We've released a new version of SermonCentral! Read the release notes here.
Preaching Articles

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 who 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 Testaments. 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 see get to 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.



Carolyn Givens works in the Communications and Marketing Department at Cairn University where she is the Editor and Publisher of the University magazine, Cairn. She is also a freelance writer and editor, and has had guest posts published at The Story Warren and Greener Trees blogs. She is a graduate of Arcadia University (MA in English with an emphasis in writing) and Cairn University (BS in Bible).

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

Chuck Patrick

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Excellent commentary on gleaning the beauty, intrigue, majesty

Daniel Leavitt

commented on Feb 14, 2013

You can't just say "sad" and run. What and why?

Casey Scott

commented on Feb 14, 2013

David, I think you're "norming" your own experience and preferences. I found the article helpful and encouraging - specifically to use more stories/parables in my preaching. I think that will helps us keep reaching out to 20-somethings. Carolyn, do you feel like moving? We have a place for you on our worship programming team! :-)

Brad Brucker

commented on Feb 14, 2013

When I read Leviticus my Bible through the year plan, I often pause and ask, "why am I reading this?" And the Spirit says, "It's all My Word and good for you." See, I'm a little ADHD and I like it and I don't take drugs for it, but The Spirit of God knows me and is teaching me reading Leviticus and staying focused - as much as possible - is good for me. It teaches me discipline, which I need to increasingly learn if I am to be the disciple Jesus desires me to be and become. I cannot just go with what feels good to me, I must work through what doesn't as well. And through these disciplines The Lord has taught me much from even Leviticus! Don't know is that connects Carolyn, just thought I'd throw it out.

Elizabeth Mcmanus

commented on Feb 14, 2013

I am a story teller and love hearing modern-day parables as a way to bring the Word alive today - it makes it relevant. I thought this was a great article - and a lesson for those of use who preach to remember we have a diverse group in our congregations, all with different learning styles. Jesus instructed, but also saw the value of parables. We need to be able to reach everyone in whatever unique way they may learn.

commented on Feb 14, 2013

I personally am a note taker and have been for almost 30 years but my wife brings the scriptures to life with our children by drawing pictures and using stories. (Which I am learning to do by her example) By your statement David Buffaloe, should I assume that the huge percentage of people in the world, who are illiterate should be "left out" b/c they can't take proper notes? I am sorry David if I have come across a little harsh but I don't understand your brief answer.

Benard

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Hi CarieI always thought I was the only one who experiences such.There's no better way of bringing the gospel to life than through stories. I encouraged to learn a thing or two from you. God help me pick a pen and a pad to write the same like you. It's real

commented on Feb 14, 2013

This is Carolyn writing. I can't figure out why it won't post with my name like it does for the rest of you. Chuck, thank you for the kind words. David, I also am interested to know what is sad and why? Casey, that depends on the climate where you are... :) I agree that the use of stories and parables is HUGE for college students and 20-somethings. I work with them regularly and find over and over that it is stories which resonate with them, and through which they often learn the Truths of Scripture best. Brad, I agree one-hundred percent. I did not mean that I don't read the rest of Scripture, just that it is the stories that draw me in most thoroughly. I read the whole of Scripture and find it all "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." I actually audited a course on Leviticus in college and loved it - it is a book full of story and symbol that points to Christ. While the going may be rough reading, keeping alive to the way our Storytelling God speaks to His people Israel through the rituals of the Tabernacle is a beautiful thing.

John Modgling

commented on Feb 14, 2013

I am very surprised by how much I enjoyed this article.

Brad Brucker

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Carolyn, thanks for interacting here! I agree with the challenges we face connecting with 20 something's and really the culture at large. Story is a great antidote! After preaching from a manuscript for years, A few years back my wife told me,"Brad, lose the manuscript and the lectern! You're a great story teller and you're best when you just unpack scripture." I met this with fear and trepidation. But, like a good husband submitted to her (Eph 5:21). I feared I'd lose exact words and points. But she told me, "what you lose it exactness, you more than make up in connection." And, she said, "Brad, this generation needs full on connection!" Wise counsel! We need to be willing to make adjustments (incarnations) so we can bring Jesus to a generation that He cares desperately about!

David Nuhfer

commented on Feb 14, 2013

I'm going to have to think about this one for awhile. I am having some conflicting thoughts about whether I like the idea of what she is doing or not. I think the idea of story telling is a wonderful way to illustrate the Word, but am a little hestitant on endorsing the idea of doing something other than listening to the message a pastor has worked hard to prepare.

