Last fall we were preparing to preach through 1 Peter. We had outlined the book, selected graphics, and titled the sermons. Yet I felt unsettled. I had taken a course on narrative preaching the previous summer at Asbury Theological Seminary with Dr. Jeff Frymire. The bar had been raised. And I wasn't satisfied with the status quo. But what did narrative preaching have to do with Peter's epistle?
I shared my frustration with my team. Brad and Barb look at each other—look at me—and they say, "That's easy!" I'm thinking to myself, "What did I miss?" They go on to suggest that we open the series from the perspective of an exile—someone who was displaced now living in northern Asia Minor—reading Peter's letter for the first time. Talk about a light bulb moment! We adjourned the meeting and I wrote a narrative for the first Sunday.
After some more collaboration I told the story of Antony, a fictional teen whose father was a wealthy landowner outside Rome. The father's conversion to Christianity eventually leads to forced relocation for his family. Antony's dream of inheriting his father's estate is destroyed, but a new dream of an imperishable inheritance emerges as he discovers faith in Christ.
As the series unfolded, we stayed with Antony. His story almost wrote itself as we looked at passages through the eyes of a teen adjusting to a new home, wrestling with faith, and eventually making an all-out commitment to Christ as an "exile." People often leaned forward for these 5-7 minute vignettes in the sermon. There was a loud quiet in the room as we experienced the text through the eyes of a person with a name. This experiment of using a narrative approach for an epistle would have never happened unless I had a team who listened and then said, "That's easy."
Becoming a better listener
Most of the people in your congregation are already evaluating your preaching. The question is whether you want to hear what they have to say. Why not ask the most trusted and gifted among them to share their insights with you? It doesn't mean that you need to act on every comment. It does mean that you will take advantage of the resources God has already given you to grow as a communicator of God's Word.
Do you want to grow? Do you love the truth enough to seek it out? Are you willing to find out what it's like to be on the other side of you on Sunday mornings? Are you willing to receive specific feedback about what was heard and experienced when you were speaking? If you want to be a better preacher, become a better listener. And start with a few people who long for better preaching.
Who would you love to spend more time with? Who are lifelong learners and readers? Who has some theological education? Who can tell a good story? Who will speak the truth in love to you? Who's willing to contribute without shutting down when you don't take their suggestion? Who has a passion to see your church grow in their love of God through passionate preaching?