How to Powerfully Preach a Narrative Passage

One of my favorite things to do in ministry is to preach a narrative passage. People love stories, and that is what narrative is. This means that a narrative passage has already added an element to your sermon that you don’t have to bring in from another place.

How to Powerfully Preach a Narrative Passage

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran, my hope is that this article will provide you some new tools that will prove to be valuable to the way you approach narrative preaching. When we can powerfully preach a narrative passage, we’ll see people not only respond to the message, but they’ll become more in awe at God’s word! So, let’s jump in.

How to Powerfully Preach a Narrative Passage

Study the Context

One of the most eye-opening classes I got to take in undergrad was Greco-Roman History. Being at a Bible College, this class was offered because it was directly focused on what life was like for those in the first Century. Abstract things in the Bible began to make sense to me.

Many commentaries already do this, but it’s a great practice to study the history outside of a commentary as well.

What this will do is provide you the tools you need to paint the narrative with full color. The Gospel writers weren’t exactly concerned about all the details in every scene that you would get in a novel. They weren’t concerned about the smell in the air, the sounds of the street, or other details that would engage your senses. This doesn’t mean that you can’t paint that picture, though.

To get you started with this, I highly recommend you get these two books:

The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era by James S. Jeffers

The Ancient World: A Social and Cultural History by D. Brendan Nagle

Determine What Will Be Read and What Will Be Summarized

Sometimes you approach a narrative passage that is extremely long, but it would be odd to not preach the narrative as a whole. When you face this little quandary, my recommendation is to read the narrative over and over and over and over again so that you could tell the story – details and all – yourself without needing to read it word-for-word.

Then, determine what you will read and what you will summarize.

You may determine that it all needs to be read, which is totally fine. The point is, be intentional in how you do this. And please, please, please, don’t summarize the whole thing. Read from Scripture.

Walk Through Scene By Scene

As you read through the narrative, begin asking yourself where stops need to be made.

You may determine that you need to read through a verse and a half, stop, show details, and paint the picture. AND that’t totally okay! That means you’re really thinking through how this story can be most powerfully and fully told.

Ask yourself, if this were told word-for-word in a movie, where would camera angles be switched.

Then begin to think about the surroundings, the presuppositions of the people involved, the cultural norms, and the past experiences that the people involved may have in their lives.

Of course you may not have all these details available, but you may have some.

Study well.

Show the Details

We’ve all seen the painting of the Last Supper, and most of our congregants have as well, but when you tell the story of the woman of the city who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair, etc., it’s helpful to SHOW them how Jesus would have been actually reclining at the table.

Let’s just say: I don’t normally lay down when I preach, but when I do, I lay down while painting the narrative.

How to Powerfully Preach a Narrative Passage

What could you show your congregation in your next narrative sermon as opposed to simply explaining?

Bring Out the Emotions in the Narrative

It’s easy for us to just read over the weight of many passages of Scripture, especially the narrative passage. This is just a product of rushed sermon preparation. If you don’t have a plan as to how you approach your preparation time each week, I highly recommend you start a plan.

We must get to the point where we feel what they felt in the narrative. We must get to a point where we can put ourselves in the story so that when it’s time to bring others in, we’ll already know where they’re going.

Receivers of the message should walk away feeling the emotion packed into the narrative. People are going to connect to various individuals in the narrative, so spend time parsing out the emotions of each individual if the text warrants it. 

Determine the Big Idea of the Narrative and Drive it Home

From reading, studying, and considering the narrative passage at hand, what is the big idea – the most important thing people need to walk away knowing?

You’ve painted the picture, you’ve helped them connect emotionally, now it’s time to drive the point of the narrative deep in people’s hearts through the power of the Spirit working in and through you and in them.

Ask yourself: what is this narrative teaching us?

Then take that big idea and craft it into a memorable statement. The Rocket Company teaches this a lot. Here’s a link to them showing you how to create a memorable statement.

Once you have that, begin to consider how that big idea applied could change aspects of people’s lives through God’s power at work in them. Help them see how this applies to every day life. Show them how it impacted those in the narrative and how it should impact us here today.

The Goal in Preaching a Narrative Passage

Tell the story in a way that places people in the story to where they see, feel, and consider the same things the people in the story saw, felt, and considered. And then add the nuance of knowing the end of the story and what this ultimately means in light of the gospel.

Then call the congregation to take action! Call them to come to Christ for the first time, or one of the other 7 action steps you can end your sermon with.

The next time you preach a narrative passage, do it powerfully! It takes some work, some study, some attention to detail, and some passion in delivery, but it can be done.

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Spiritual Development Pastor at a fast growing church in Williamsburg, Ohio, called The Crossing. Among the many things he does at The Crossing, serving on the teaching team is one of them. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.