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December 28, 2009Leadership

Preaching Magazine Interview (Pt. 3)

This is the third and final part of my interview with Preaching Magazine (parts 1 and 2 are here and here). It's a discussion that is tied to my book, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and The Churches That Reach Them. Here we continue on the subject or preaching, and touch on what message I bring to the different groups I'm called to address.

Preaching: One of the things the Heath's talk about in Made to Stick--one principle that makes ideas sticky--is the use of story. As you look at preaching, what do you think about the importance of the use of story in today's environment?

Stetzer: I think it's a big deal. I think a lot of preachers who were trained in more traditional exegetical approaches are missing that frequently. As a matter of fact, in the first book I wrote I talked about the need for narrative exposition, for us to be able to preach narrative but also through a stack[ed] narrative.

When you think of a stack[ed] narrative, you watch a TV show, such as "Lost," and there are four or five narratives kind of woven throughout that stretch. That's called a stack[ed] narrative. I think ultimately we need a stackpole, and that's the Scriptural narrative; 70 percent of Scripture is narrative, depending on how you count. We need to preach that, but I think we can weave in other stories in a way that enables people to engage.

I think a lot of people, when they hear preaching stories, they think of getting up and telling "once upon a time" and then throwing in a few Bible verses; but I think people can preach in narrative ways that engage the narrative of Scripture and do so with stack narratives that help people make that application. I think it's a very effective way in an emerging, postmodern context. I think more and more churches are finding that and seeking to do that.

I know of one church that right now is going to take two years going through the Book of Luke just telling the story. A church where I'll be preaching locally is going through the Gospel of John and finding creative ways to tell the story. So, we're seeing a shift in some ways from the epistles to the gospels. Maybe we were preaching too much epistles. I want to make sure we're preaching the full counsel of the Word of God, and not through only the Old Testament, because there's so much in all of that. We evangelicals; we like the didactic nature of Romans.

I just did a series at my church called Zag. When the world zigs, in the kingdom of God we zag. I just walked through the kingdom parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. That is harder for me to preach than "What then is the use of the law in Romans 3?"

Preaching: I have a friend who, though he has long since passed retirement age, is pastoring a church with lots of young adults. What he's finding out is the thing they respond to the most is telling the Bible stories, because they don't know them.

Stetzer: There's truth to that. I grew up un-churched, so for me coming to Christ... I went to a few classes to go through basic rituals in the church I grew up with. I knew nothing. For people like me--an increasing number of people, particularly among the younger un-churched--telling the story of the Scripture is key.

I would say one of the dangers is using the term "stories" because how is "story" different than Aesop's Fables or something of that sort? But I like the idea of telling the narrative, telling the narrative of Scripture and asking people to join in the narrative of Scripture. If we want them to create a new worldview, worldviews are shaped by stories. All worldviews have stories that undergird them, and we need to tell them the narrative of Scripture so they might build a biblical worldview that includes propositional truth and the truth expressed in the narrative of Scripture.

Preaching: Ed, you're involved in so many different projects, including research, writing and speaking. Out of all the things you're learning, if you had to give preachers one word of counsel, what would it be?

Stetzer: That's a great question, and I will tell you I have a bad answer. The answer is when I'm with different groups of people I bring a different message. There are churches, and they love the Lord, and they're preaching the Gospel, and they understand the Gospel; but what they've not done is engage culture. Some of those are in my own denomination. So, when I'm speaking to my own denomination, often I'm telling them to engage the culture in context.

Then I go to other settings, and I'm speaking where they "get" the cultural engagement. They're excited and passionate about it, but I don't hear them talking about the gospel. I talk about a rediscovery of the gospel. So, if you come with me when I'm preaching at a denominational meeting compared to when I'm preaching at a young gathering of urban, hip whatever, I have a very different message because I think they need a very different nudging.

I straddle these worlds in a weird way. I'll talk to probably 10 different denominations in the next year. and I'll just be different depending on where I am. When I'm with the contemporary church crowd, I'll tell them, "Don't forget the gospel, and stay true to the Scriptures," but when I'm with the traditional church crowd, I'll tell them, "Don't forget the culture and engage the context."

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Preaching Magazine Interview (Pt. 3)