Leslye Haller

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Carolyn, I loved your article! It resonates with the truth of who our young people are. I am personally encouraged when I notice someone taking notes, or possibly even drawing pictures or writing stories while I'm preaching. It's affirmation that they're getting something out of the message. Besides--I'd rather see them writing something than dozing off :) Blessings to you Carolyn!

Rodney Shanner

commented on Feb 14, 2013

I love three logical, analytical points. I do not require the poem. When the points are biblically exegeted correctly they are the Words of Eternal Life and they reinforce the Rock my life is building on. That said, I like parables too.

David Nuhfer

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Leslye, Good thoughts. That helps me process this better. If what God leads me to say is getting someone to engage in the message, then that is good.

Tsebang Khoeli

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Excellent spirit Carie, although preachers might find it offensive, to be writing stories when they are busy sharing the word from above, however I love the flow of your writing I find it very impulsive, a reading that ends before you know it. Kind of reminds me of Paul in Ephesians chapter when talking about the power of God, his sentences become very long because of his excitement, when talking about the power that resurrected Jesus which works in believers! God bless and keep writing, I can tell you are publishing soon!

Brad Brucker

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Carolyn, thanks for interacting here! I agree with the challenges we face connecting with 20 something's and really the culture at large. Story is a great antidote! After preaching from a manuscript for years, A few years back my wife told me,"Brad, lose the manuscript and the lectern! You're a great story teller and you're best when you just unpack scripture." I met this with fear and trepidation. But, like a good husband submitted to her (Eph 5:21). I feared I'd lose exact words and points. But she told me, "what you lose it exactness, you more than make up in connection." And, she said, "Brad, this generation needs full on connection!" Wise counsel! We need to be willing to make adjustments (incarnations) so we can bring Jesus to a generation that He cares desperately about!

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Carolyn, I enjoyed your article. I'm a high school English literature teacher, and I would love to have a classroom full of students who have your passion for story! I'd like to make a suggestion, for whatever it's worth. Paul actually was a very good storyteller. If you ever have the chance, I'd recommend the writings of Anglican theologian N. T. (or Tom) Wright on Paul's letters. I've found especially helpful a series of devotional commentaries called Paul for Everyone. Wright does a wonderful job of showing how Paul, in his letters, retells the OT story of Israel, but from the perspective of Jesus as the climax of that story. Sadly, much of contemporary evangelical Christianity, from my experience, has not interpreted Paul as a storyteller. He has been flattened out to "three points and a poem;" and as a result, he has lost the interest of many young people like you. But I want to encourage you to look at him again, and discover the wonderful storyteller that Paul is!

Dennis Cocks

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Let's see, she isn't taking notes on the sermon, she isn't listening to what the preacher is saying, she writes stories about other biblical characters that are not part of the sermon, and this is ok with most of you? This isn't about preachers telling stories as some of you seem to suggest. This is about someone who doesn't listen to what is being preached. Why in the world does she even bother going to church? If pastors are called to "Preach the Word" doesn't that mean that God want's His children to listen to what He has to say? How is this any different than falling asleep in church? Neither one hears what God is saying through the preaching anyway. Good article on SERMON CENTRAL about not listening to a SERMON.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Dennis, keep in mind that the purpose of a sermon is to point people to God, not to itself. When everyone who had been listening to John the Baptist started to leave him in order to follow Jesus, John did not complain, "Hey, I'm a prophet of God! I am God's spokesman, and you all should listen to what I have to say!" Instead, he said, "He must increase; I must decrease!" The texts and words of the preacher serve the author as a catalyst for her imagination, and she writes stories in order to be able to engage with the text and experience the presence of God and the truth of his word for herself. The preacher has decreased, but God has increased! Isn't that the point?? To put it another way, which would you prefer: someone who listens to your sermon and remembers everything you said, but who never really engages with the text? Or someone who listens to your sermon, and perhaps remembers very little of what you said, but who fully engages with the word and who experiences God's word and his presence in a very personal way?

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Good article on SERMON CENTRAL on how some people listen to God's voice in ways we had not thought of before!

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Feb 14, 2013

I would have to agree with Dennis. It seems to be more a question of self-discipline -- or the lack thereof. Carolyn writes: "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." The author could rectify that. She's an editor, publisher, and writer who cannot shut it off for a half-hour. I am also left with the question, "Why does she bother going to church?" Is it just to engage her imagination? She's obviously VERY intelligent. Surely she didn't approach her collegiate studies in this manner.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Bill "Dennis, keep in mind that the purpose of a sermon is to point people to God, not to itself." I thought the purpose of preaching a sermon was to preach the WORD OF GOD which points people to GOD. Isn't that what I am commanded to do from GOD HIMSELF in 2 Timothy 4:1-4? If God calls me to preach, you better believe He wants His children to listen to what He has to say (not what I have to say)!

