Finding the Plot
272 Pages

Finding the Plot



"Preaching at its best is 'truth on fire.' The real quality of this book is that it has been created from the author's own experience of the local pastorate and is concerned with practical insights and realities. I warmly recommend it."
--David Coffey, Moderator of the Free Churches and General Secretary of the Baptist Union
"For some, the phrase 'finding the plot' suggests a stroll through a graveyard, which is much like their view of preaching. But Roger Standing uses the phrase to describe narrative preaching, an approach that helps preachers accomplish their essential task: to raise the dead."
--Marshall Shelley, Vice President, Christianity Today International and editor of Leadership
"This book, from a seasoned practitioner and an able thinker, will provide the signposts required by many either for transforming their preaching style in mid-career, or for setting off on the right foot."
--Nigel G. Wright, Principal of Spurgeon's College, London
"Roger Standing breezily shares his enthusiasm for narrative preaching. He combines theory about narrative and its cultural relevance with practical advice and preaching examples. A helpful stimulus to any preacher to branch out into narrative preaching."
--Michael Quicke, Charles Koller Professor of Preaching and Communications



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Published 16 March 2012
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EAN13 9781725230972
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Finding the Plot Preaching in a Narrative Style
t îtsîs “Trut on îre”. he real qualîty o tîs best ît as been created rom te autor’s own experîence cal pastorate and îs concerned wît practîcal însîgts and îes. ï warmly commend ît.’ ey, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of in, 1991-2006 and President of the Baptist World , 2005-2010
k, rom a seasoned practîtîoner and an able tînker, îde teposts requîred by many eîter or trans- sîgn eîr preacîng style în mîd-career, or or settîng of on t.’ right, Principal of Spurgeon’s College, London
dîng breezîly sares îs entusîasm or narratîve e combînes teory about narratîve and îts cultural nce wît practîcal advîce and preacîng examples. A elpul anypreacer to branc out înto narratîve preacîng.’ Michael Quicke, Koller Professor of Preaching and ation, Northern Seminary, Chicago
e prase ‘indîng te plot’ suggests a stroll troug a îcîs muc lîke teîr vîew o preacîng. But Roger es te prase to descrîbe narratîve preacîng, an ap- elps preacers accomplîs teîr essentîal task: to ad.’ elley, Vice President, Christianity Today al and editor of Leadership
Finding the Plot Preaching in a Narrative Style
Roger Standing
Copyright © 2004 Roger Standing
First published in 2004 by Paternoster Press
10 09 08 07 06 05 04
7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Paternoster Press is an imprint of Authentic Media, 9 Holdom Avenue, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, MK1 1QR, UK and P.O. Box 1047, Waynesboro, GA 30830-2047, USA Website:
The right of Roger Standing to be identified as the Author of Wipf and Stock Publishers this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the 199 W 8th Ave, Suite 3 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Eugene, OR 97401 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored Finding the Plot in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, elec-tronic, mechaniPcrael,acphhinotgoicnoapyiNnagr,rarteicvoerdSitnylgeor otherwise, without the prior permission oBfythSetapnudbilnigs,heRroogrera licence permitting restricted copying. In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright©2004 by St anding, Roger Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, ISBN 13: 978620320310 London W1P 9HE. Publication date 10/1/2012 Previously published by Paternoster, 2004 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 1-84227-266-7
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton Limited. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of the International Bible Society. UK trademark number 1448790.
Cover Design by 4-9-0 ltd Typeset by WestKey Ltd, Falmouth, Cornwall Print Management by Adare Carwin Printed and bound in Denmark by Norhaven Paperback
Introduction Part 1 – What’s So Special About Narrative? 1 The World Changed 2 God Has Given Us A Book Full of Stories 3 How Does Narrative Work? Part 2 – Preaching in a Narrative Style 4 Finding The Plot 5 Researching, Writing and Delivering a Narrative Sermon 6 A Critique of Narrative-Style Preaching Part 3 – Narrative Sermons 7 When the Preacher is the Narrator of the Story (Third-Person Narrative Sermons) 8 When the Preacher is a Character in the Story (First-Person Narrative Sermons) 9 When the Preacher Uses a Narrative Form with a Non-narrative Subject Part 4 – Preachers’ Insights 10 Voices from the Pulpit 11 Been There, Done That! 12 Going Further Bibliography Scripture Index Author Index
1 19 21 35 46 71 73
99 117 137
180 203 205 229 239 251 257 261
For Marion
