence we read of Jesus saying, “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30), and “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:35-36). Nothing fuzzy about that!

What Scripture Says
Again, I understand that most preachers use stories, and I agree that one or two brief and well-placed ones can be very effective. So long as preachers are using the stories to support their primary theme, that’s fine. However, if they are using stories or jokes that have nothing to do with their sermons, but rather as “wake-up” material to make the congregation feel comfortable, they are wrong. True preaching should not be “comfortable,” and church-goers should not have to be awoken. They should be eager to hear the sermon; a sermon that should help them grow and mature in their Christian faith, not entertain them.

We see nothing of stories, jokes, or entertainment in the apostle Paul’s admonitions to his successor Timothy. Paul, knowing his time was short, gave sage and crucial advice to his young charge, including the following:

  • “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly” (2 Timothy 2:16).
  • “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).
  • “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
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I see nothing of storytelling or making people feel good in these verses. Rather, Paul recognizes the seriousness with which the Bible must be taught, and he communicates this to Timothy. Of course there is room for a humorous comment and some lightness, but these should be minimal.

What’s Needed
The time is late and the return of Christ is drawing near. People are dying without Christ and we cannot take this lightly. We need our pastors to be preachers and not storytellers, proclaiming the Bible ably and soberly so that believers may be equipped to do God’s work, and that unbelievers may come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

May God give us discernment, boldness, and fortitude in these dark but momentous days!

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