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How to Preach Like John Grisham Writes

I needed to move from principle to plot

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During a recent vacation, my wife and I ventured across town to another church. The jammed parking lot and crowded lobby suggested a scintillating sermon. The preacher was articulate and entertaining. His sermon was biblical, with four crafted principles from the text.

But as we left that morning, I realized, as William Willimon has said, I got the sermon, but it didn't get me.

Fast-forward to a couple of days later, same vacation: Sitting under a thatched umbrella on a beach, I'm reading John Grisham's The Chamber, a novel about capital punishment.

Toward the end of the story, Grisham describes Sam Cayhall, the death-row inmate, taking off the clothes he has worn for so many years. His new clothes lying on the bed are for his execution in the gas chamber. The portrayal overwhelmed me, and I began to weep. As a tear rolled down my cheek, I silently asked the Lord to forgive me for my past hatred of death-row inmates.

It struck me that Grisham's novel had "got" me in a way the principled sermon ...

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David Dahms

January 09, 2015  6:48pm

Wow, great article on preaching. Thanks for reminding me of the power of tension and disequilibrium. I had just prepared a dry, "principle based sermon." Biblically true, but not engaging to listen to. After reading this article, I'm going to look for some "disequilibrium" in the progression of the message, in order to raise listener engagement with the text. David Dahms, Senior Pastor, Lazy Mountain Bible Church, Palmer, Alaska

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