who has listened to more of my sermons than anyone else, just as her father predicted. She has patiently advised, rebuked and encouraged me along the way and amazes me by not tiring of hear-ing my voice. I am a better preacher for her wisdom andcccooouuunnncscieelll.I am a better person because of her love and friendship.
Eîgt years on sînceFîndîng he Po was publîsed în 2004, I am as convînced as ever o te împortance o an understandîng o narratîve and pot deveopment or Crîstîan preacers. Sînce 2007 I ave been part o te team at Spurgeon’s Coege în London were we traîn men and women or Crîstîan mînîstry. One o te specîa deîgts o tîs roe îs seeîng tose în te eary days o teîr preacîng mînîstry begîn to experîment wît te dynamîcs o preacîng în a narratîve stye. To wîtness tem deveopîng skîs tat enabe God’s Word come aîve în new ways wît res îe and texture îs amazîng. Wîe amost a o te text o te book remaîns te same as wen ît was irst pubîsed, Capter 12 wîc expores pubîsed and onîne resources as been torougy revîsed and updated. Recent years în te UK ave seen a renaîssance o înterest în om-îetîcs wît an accompanyîng surge în conerences and pubîsed books and artîces. In te USA, te îg eve o commîtment to preacîng as been maîntaîned across te board. hîs lourîsîng o omîetîca relectîon îs represented în te books, websîtes and organîsatîons tat are îdentîied în tîs capter. Wîe narratîve preacîng îs not te ‘be a and end a’ o preacîng, ît gîves a preacer anoter optîon to consîder as tey prepare to deîver God’s Word, wîe an understandîng o narra-tîve and pot as te potentîa to enance every sermon, weter rom te teîng o a persona anecdote, or te înterpretatîon o te bîbîca narratîve îtse. Roger Standing London, Easter 2012
I will always remember my first preaching engagement. I was sixteen years old. I had become a Christian the year before and was beginning to experience God’s call to Chris-tian service. I was passionate about my new found faith and wanted to share it at every possible opportunity. My minis-ter, a godly man, presented with a teenager experiencing ‘God’s call’, guided me towards preaching as a way to prepare for what lay ahead. So I found myself on a Sunday afternoon in January in one of Norfolk’s large number of small rural chapels. Almost all of the twenty members were there. Sitting among the congregation were three accom-plished lay preachers who looked on encouragingly. These were older men of spiritual stature and reputation. I had thought about what I was going to say and had prayed that God would give me the words. Confidently I climbed the pulpit steps. Seven minutes later I was on my way back down. I had given my opening illustration and said a few words before almost drying up. I therefore repeated the illustration, retold the Bible story from the pas-sage in Acts that I was using and then brought the sermon to a close. It had not gone well. I felt embarrassed. I wanted tthaetctheapcehlapleoloflrotoortoopeonpeunpuapnadnsdwsawllaollwowmem.e.TTheewwîsisee senior preacher who was acting as my guide said sagely,
Finding the Plot
‘Son, if you’d gone up those steps like you came down; you’d have come down like you went up!’ I learned some important lessons that Sunday afternoon and there was a swift realisation that being the best that I could be entailed rather more than I had anticipated. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ was not merely stand-ing up to share a few insights that had come through reading Scripture and prayerful reflection. It was an alto-gether more serious and demanding enterprise. Over twenty-five years later I remain passionate about communicating the gospel. The preaching task remains a demanding one. Demanding, not only for the spiritual disci-plines that it requires, but also because of the contemporary context in which it must be exercised. In popular culture there have for a long time been two ste-reotypical views of preachers and their sermons. For a start, whether it is Homer Simpson falling asleep during the Rev Lovejoy’s sermons in Springfield, or Alec Guinness’ portrayal of mind-numbingly dull Canon d’Ascoyne in the 1949 Ealing Comedy,Kind Hearts and Coronets, the message is still the same, sermons are boring. At the other end of the scale are preachers who are full of life and emotional intensity, orators who know how to work a crowd and increase the size of the offering. Typified by Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry in the classic 1960 movie of the same name and Steve Martin playing revivalist Jonas Nightingale inLeap of Faith, these preachers are clearly on the make and are only in it for what they can get. Unfortunately, both of these stereotypes are sometimes true. Boring sermons are far from infrequent and the media are always keen to highlight the moral failure of a Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart. Such dim views of preaching are further heightened by the ‘don’t preach at me’ philosophy of contemporary cul-ture. This jibe expresses the popular distaste with moralising of any kind. The practice of preaching is typified