2/10/2009 - Preaching professor urges pastors to learn art of story-telling
By Michael J. Brooks
Dr. Calvin Miller believes "narrative preaching," or story-telling, is the key to effective preaching today.
"When Jesus stepped out of the tomb, the redemption story was complete," Miller said. "This was the finest example of 'they lived happily ever after.' This is a story that brings hope and changes lives."
Miller, former professor of preaching and now writer-in-residence at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, spoke in chapel at Judson College on Feb. 10 and then conducted an afternoon seminar for some 60 pastors from throughout the state. The seminar was based on his book, "Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition," and was co-sponsored by the Office of LeaderCare and Church Administration of the Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions.
Miller said that the Bible itself is a story book that reveals God's plan for humankind.
"In the successes and failures of real people in the Bible we learn more about God and how he deals with our successes and failures," he said.
Miller believes that stories grip the attention of one's audience and communicate the precepts of scripture in an indelible way.
"Precepts are important," he said. "There has to be the rules for living and the lists of things to avoid. But precepts can become boring if there's just one after another. Stories are vehicles for conveying doctrine and rules for living. They are wonderful for personal application of great truths."
In his chapel address, Miller told the story of God's providence in the life of Elijah in the Old Testament book of I Kings.
"God told Elijah 'I'll send the ravens to feed thee,' and God has done this for me for over 70 years," Miller said.
Miller illustrated this theme with a number of examples, including the anonymous donor who paid his sophomore tuition at Oklahoma Baptist University, identifying himself 20 years later and saying, "You were worth every penny of it."
"God used this man to help me and to encourage me," Miller said. "God sent his ravens to feed me."
Jesus told 17 stories in the New Testament, Miller said, and all his stories required a resolution. Some brought about acceptance and conversion and some brought about rejection.
"The modern preacher should emulate the example of Jesus and tell stories about righteousness and salvation," he said. "Stories teach us how to cope with our pain and how to hope."
Miller also urged pastors to try the unusual in their sermons, such as simply using the unopened box or bag.
"One colleague brought a bag to the pulpit and declared that the greatest evil in the world was inside," he said. "He had our attention immediately as we wondered what was in there. He pulled out a sword and a pistol, but said these weren't the greatest evil. Then he brought out a cow's tongue. It was a bit ghastly, but then he quoted from the book of James that the untamed tongue is the source of the world's greatest evil. It was an unforgettable object lesson."
* Article courtesy of the Judson College Public Relations Department