Every year I try to read a book on preaching. Last year was Sam Chan’s book Preaching as the Word of God. Admittedly, I am still finishing that off, but I recommend what I have read. Some books I read are Christian, about preaching specifically and some are secular about communication more generally.
This year I have decided to do Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass on Scriptwriting as my ‘book’ on preaching. Scriptwriting and preaching have a lot of commonalities, and it is not the first I have read on scriptwriting for preaching. Also I am an amateur writer and a big Sorkin fan (he wrote, The West Wing, A Few Good Men, that sort of thing).
I have also decided to blog what I am learning about preaching from Sorkin, so here is the first lesson:
“You need to have intention and obstacle.”
In terms of script writing, what drives the story is the intention of the main character(s) and the obstacles that they need to overcome. Both the intention and the obstacles need to be, in Sorkin’s words “formidable”.
This is the same with preaching. To quote from another scriptwriting book that I read for preaching. The script has to do something.
“And its basic. Its the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something – like saving a cat – that defines who he is”. Zack Snyder, Save the Cat pxv.
What is that that preaching is doing? What is the fundamental intention of preaching? Explaining the passage? NO! (What? Did he just say that?). This is to confuse the how with the what of preaching.
The “what” is what we are aiming to do in preaching. The overall intention is “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:27–28 HCSB)
The intention of preaching is to present everyone mature in Christ. I am sure you have found your own way of explaining what that means in more detail. Mine, for the moment, is “a Biblically based, disciple making, all of life worshipper of Jesus”.
The intention of the passage, whatever it is, is to present Jesus so that we are helping people mature in Him. Every passage of the Bible will have its own unique contribution to make to that intention.
How we do that is to explain the passage, pointing people to Jesus. You cannot help people mature in Christ without preaching the Bible, but the intention is not to just to explain the passage but how does this help someone mature in Christ.
But then there is also the obstacle. What the obstacle is for the passage is important. “Why can’t I do this?” “What is stopping me?” I think half the time the obstacle is there but we can’t see it and we have become used to it, so we miss it completely.
The obstacle is what makes the tension in the screenplay but it is also what makes people want to listen to a sermon. Without addressing the obstacle people won’t listen or at least won’t be able to identify with the talk: “well he can do that, but I can’t….”. Perhaps this is what people mean when they say preaching is boring, they don’t see the tension created by the obstacles.
Obstacles in the sermon can be straight up sin, but more likely are what you really worship instead of God and this is why the passage does not make sense to you. It could be what society is telling us that stands in opposition to the passage. It could be a spiritual thing that we cannot see without the lens of Scripture. Again the specific obstacle will depend on the specific passage.
That is the first lesson from Sorkin: a sermon should have intention and obstacle. I am sure there will be more to come…. (Perhaps it is always leave people on a cliff hanger for the next episode!)