1st person narrative preaching

Boat stained glass

On Sunday I had my first go at 1st person narrative preaching. I was preaching on Luke 8:22-56. It’s an amazing piece of narrative which demonstrates both the authority of Jesus (as he controls nature, the underworld, disease and death) and a right response to him (trusting in Jesus). What I decided to do was take on the persona of Peter post-Pentecost and retell the narrative as though I was Peter looking back on this bizarre week in his life.

I’ve been reflecting on the benefits and costs of this kind of preaching. Here are my thoughts so far:

Strengths

– The power of the narrative is once again delivered to the people. Before I preached I was interviewed. The leader asked me how I became a Christian and I used the opportunity to ask those who were there (some of whom were well on in years) who had become a Christian before they were 18. Almost everyone raised their hands. These guys had read the passage (or its equivalents in the other gospels) scores of times. Preaching as though I was in the narrative called the congregation to revisit the narrative and feel the things that happened. Everyone at the church was completely engaged (no seriously… there were about 25 people there including kids and they all came up and told me so). I’m certain that this has less to do with me, and more to do with the method.

– Preaching this way gave me the chance to legitimately use Peter’s letters and show how he was influenced by the things that happened while he was with Jesus. When Peter writes in 2 Peter 1,

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

It gave me a chance to kick a few goals on understanding that the biographies of Jesus were historical documents that relied on reliable eyewitnesses.

– This isn’t so much a strength of this method as the strength of changing to a different method. Preparing a Bible talk differently to the normal way you do things makes you think even harder. I read twice as many commentaries as I do usually just so I could be sure of the things I was saying.

Weaknesses

– I faced a constant battle every time I built on the details of the narrative. In this kind of thing there’s a lot of filling in that’s involved. Every time I did this I got that sick feeling in my stomach that you get in a plane in turbulence. Why did I feel so guilty? I suppose because I’m confident in the details of the story to get the message across. But the whole point of this kind of narrative preaching is to break through the crust around peoples hearts. The passage has become like elevator music. Thus the details that I expanded upon were only there to help the listener hear afresh. It’s kind of like going to live show vs. listening to the album version. The sick feeling is natural but you have to overcome it for the sake of the exercise.

– I found it really hard to teach doctrine this way. There is some gold in the Luke passage that I just couldn’t address because it would have been too cumbersome in the 1st person narrative format. You sort of have to be able to use a pronoun every paragraph or two or else people forget that you are still in character and the whole thing falls over.

– Perhaps it was just me, but I found offering application (that is to suggest how this passage should change the people who are listening) much harder. Application has to be more general because, coming from the lips of Peter, I didn’t feel like it was right to get him to speak directly to the people of Newtown Baptist Church. Perhaps I was just being uptight, but I felt that was a significant weakness of the method and I could have said more had I been speaking as Steve rather than Peter.

Have you ever had a go at this type of preaching?

How did you find it went?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “1st person narrative preaching

  1. I am very impressed that you gave this a go. I haven’t done it myself, because I chickened out. I have seen it done though. I found it really hard to follow, because it wasnt introduced that the person preaching wasnt trying to preach as such but be a character in the narrative. Although he did this on most of Ezekiel to introduce the talks he was doing.

    So it was great to hear it done, very affective, but hard to know what was going on.

    I understand that this can be done effectively but it is hard on the preacher.

    Kudos to you Steve or Peter whoever you are!!!

  2. hey steve.

    intriguing to see you posting about this – josh juswadi did a similar thing a week or two ago and blogged about it here:

    http://joshua.kuswadi.com/2009/07/preaching-in-the-first-person/

    enjoy!

  3. helena

    sounds great Steve, brave to step up and do something out of your normal comfort zone, well done. I’m sure the message was received in a fresh way with new reverlation to the congregation. was it recorded? would love to hear it. 🙂

  4. Hey Steve,
    I had a go at 1st P preaching.
    The way I got around some of the problems was I had an ‘introduction’ to the passage (Ps 25) before the Bible reading, explaining some of the background.
    Then after the reading I was in the character of someone reacting to the passage and struggling with what it said, then I switched to a character that responded and taught the 1st guy. This allowed me to give application as it was from someone outside the ‘narrative’ of the passage.
    But you’re right, the fact that it wasn’t a ‘normal’ sermon helped it work.

  5. I am trying to get a handle on this style. Would love to see some examples of this type of preaching. I am reading a book on Kindle about this style right now. Book is entitled “Effective First-Person Preaching by Edwards J. Kent.

  6. steveboxwell

    So sorry everyone, I meant to post my talk up here weeks ago and I plumb forgot.

    Here’s the link: http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/2758281/Luke%208.22-56.MP3

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