I Write Stories During Sermons

Perhaps it should be the kind of thing I state as a confessional: “Hello, my name is Carrie, and I write stories during sermons.” I have told my pastor about it. I don’t think he believes me.

I am a person who learns through narrative. I don’t know where that places me on the spectrum of multiple intelligences, or how that learning style would be classified, but I think in days of yore I would have been the girl who listened to every bard that came through the village, who memorized their songs and stories, who sang them over my work.

I’ve studied the whole of Scripture, and while, of course, as the inerrant Word of God, I know that the whole thing is living and active, it is the stories which speak to me. When I go back to read, it is to the narratives of the Old and New Testament. The prophets whose words strike me most powerfully are those who tell stories, of a Man of Sorrows or a people who will no longer need to say to each other “know the Lord,” for His law will be written on their hearts.

Paul was not a story teller. Valuable as I find his epistles for training in doctrine and practicing the spiritual life, I cannot say that his writings light a fire in my soul. Three points and a poem are dull and dry. Give me instead John’s narrative of the Word who became flesh. My soul cries out for modern parables that leave me thinking about the Creator of the Universe — the Storyteller whose words sustain and move the pieces of time and space.

I sit under the preaching of my pastor or other teachers, and I fully intend to keep my mind on what they’re saying. I have out my notebook and my pen for the purpose of recording the points and insights they plan to make from the text. But I have characters teeming inside my head at all times, paused in the living of their lives until I choose to awaken them again, just waiting for their next course of action.

So when the preacher looks at the passage where Moses pleads with the Lord to let him go into the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 3, the words I’m hearing fade into the background as a character named Brother Ezra comes to life, in his final moments, and shares his realization that the great gift he has fought all his life to establish will not be his to experience. And, like Moses does Joshua, Ezra commissions the next young leader to continue the fight, to establish the gift in all the land. And I learn the truth that God calls us to serve, no matter whether we get to see or physically experience the reward for that service in this life.

When the preacher exegetes 2 Corinthians 5:20, about how we are Christ’s ambassadors and God is making his appeal through us, the words begin to fade as Smuggins, a messenger for the King, learns that his next mission is to be an ambassador — to speak the King’s very words — and to call the leader of the rebellion to be reconciled. And I learn that it is God who will work in the lives and hearts of men, but my task is to be the messenger of reconciliation.

When the preacher looks at the story of the shepherds around Christmastime, my imagination takes one of them forward thirty-some years and plays out his realization that this child he heard about from the angel became like the lambs he raised for the Temple sacrifices. And I learn that God’s story is full of symbols that point people to Himself.

Did I get the “point” of the sermons I heard? I don’t know. There are times when the preacher’s words draw me back in to the points he’s making. There are other times when the congregation stands for the final hymn and I am left sitting in my seat, scribbling down another few lines before I have to walk away from the tale. I feel a little guilty when people behind me say things after the service like, “I see you’re a really good note taker!” Sometimes I correct them, but not that often — for it is hard to explain to a stranger that I was writing a story during the sermon. I know they probably won’t understand.

The writer knows that inspiration strikes at the oddest times. Perhaps I write stories during sermons because it is one of the few times in my week that I’m sitting still without the distraction of the computer and television nearby. Perhaps I’m foolish to think that I can learn the truths of Scripture through stories from my own imagination.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, the Living Word knows me better than I know myself. Perhaps He knows that He built me to learn from stories, so He provided me the opportunities to study the written Word so thoroughly that it is imprinted on my mind, shaping my imagination and constantly pointing me to the Great Writer, who used words to create the universe, and then stepped into the story Himself — becoming a Teacher who used stories as vehicles of truth. And who is Himself the fulfillment of the greatest plot twist of all: the God who became man to bring men to a knowledge of their sinfulness, and to make Himself the way of redemption from their sin.  

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Thom Turner
Thom Turner is a Program Manager at International Justice Mission and the Senior Editor & Publisher of GENERATE Magazine. He writes frequently for The Curator, The Englewood Review of Books, The Master’s Artist and The Other Journal‘s Mediation blog. He's also a graduate of Rutgers University (MA in English) and Cairn University (BS English Ed., BS Bible).