Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Trying something new: Preaching a First-Person expository message

This past Sunday I did something I had never done before. I preached a first person narrative sermon. I came across the idea from a little book by Haddon Robinson entitled, It's All in How you Tell It: Preaching First-Person Expository Messages. Preaching in character (say as Zaccheus, or as a bystander during the feeding of the 5000) was not something I wanted to do. I don't have any experience with drama. Yet, when I began preparing my Lenten sermon series which would be focusing upon conversations different people had with Jesus throughout the course of John's gospel, I was struggling to figure out how to preach on Nicodemus' conversation with Jesus. I've preached on Nicodemus before, and I struggled to think of a way to preach it again. I pulled out Robinson's book and reread it (it's a quick read). And after testing the waters with some trusted people (basically by asking them, "Do you think this would be stupid?") I decided to give it a go.

My decision process involved evaluating the advantages and disadvantages.


  • Variety - it would definitely be different. People's attention would be grabbed (at least until I fell on my face).

  • A new hearing - Not only have I preached on Nicodemus several times, the people in my congregation had probably heard even more lessons/sermons on Nicodemus than I have preached. This might help us all hear the text anew.

  • The power of a good story - By it's very nature this kind of sermon is a narrative. If done well it could be very powerful.


  • I might look stupid. My youth minister and I both agree that we spend an ungodly amount of time in life just trying not to look stupid.

  • No notes. This sermon would absolutely not work with notes. It would have to come from a combination of good memory (I do write manuscripts) and the ability to speak somewhat extemporanously (once I obviously forgot something and needed to course correct).

  • Application. Being Nicodemus would limit my knowledge of modern life. How would I make any application in my sermon?

Result: Once I decided to do this, I went for it. I had the manuscript done by Tuesday and spent an extra amount of time learning it. Whereas I usually go over my sermon verbally 2-3 times before a Sunday morning, I lost count on how many times I went over this one. It's been a while since I was truly nervous about a sermon. I was incredibly nervous about this. All in all, it went well, I thought. The response from the congregation was positive. In general, I think people appreciated the attempt to bring some variety into the service. Several said they thought I should do that more often. At least a handful seemed to connect to the message, "We must be born again" in a renewed way. I don't think that this is a style of sermon I'll do often, but it is something I'll do again.

If you want to listen to my attempt at this style of sermon - check here - it's the sermon on 3/13/11, entitled The Teacher Gets Taught

Have any of you every preached as a biblical character? What was your experience?

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