Today, I want to continue to share my reflections from my recently completed 2-part message on the story of Noah and the Flood from Genesis 6-10 at TriEak Parmeshwar Mandali (TPM), the Nepali-speaking church that I pastor in the Chicago area.
Making the Text Come Alive
After setting up the story and communicating the context, I moved into the actual story-telling itself. My method for doing this was to select individuals from the audience to basically act out (improvisationally) the narrative as I shared it. This has become a pretty common approach for me at TPM. Generally, everyone likes this very interactive and entertaining approach. Of course, now I hear the faint echo of those who would say, “We shouldn’t be trying to entertain people in church. We need to just teach the Word of God with clarity and authority.” And, I hear what those people are saying. However, my priority is to communicate the content of the Bible effectively. And that means that I need to do all I can to draw people into the message itself. If my listeners are bored or if they simply can’t get a grasp on the text because I’m telling the story poorly, I’m just not living up to my calling as a preacher of the Word. It matters very little for me to personally have a correct, thorough, and orthodox understanding of the text if I communicate it badly.
In cross-cultural preaching, it isn’t enough to simply trade in 3-point sermons for chronological-Bible-story sets. We must strive to be good story-tellers. I’ve been greatly influenced for several years by something that I read from Martin Luther (I’ll have to find the reference later as I loaned out my copy of Protestant Spiritual Traditions). Luther was talking about preaching as a “sacramental” duty – that the preacher’s task was to essentially make the Word of God “take on flesh” for the people. I take this sacramental duty quite seriously as I seek to “enfleshen” the Scripture before the people week by week. To be honest, I didn’t feel we were all that successful in this with the Noah story. Nevertheless, in general the use of improvisational actors from the congregation has been effective in doing this.
Of course, drama isn’t the only good way to accomplish the goal of making the Biblical message come alive. We’ve done other things as well. But these are my reflections on preaching Noah, right. So let me stay focused. Specifically with this story, I selected (right in the middle of the message) a Noah, his three sons, and the wives of each (this last part was good for a corporate giggle, but I would be more careful if I were basically unfamiliar with the crowd). I had costumes (very simple, but interesting) that I was able to slip onto the characters and a few props. We quickly designated an area of the room as the “construction site” and moved my actors to that place. All the rest of the congregation were also in the story, playing the role of the corrupt generation in which Noah lived. Thus, as the story unfolded, everyone had a role to play. Everyone was caught up in the narrative.
Getting everyone involved isn’t always possible, but some of our most effective stories have been the ones in which we’ve been able to do this. The result is that no one is simply hearing or even watching a story about Jesus. They are living it out, experiencing it as it unfolds before them.
Okay, that’s all for now. More tomorrow.