In a previous post, I mentioned that I was doing a course on screenwriting by Aaron Sorkin. My intention is to blog what I am learning about preaching through the course.
The next section in the course was about character development. As a side note this was interesting for me as a writer because I tend to develop a character and then a situation and then let the story unfold in my head. Sorkin does it the other way around he comes up with intention and obstacle, that is story, and then works out his characters around that.
However, for preaching this does have limited value. We are not imagining characters. I suppose one could come up with a sermon which was a story about three people trying to work out how to apply a passage so you can highlight the different presuppositions people come to the passage with (Yes, I have done this). But the characters are the equivalent to cardboard cutouts. We are largely not starting characters from scratch. If we do have characters, they are real life and not to be ‘developed’.
So what did Sorkin teach me from character development? Prepare what you need, not what you don’t. Sorkin is very much against writing a character biography: what the character was doing before they entered your story, whether the character likes smooth or crunchy peanut butter, that sort of thing. For him it doesn’t matter; they weren’t doing anything until they entered your story. This kind of biographical writing is a waste of time.
This did get me thinking. How much of our preparation is actually useful preparation? Have we stopped to think, is what I am doing really going to contribute the intention of the sermon in growing disciples to maturity?
Part of the difficulty I have always found in answering this question is that I don’t know if it is useful until after I looked at it. Recently I became fascinated by the “vegetables” that Daniel and his friends eat in Daniel 1:12. Mainly because the word his hard to translate and has its root in the same word as “seed”. It could therefore not be vegetables as we think of them, but a proto-paleo hipster diet of seeds but I think it is more likely seed based plants or a military diet of seed based porridge.
What difference does this word make? Not a real lot at the end of the day. It is extremely unlikely that any of this will make it into a sermon or a Bible study. How does defining what Daniel ate contribute to my intention, which in the previous post was “a Biblically based, disciple making, all of life worshipper of Jesus”?
Nevertheless, we can and should be asking in our work-flow of sermon preparation, does each step actually contribute?