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Prescott, you need to understand that not everyone learns the same way. This topic has come up recently on this site. I'm not familiar with what kind of training is given to pastors in seminaries, but from my experience, I think seminarians need to receive much more instruction on pedagogy. Sitting down, staring in one direction, and listening to one person talk for thirty to forty-five minutes is not the normative method in which most people learn! In fact, I can tell you from experience, there are many students in my classes who will sit through the whole class, and they appear to be listening, but when I grade their quizzes and tests and papers, it is OBVIOUS that they never actually engaged with the texts we covered in class! And when I'm grading them, I'm not interested in whether they "listened" to anything I said. I'm interested in finding out if they listened to the authors and their works themselves, and interacted with them. Don't be too quick to judge on outward appearances. It appears that the author of this article is engaging with Scripture, and for any teacher (which is what a pastor is), that is the ultimate goal.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Dennis, two points of agreement. Yes, God calls people to preach; and yes, God wants his children to listen to what he has to say. But that's precisely the point--he wants his children to listen to what HE has to say, not a preacher, as you acknowledged. Preaching has its place. But preaching does not exhaust the entirety of God's voice, of what God wants to say. The preacher--and by the way, there is nothing in the NT that says that only pastors are called to preach--is not the lone voice by which God speaks to his children. Ultimately, God wants to speak to every one of his children PERSONALLY, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and it appears that this is the experience of the author of this article. The preacher was never intended by God to be some sort of mediator between God and his word.

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Bill: While I do understand that not everyone learns the same way, this really isn't about Carolyn learning anything. She's not learning anything, at least not during the preaching moment; she's engaging her imagination in speculative narrative. But here's a question for you as a teacher: if "sitting down, staring in one direction, and listening to one person talk for thirty to forty-five minutes is not the normative method in which most people learn," why does that continue to be the model even in higher education. You say, "many students in my classes... sit through the whole class... appear to be listening, but... it is OBVIOUS that they never actually engaged with the texts we covered in class." Carolyn isn't really engaging the texts covered in the sermons, she going off on unrelated tangents. You say, "when I'm grading... I'm not interested in whether they 'listened' ...I'm interested in finding out if they listened to [and interacted with] the authors and their works." Carolyn isn't doing that. She's not really interested in what the authors are saying; she's interested in what she can imagine. She said she doesn't have any idea what was preached most of the time. And note this: despite what you've said, you still lecture, you still make assignments, you still expect your students to master the material, and you still grade. I have an undergrad degree in fine art and worked for 20 years as a graphic designer. In high school when I was in a class I didn't particularly care for I would draw pictures. I never got anything out of those classes. This really seems to be what's going on here.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Bill it seems that you are making a case for not even bothering with church. The church is a called out assembly of believers. Paul wrote to churches. Paul told the "Bishop" (which is the same as pastors) to preach the Word. Are you suggesting that anyone should be able to go before the church and preach? I am not talking about telling others about Christ at work or school, you can certainly call that "forthtelling" but I don't believe the Bible calls everyone to teach or preach in the context of the local assembly. God has gifted certain men for that.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Prescott, you've made some good points. Allow me to respond. First, you claim that Carolyn is not learning anything. Well, you don't KNOW that. You CAN'T know that for sure. She may not be learning what the preacher may have wanted her to learn. But then, like I explained to Dennis, the preacher does not have a monopoly on what God wants everyone to learn. You say that she is instead engaging her imagination in "speculative narrative." Whether it is speculative or not can be debated. But engaging a person's imagination is one of the most powerful ways one can teach someone. Personally, most preachers that I've heard don't engage their listeners' imagination enough! Second, you asked why the "sit down and listen" model continues to be the model even in higher education. The short answer is that it's easier that way, especially when the goal of education too often is not for the students to learn the skills needed to think critically for themselves, but rather to be able to pass a standardized test. In a society that has regrettably reduced "education" to "transfer of information that is to be regurgitated in a test", the lecture model is the easiest way to achieve that goal. The good news is that I see this mindset beginning to change, little by little. I'd prefer the progress to be faster, but I'm encouraged by the overall shift in direction. Personally, yes, I do lecture. But that is not the entirety of my class period, by any means. In a forty-five-minute class, the total amount of lecturing that I do rarely ever amounts to more than twenty to twenty-five minutes. The rest of the time, I use different methods to get the students to engage in the texts. We have classroom discussions. Or I'll have students act out a scene from a play we're studying. Or I'll have them write an "alternate ending" to a short story. These are just some examples. But my students don't spend the entire class period sitting down and listening to me talk. I guarantee you, they would NOT learn literature that way. Finally, you compared Carolyn's experience to your own experience in high school of drawing during classes that you didn't care for. Carolyn can speak for herself, but what I can tell you is that just because that was YOUR experience, does not mean that that is HERS. And based on how she expressed her experience, in contrast to how you expressed yours, I seriously doubt that they are the same experience. But I'll let Carolyn comment on that herself, if she feels so inclined. One more thing. Earlier you asked the question, why does she bother going to church? Well, I'll put the question back to you: why do we go to church? Is the point of going to church simply to hear a sermon? If so, then there actually isn't any point, since you can easily hear a good sermon anytime you wish in the convenience of your own home. Rather, don't we go to church in order to worship God in the fellowship of fellow believers in Christ? It sounds to me that that's what she's doing! Apparently, it doesn't sound like that to you, though. That's fine. God alone knows the human heart. God alone knows whether she is worshipping him, whether she is engaging with his word, whether she is listening to his voice or not. None of us can know that about her. So, my main point in all of this has been, don't be too quick to judge her or to dismiss her experience. Let God take care of that!

