“He never preached without telling stories.” Mark 4:34

Pastor, your people love a good story. Listeners who have gone on vacation during the first ten minutes of your sermon will return home in a heartbeat the moment you begin, “A man went into a store….” or  “I remember once when I was a child….”

Those who have died early in your message will suddenly spring to life when you say, “The other day, I saw something on the interstate…” or “Recently, when the governor and I were having lunch at the local cafe…”  (smiley-face goes here)

We all love a good story. We’re so addicted to stories, our television brings us hundreds a day. (Even on talk shows, the host wants his guests to tell a story!) Drop in on your local cinema and no matter which screen you’re watching, it’s all stories.  And the book publishing business–well, you get the idea.

There are a thousand reasons for dropping the occasional story into your sermon, pastor.  Here are my top three….

1) It makes the hard truth tastier, a little more palatable.

A good story sugar-coats the bitter pill you’re asking your audience to swallow.

No one knew this better than President Abraham Lincoln. The great story-teller received many an irate and demanding politician in his office, upset because he had fired this general or backed that program or would not hire a constituent.  Lincoln welcomed them, schmoozed them a little, and told them a story.  A half-hour later, they walked out without getting what they came for, but satisfied with what they were given: a story with a message to think about.

You’re preaching on racism to a collection of prejudiced, narrow-minded churchgoers who do not want people of “that” race, whatever it happens to be, since racism comes in all colors. How to do that and get out of town alive?  You decide to tell them a story.

The points of your story can sneak up on them and do its good work before they realize what hit them.

When the Prophet Nathan was assigned to confront King David with the bitter facts of his adultery and his subsequent manslaughter to cover it up, he chose to tell a story. In doing so, he carried the day and left us a lesson never to be forgotten.

2) It makes the truth clearer, easier to understand.

You’re having trouble grasping the point the minister is making, even though he’s laboring as hard as he can to get it across. Suddenly, he pauses. “Suppose your teenage son comes in one day and says, ‘Dad, I’m sorry, but….’”

Or perhaps he says, “Let me tell you how I first saw this truth. I was on the playground with our 3-year-old son, when suddenly….”

If the story was well-chosen and told effectively, you get the point in ways that abstract formulas could never convey.

The keepers of orthodoxy in Judea–that is, the scribes and Pharisees–were upset that Jesus, a rabbi of note, seemed to be hanging out with the lowlifes of the community. “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” they said, implying that He was no better than scum Himself.

In answering His critics, the Lord told three stories, about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost boy.  The last one, the tale we call ‘The Prodigal Son” carried the day, I expect.  It totes a wallop neither of the others did.

This, incidentally, is not to say the story won the minds and hearts of the critics. Often, the Lord’s response to a Pharisee was not geared to convince his self-appointed judge but to appeal to everyone else standing around, taking it all in.  (This is a big deal and pastors should not miss it. When confronted by a heckler or a persistent pest in a church business meeting, your aim is not so much to convert him as it is to show everyone watching the reasonableness of your position, the rightness of your cause, and while you’re at it, what a nice guy you are.)