Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action: Helping your sermons come to life

In his book, The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching, (Abingdon, 1999), Paul Scott Wilson argues that preachers should envision their sermons as movie scenes in order to help bring their sermons to life.  Wilson's thesis reminded me of an interview I did with Richard Kannwischer, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California.  Dr. Kannwischer said that one of the books that had most influenced his sermon preparation was The Screenwriter's Bible.  Wilson doesn't directly reference any such work, but he does provide some basic suggestions for how to transform your sentences in ways that help the congregation to visualize what you are saying.

1. Avoid adjectives and and adverbs. Wilson argues that these descriptive words actually diminish description.   Notice the difference in the examples he provides.  The sentences without adjectives or adverbs are easier to visualize.
  • "The beautiful road" vs. "The road ran alongside the beach"
  • "She ran quickly" vs. "She scrambled" or "Her feet pounded down the trail"

2. Avoid cliches.

3. Concentrate on a few small details to set the scene.  Think about what details you would need to shoot the scripture text or the modern illustration as a movie.  What decisions would you need to make about gestures, clothing, the age of the character, etc.?  By just adding one or two of these details, the preacher can help a scene leap off the pages of the Bible and into a listener's imagination.  
  • Clothing - By briefly mentioning a small detail about a person's clothing we can not only help the congregation visualize the scene, but we also are providing information about that person's economic situation, interest, age, profession, etc.  
  • Gestures/Facial Expressions - Emotions are difficult to visualize.  Gestures or facial expressions are not.  Instead of saying, "the boy was bored," one could say, "The boy slumped in his chair with boredom."
  • Age - A few quick words about the color of one's hair or the state of one's skin can give a wealth of information about a person's age.

4. Stay out of characters' heads - Wilson argues that if we want people to visualize a scene, we must "stay out of the minds of the characters."  The best movies don't narrate a character's thoughts, they show you a character's actions and let you eavesdrop on their conversations.  This leaves many thoughts hidden, but that is what creates interest in the story. The listener or viewer is drawn into into the movie (or sermon) because they want to figure out what a character is thinking.  He notes that the Bible also rarely gives us a person's thoughts, but instead focuses upon their actions and a few brief quotations of dialogue.  To this day we can read, say, the story of Adam and Eve and wonder at motive as we ponder their actions.  The Bible doesn't give us thoughts, but action and dialogue.

5. Keep the camera on people and actions - Wilson doesn't want a sermon devoid of doctrine.  In fact, his  book is an attempt to get preachers to preach more doctrine in their sermons.  But, he argues, this is done best by focusing upon God as the primary actor in the story.  Instead of preaching on the caring nature of God, we ought to preach on God reaching out to those in trouble.  The action keeps us interested and informs us about doctrine.  Just saying "God is caring" is not as interesting, even if it is as accurate.

No comments:

Post a Comment