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Friends - this is Carolyn again, checking back in. I've been reading through the comments and wanted to respond. I hope you will take the time to hear me fully. To begin, I wanted to ask each of you to be sure to read the final paragraphs of my post. While what I've written raises good discussion about the value of story for learners, that is not my final conclusion. I hoped this piece would point people to our Creator. I wanted to show a way that our Creator showed His infinite care for each of His creatures in this: He made my mind think and move as it does. Then He provided me the incredible opportunity and blessing to be raised in a Christian home where I was taught the Word and then, in university, to study Scripture under biblically sound scholars. He shaped my imagination with His Word from my earliest years, and He continues to use it to point me to Himself. That was where I wanted the piece to point. Secondly, I want to clarify that I *do* often listen attentively throughout an entire sermon. It is not that sitting down in church automatically means I'm writing stories. But that does happen sometimes and that is what I've shared with you. I am also a member of a generation that multitasks constantly. Allowing my imagination to run does not always mean I am not listening to what is being preached. I may not do well at either, but I am able to do both at the same time. Thirdly, someone asked why I would even go to church at all if this is how my mind works. I go to church because it is where I am taught the Word of God. I go to church because it is a weekly gathering of the saints. I go to church to worship my Creator among the body of His people, each of whom He has shaped and gifted differently. And when I interact with them or sit beside them or behind them or listen to them preach, we sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron and we complement each other in ways we would never discover if we did not spend time together. And I go to church to hear my pastor preach God's Word and share his passion for it with me. But you know what? I also sit over lunch with my pastor on Sundays and in our conversation, surrounded by three generations of his family, we speak God's Word to one another and share our passion for it with one another and with the guests who join us as we live life together. It is a beautiful thing to see the family of God participate together in living stories that show the watching world the love and beauty of Christ, His grace and His holiness.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Dennis, again, let's begin with our point of agreement: I, too, agree that God has called certain people to be preachers and teachers. Not everyone has been gifted by God for that ministry. What I'm saying is that God does not only give that gift to pastors. Just because Paul instructs Timothy to "preach the word," you cannot infer from that that only pastors are gifted and called to preach the word. If you can find me any NT text that CLEARLY LIMITS preaching and teaching to pastors, I'd be willing to take a look at it. In my own church, our pastor does not monopolize the preaching and teaching. He shares that ministry with the elders of our church, as well as other gifted lay-members whom he has trained. Even I help out with the preaching once or twice a year. So, no, I am not suggesting by any means that anyone should be able to go before the church and preach. What I am suggesting is that God does not grant only ONE person the gift to go before the church and preach.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Carolyn, I appreciate your clarification, as well as your willingness to interact with us. That doesn't happen too often here; and often we are left to speculate on what the author actually meant or didn't mean, with each one often convinced in his or her own mind that the other person "just doesn't get it!" It's nice when the author takes the time to respond. So, thank you!

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Carolyn: It is nice to be able to interact with the writer. I appreciate your willingness to do so. I must say, however, that what you've told us here paints a different picture than you presented in the article. You made it sound as if this is your regular practice rather than just "sometimes." "Sometimes" we all do similar things -- and I do think that's a good thing... sometimes. I'm pleased to know of the depth of your experience with your pastor and congregation.

