Everyone loves a good story. There is something about the characters, the tension and the resolution of those elementary components of a good story. Jesus himself used stories more than any other tool to relate the Kingdom of Heaven to those who had ears to hear. From the perspective of the pulpit, you can see an unconscious shift in the body posture of the congregation when you say, “Let me tell you a story.” The congregation leans forward slightly. They seem to relax.
Let me suggest a couple of benefits to your sermons that result from good storytelling.
1. Stories capture the imagination of your congregation.
Without a doubt, seated in the congregations that pastors serve on a week-in and week-out basis are men and women whose imaginations are waiting to be sparked. They want to be drawn in. They want to imagine what it would feel to walk with Jesus. They want to feel the spray of the water on Peter’s face as he stepped into the boat. To wonder, as John writes in his gospel that captures the imagination, what the perfume smelled like when its aroma filled the room.
Often in many sermons, the imagination is left untouched. In a noble effort to be accurate and to avoid emotionalism, many become guilty of being emotionless. Good storytelling is a way to capture the imagination of the congregation, drawing them in to see the scriptures in a new way.
2. Stories deepen the point.
The reason most pastors tell stories—at least the reason they should—is to deepen the point they are trying to make from God’s word.
Over the course of a pastoral career, hundreds if not thousands of sermons will be given and lessons taught. Over the course of a pastor’s own faith development, hundreds and thousands of sermons and lectures have already been listened to. How many of those are remembered?
Now, how many stories given in those messages and lectures are remembered?
Stories should never be told just for the stories’ sake, but, if used appropriately, stories will deepen the point that is being made.
3. Stories make you real.
I believe—without conducting formal research—that many in the congregation would be shocked to know not only that their pastor struggles, but also what he struggles with. Often pastors just do not seem like “real” people.
Now, stories are not an opportunity for weekly confession that would make a sailor blush with shame, but to connect with the congregation to whom you have been called to equip, encourage and edify. When you tell a good story that deepens the scriptural point either from your own life or from something that caught your imagination, you begin to break down a disconnect and a false persona with the congregation you serve.
4. Stories put the gospel in the right position.
Recently during a mid-week message from 2 Timothy, some time was dedicated to the importance of being reminded (2 Tim. 2:14). A few short stories were told to deepen this point. A couple of days later, a member of my church brought me a comic strip that they cut out from the paper that made them recall this verse. This small gesture gave testimony to how the gospel presented through a few short stories was framing how they read the newspaper and not the other way around.
The gospel must be presented not as an ideal but as real. Pastors must train their people to filter their experiences, the news and even their social media streams through the gospel and not the other way around. The good use of stories disciples your congregation to think illustratively through their own experiences and that which they read and watch.
Stories can capture the imagination of those called to disciple and become one of many tools available to equip the church to see their world through the lens of the gospel.