One of my students made an interesting statement in a recent paper about the purpose of stories used in the opening moments of the sermon…
“I don’t want to engage (the listeners) in a story so I can then direct them to Christ using other elements. I want to engage them with a story and then use that same story to direct them to Christ.”
The difference, he said, “is subtle, but significant.” In both cases, the purpose of the preacher is to direct the listener to Christ. However, in one case, the purpose of the story is merely to engage the listener so that the preacher can present Christ. In the other case, the purpose of the story is, in itself to present Christ.
This does not mean that every story has to directly and overtly speak of Christ. It does mean that the link between the story and it’s Christological import must be evident. The path between the two ought to be short and the route direct.
One of the benefits of this way of working is that we do not set up a false distinction between the instructional and theological elements of the sermon with elements that are set up to seem more enjoyable.
I once, for example, told a humorous story about a man who didn’t recognize me as the pastor while out on golf course. It was a pretty engaging story and I used the humorous elements to full effect. The point in telling the story, however, was not just to get the crowd comfortable in listening to me, but to connect people with those in Scripture who had difficulty recognizing Jesus as the Son of God. The purpose of the story, then, was to develop a readiness within the listener to hear the theological truth about the identity of Jesus Christ.
Everything we say within our sermons ought to drive toward our theological purpose. Even the stories that we tell ought to lead us to worship.