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Feb 14, 2013

Bill: Here's the point, really. Why do we have regular gatherings of the saints for worship? One of the things we're striving for is that we may all be of one heart, one spirit, and one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. The point of the service is to unify the congregation in devotion to the Lord. We meet for about an hour during which we engage them in reading the text together out loud, singing songs together directly related to the text or the point of the sermon, challenge them to pray with one heart even if being led by one voicing that prayer for all out loud. We engage them in acts of worship to foster that sense of oneness so that as one we may hear together the Word preached. Pastors seek to shepherd their flock in one direction, to get them to focus for 15 to 30 minutes on one idea in order to make a difference in the life of the congregation. In other words, we're doing the kinds of things you're doing in your classroom. From what she wrote, Carolyn seemed not to be engaged in that sense of oneness. From her response, below, that may not be so, but that's the impression she gave in her piece. She wrote, "Did I get the 'point' of the sermons I heard? I don't know." Based solely on this piece, she may have, indeed, learned SOMETHING, but it wasn't from the preaching. "She may not be learning what the preacher may have wanted her to learn...," but isn't that the purpose for which churches call preachers? Preachers aren't just finding disconnected things to preach on week-to-week to fill up their time slot, they're trying to provide direction for the congregation, to lead them in a particular direction, to shepherd the sheep. As far as engaging her imagination, if it were engaged in the subject at hand that would be one thing, but as she wrote, it's often completely unrelated. When one of your sheep is wandering it distracts the shepherd and impedes the flock. But remember, Bill, this isn't about judging Carolyn -- or any of the other writers whose material appears on this site -- it's about engaging the ideas presented. The idea that we should be preaching to congregations full of people who aren't engaged -- and that it's a good thing -- is not pleasant (though I suspect it's far more prevalent than we'd hope). I do, however, find this statement to be particularly disturbing: "I can learn the truths of Scripture through stories from my own imagination." Without her further clarification, it might even be considered dangerous

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 14, 2013

@Prescott, your concerns are fair. I'm not saying they're not. But allow me to make some further responses. You wrote that from what you inferred from the article, Carolyn seemed not to be engaged in that sense of oneness that you described. But you also acknowledged that, based on the clarifications she's provided in the comments section, that may not be so. Therefore, are you willing to admit that your initial evaluation of her practice of writing stories during sermons may not have been correct? Now, Carolyn is not a member of your congregation. My concern, however, is that there may be others in your congregation, particularly among the younger generation, who may appear disengaged to YOU, but who are engaged in reality, just not in the way YOU expect them to be. It would be a real shame for you, as their pastor, to dismiss their experience, to question their "self-discipline", to accuse them of being "wandering sheep" who are distracting the shepherd and impeding the rest of the flock, and to doubt their intention to participate in the oneness of the community, simply because they engage differently than the way you do. You also wrote that the idea that we should be preaching to congregations full of people who aren't engaged--and that it's a good thing--is not pleasant. But no one is proposing that idea. They just aren't. You think they are, but they're not. Carolyn herself clarifies. She writes that allowing her imagination to run does not always mean she is not listening to what is being preached. She says it explicitly. She writes that she goes to church to hear her pastor preach God's Word and share his passion for it with her. These are very clear statements. However "confusing" or "unclear" the original article may have been to you, in her follow-up comments she has been VERY clear. She's listening! She's engaged! She's participating in the oneness of the community with which she worships! It doesn't matter if you don't think she is. SHE IS!! And you have no valid grounds to continue to insist that she isn't. One final thought. Churches do NOT call preachers. God calls preachers, and God gifts preachers. And as I explained to Dennis, being a pastor is not a prerequisite for being called by God to preach and teach. And pastors or preachers, like I also explained to Dennis, are not intended to be intermediaries between God and his word to us. Preaching has a very important place in the worship of the church. But at the end of the day, the preacher is only one voice of many in the community of faith. With all due respect, people like Carolyn and myself are just as capable of hearing God speak to us through Scripture as are people like you and Dennis.

David Miller

commented on Feb 14, 2013

I take sermons very seriously and listen carefully but, like Carolyn, I sometimes wonder if "I get the 'point' of the sermons I heard." Sometimes my mind wanders but, like Carolyn, "there are times when the preacher's words draw me back in to the points he's making." I think this is universal and not necessarily just because Carolyn is writing - she, like many of us is capable of multitasking. Actually, I concentrate better if I'm doing something like doodling or drawing. One thing that strikes me as interesting is that I've heard several pastors say that people have come up to them after a service and told them how much the sermon blessed/convicted/helped them. But then these people go on to say something like - "when you spoke about X, it really blessed/convicted/helped me." The pastor winds up a little deflated because he never talked about X. Apparently the Holy Spirit took what the pastor preached and blessed/convicted/helped them. I appreciate that pastors spend a great deal of time and energy in preparing their sermons, but in the end, it's the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit - not the pastor. If the Holy Spirit is having Carolyn develop stories around what the pastor is preaching or around other Biblical themes, then I say go for it. Some say that church is all about the sermon. Actually the sermon is just one of the many aspects of church that the Holy Spirit uses. It's just one of the ways we worship God. If it's all about the sermon then the internet has made church obsolete. I've got a thousand sermons on my computer and I can get thousands more on the internet. I don't need church for a sermon. I love sermons and think they are important, but sermons are just a means to an end and not the end themselves. Thanks, Carolyn, for your article and may God bless your writing.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Carolyn, I also appreciate your clarification. As Prescott stated your original article made it seem that this was a something you always do. Bill, I do have other people who preach from time to time in my church, and all 3 of them are laymen. So I am not saying that only pastors should preach. But I also do not think just anyone is qualified to preach as you seemed to imply. Thank you for clarifying that you do not believe that. The point I want to make is that I believe the preaching of God's Word is paramount in a church service. The other things we do in a worship service, as important as they are, should lead us to the part of the worship where we open God's Word and hear what He has to say from it. And for people to make a practice of writing stories and not paying attention to what is being said, as Carolyn suggested she did as a habit, should not be condoned, ever!

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Feb 15, 2013

Bill: Am I are willing to admit that my initial evaluation of her practice of writing stories during sermons may not have been correct? I did, but I would still hold to it if that was her consistent practice, as she implied in the article. As to your concern for the "younger generation" in my congregation, I actually purposefully engage my congregation in my preaching, inviting them to participate, and I talk with them about it afterward. As far as you being incensed about what I observed regarding her possibly learning from the sermons, I used her own quote and yours. I'm not continuing to insist something that she did not herself "confess" in the article. You say, "Churches do NOT call preachers. God calls preachers, and God gifts preachers." The truth is, God does call preachers, but so do churches. You seem to have a hobby horse about other people being able to preach. I wonder what that's about. Were you hurt or offended by an overbearing preacher somewhere along the way? But that has absolutely nothing to do with my observations. I share my pulpit with others, some laypeople and some ordained ministers. I don't care who's preaching, the same holds true for all. But let me ask this: when a congregation issues a call to a pastor, are they simply inviting him or her to be yet another voice among the congregation or are they asking him or her to come and shepherd them? Is there REALLY no difference between the ministry of a pastor and anyone else in the congregation who is able to preach? Of course there is a difference. Otherwise, why bother? I do wonder, too, if Carolyn ever shares her stories with her pastor and her church. If something's happening there, perhaps it should be shared.

commented on Feb 15, 2013

Friends - Carolyn here again. Bill, you have been very kind throughout this comment thread. Thank you. I don't have time to respond in depth right now, but I do want to say two things in response to what Prescott has said. One, you were concerned about my statement that I learn truths of Scripture through my own imagination and you thought that dangerous. Again, I want to encourage you to examine the final paragraphs of my initial article. My goal was to show that God has given me opportunities to study His Word myself and has shaped my imagination by it. When I say I learn truths of Scripture through the stories I write, I am not talking about going off on flights of fancy and making up my own truth. I am talking about a God who created me to learn in a particular way and then, in His care, shaped my experiences so that I would learn His Truth through that way. Secondly, I'm glad that my further comments have comforted you that writing stories during sermons is not my standard practice *every* time I listen to a sermon. However, I don't want to mislead you in the other direction. I'm not able to quantify without looking through my notebook, but I would guess that it probably happens more often than you are comfortable with.

John Sears

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Carolyn, I echo the voice of a few others. I also would love to be able to use your gift on a creative planning team. It is a God given gift you have. Don't be ashamed to employ it during the sermon. Preachers who use illustrations to help emphasize and clarify a point (most of us do) will KNOW that through writing stories duirng the message, you are driving the main point home in your own heart. I encouage you to keep writing. Perhaps take your gift to the next level and offer to be part of a creative planning team for your preacher.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Dennis, you claim that I seem to imply that I think just anyone is qualified to preach. But I have absolutely no idea how you possibly inferred that idea from my statement: "there is nothing in the NT that says that only pastors are called to preach," as well as my later qualifying statement, "God has called certain people to be preachers and teachers. Not everyone has been gifted by God for that ministry." Nothing I've written implies what you inferred. If you got that idea somehow, you read it into my comments yourself.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Prescott, you claim that you're not continuing to insist something that she did not herself "confess" in the article. But again, we don't just have her original article. We have her clarifying statements made in the comments section. But you're not allowing those statements to "interpret" what she wrote in her original article. You are so sure that you understood the original article correctly, and that her clarifying comments are some sort of "deviation" from what she originally "confessed," rather than a corrective to what YOU misunderstood. I've said on occasion here that, from what I understood a particular author to write, someone has misunderstood and not gotten the point of a particular article. People rarely believe me. But here you have the actual AUTHOR of the article TELLING you that you missed the point. And you still believe you understood her correctly. Unbelievable! Well, that's up to you, if you want to continue to misunderstand her.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Prescott, moving on, I'm quite amused that you refer to my pointing out that nowhere in the NT is the gift of preaching limited to a pastor as a "hobby horse!" Especially considering that neither you nor Dennis have provided me with a SINGLE NT text that CLEARLY and SPECIFICALLY limits preaching to pastors. Given that, wouldn't the real "hobby horse" be that the great majority of North American Evangelical Christianity for some reason believes something that is nowhere in the Bible? Furthermore, I have to say that your suggestion that my comments on this issue were a result of me being hurt or offended by an overbearing preacher somewhere along the way, instead of being based on careful reading of the NT, were VERY condescending! I'm sure you didn't mean it to be so, but that is how it came across. This is not a hobby horse. This is not a side bar. This strikes at the very core assumptions that are suggested in comments from people like you and Dennis, that when the church is gathered in worship, God speaks to his people exclusively, or even primarily, through the preacher. That is simply not true. Part of the problem, also, is that you seem to be using "pastors" and "preachers" as interchangeable. They are not necessarily the same thing. Yes, pastors preach. But not all who are called and gifted by God to preach are also pastors. The pastor's principle task is defined clearly in Ephesians 4. And that task is not preaching, but teaching, which is further described as equipping the saints for the work of ministry. THAT should be the reason a church invites someone to be their pastors (not calls, but invites--that is not just a matter of semantics, it is an important theological distinction). A church should invite someone to be their pastor in order that they may be equipped for the work of ministry. Preaching has a place in that equipping, but it is a part, not the whole. Unfortunately, too many churches, from my experience, do NOT invite someone to be their pastor for that reason. They invite him in order to preach to them every week. They invite him in order to tell them what God says in his word, instead of in order for him to TEACH THEM how to discern what God says in his word for themselves. The first century church had equipping pastors, and they turned the Roman empire upside down! The twenty-first century church has preaching pastors, and...well, you can judge for yourself from the impact we're having how well that's working out. One final point. You asked if there is really no difference between the ministry of a pastor and anyone else in the congregation who is able to preach? Of course there and differences between the ministries themselves, although 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that there is no difference in terms of importance. Some ministries may receive more "honor" than others. But they are ALL important, they are all necessary. But if we want to focus for the moment on the preaching ministry: that's exactly right, then. There is NO DIFFERENCE between a pastor's preaching ministry and the preaching ministry of any one else in the congregation who has been gifted and called by God to preach. Because the SAME GOD who gifted and called the pastor to preach is the same God who gifted and called the lay member to preach. Again, the pastor has an overall equipping ministry that the lay member doesn't have, so in that that sense they are different. Then again, the lay member has a different ministry that the pastor doesn't have, as well. And both ministries, although different, are equally important and necessary. And I welcome any NT text that clearly shows otherwise.

William Rumbaugh

commented on Feb 15, 2013

Carolyn, just wanted to add that I am a pastor and whenever I listen to someone telling a story, I immediately begin to write a sermon. :) Seriously, I enjoyed and understood your article. As someone who preaches each week, I always desire more information about how people hear and process what God is saying through me. He created you the way you are - to Him be the gloryoooo

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Feb 15, 2013

Bill: What's amusing is that, even though it had nothing to do with what we wrote, YOU'RE the one who brought up the limitation of preaching, not Dennis or myself; NEITHER of us espoused that exclusivity in any way. And that's why I call it your hobby horse: YOU brought it up and YOU continue ride it even after WE BOTH affirmed that others can and do preach besides pastors (though I would add only this one limitation espoused by Paul in his letter to the church at Galatia: "if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed"). We would be FOOLISH to assert otherwise; we know apostles, prophets, evangelists, missionaries, and all kinds of laypeople preach -- and one of the most powerful sermons was delivered by a deacon who paid for it with his life. I suggested that there must be something else behind your riding this hobby horse since neither of us suggested or affirmed such a limitation on preaching. That's your thing, brother, wherever you got it from, don't put that on us. Further, your point DOESN'T strike at the core of this discussion because Carolyn wasn't talking about her wanting to preach -- she wasn't even talking about sharing her stories. As far as your interesting view of the pastorate and of the word "call" vs. "invite," you're welcome to it. It would take too long here to discuss and take us even further afield. But I AM glad you agree with me that there IS a difference between the pastor's preaching and that of others if only because of the focus of the office -- which, by the way, is, by definition, "to shepherd," and is also frequently called "bishop" and "elder" in the NT. The difference IS NOT one of IMPORTANCE or PROMINENCE, but only of PURPOSE. All the members of the Body are placed there just as God desires, all are of equal value and importance, and all serve their unique purpose. But NONE of what I've written about Carolyn's piece has ANYTHING to do with ANY of that. If you'd read what I wrote, you'd understand that I was explaining to you my previous comment, not continuing to insist on something Carolyn later admitted was otherwise. I moderated my view and showed appreciation to her for her clarification. I believe that Carolyn, as an editor, might find it interesting to understand how her piece might be perceived by others and do a rewrite taking into account some of the observations here.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Prescott, first, let me clarify something that apparently you misunderstood: I most certainly did NOT agree with you that there IS a difference between the pastor's preaching and that of others. In fact, I clearly stated the exact opposite, and allow me to state it again: There is NO DIFFERENCE between the pastor's preaching and that of others. I said that there IS a difference between the pastoral ministry and the ministry of others in the congregation, but that is self-evident. But when focusing specifically on the ministry of preaching, there is no difference whatsoever between the pastor's preaching and the preaching of others. Please, let that be perfectly clear to you.

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Prescott, now, my original comments regarding that issue were an aside. Let me remind you of what I wrote in comment #25:"The preacher--and by the way, there is nothing in the NT that says that only pastors are called to preach--is not the lone voice by which God speaks to his children." I don't see where you get the idea of a hobby horse from that. The phrase in question was set off by dashes, and was not part of the main idea of the sentence. The main idea was: The preacher is not the lone voice by which God speaks to his children. The suggestion was made that if you're not listening completely to the sermon, you are not listening to God. My point was that that is not true, that Carolyn is just as capable of listening to God's voice as she writes stories that are inspired by the preaching texts. She may not have heard the "preacher's point," but she heard God's voice. And like I told Dennis, isn't that the preacher's purpose in the first place? God must increase, and the preacher must decrease? I mentioned that I preach at my church once or twice a year, and quite frankly, I don't care if someone doesn't get my "point"! The reason I preach is not for people to get my point. The reason I preach is to point people to God, through his word, so that they can hear HIM. I prepare the best I can, and then I trust God to use whatever words I've prepared to communicate whatever HE wants to say to whoever is listening for him. All of this was what I was originally trying to say. Now, you say that "we know apostles, prophets, evangelists, missionaries, and all kinds of laypeople preach." Well, if that was true, then no one should've taken issue with my comment that nowhere in the NT is preaching limited to pastors. We would've all agreed and left it at that. I certainly wouldn't have continued to discuss that point...But that is not what happened. Read through the thread again. You will discover that I am not the one who made an issue of the fact that pastors are not the only ones called to preach. Dennis Cocks, comment #27, wrote: "Are you suggesting that anyone should be able to go before the church and preach?" It was obvious I had not been clear, so I elaborated on my point and made it clear that he and I agreed (comment #30). In comment #33, you quoted me saying that "she may not be learning what the preacher may have wanted her to learn" (see my explanation above for what I meant by that) and responded by asking me, "Isn't that the purpose for which churches call preachers?" It appeared to me that you were equating preachers and pastors as the same thing (and if that wasn't your intention, I apologize for the misunderstanding), so in response to your question I reiterated my position that preaching is not limited to pastors. Next, comment #36, Dennis Cocks claimed that my initial comments "seemed to imply" that "just anyone is qualified to preach." I responding (comment #40) by quoting again what I had written and showing how nothing of what I had written implied anything of the sort. By that time you had already accused me (comment #37) of using this issue as a hobby horse. And my response to that was comment #42. And that brings us to now...

Bill Williams

commented on Feb 15, 2013

@Prescott, this has been very tedious to write, as I'm sure it will be tedious for you to read. But I took the time to write it, and I hope you'll take the time to read it, in order to demonstrate that I'M not continuing to ride this. EVERY TIME I have addressed this issue, it has been in RESPONSE to something either you or Dennis had written concerning that issue. THIS IS NOT A HOBBY HORSE!!! ANYTIME you wanted to have dropped it, it would've been dropped! I'M NOT THE ONE who's been keeping this alive. And to prove it to you, I'm declaring this thing officially dropped. You're not going to hear about it again from me, and I don't want to hear anything about it from you either; because anything you say that continues this aspect of the conversation, I will ignore. And if you do continue to bring it up again, or if you do keep calling it my hobby horse, all you will be doing is proving my point, that I'm not the one keeping this alive. So, no more. It's done. Over. Get over it, and enjoy your weekend.

Prescott Jay Erwin

commented on Feb 15, 2013

Hey, it's closed as far as I'm concerned. We don't HAVE to agree.

Dean Johnson

commented on Feb 15, 2013

Carolyn, thanks very much for your article. It was a needed reminder for me.

Join the discussion