I recently reread Eugene Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot and developed a sermon along with it entitled “Not Into Temptation”. You can listen to it and download my full manuscript and visuals here. In my experience, some pastors think that narrative sermons consist of simply telling stories. Narrative sermons, however, are more intentional and well-designed than that.
Narrative sermons are crafted according to the movements of drama. In other words, they have a plot, and they employ suspense with the goal of keeping the congregation’s attention and involving them in an experience instead of just giving them information.
Lowry’s movements of a drama are: 1) Upsetting the Equilibirum, 2) Analyzing the Discrepancy, 3) Disclosing the Clue, 4) Experiencing the Gospel, and 5) Anticipating the Consequences.
Robert Mckee’s excellent guide for Hollywood screenwriters, Story, coincides with Lowry nicely. McKee’s terms are: 1) Inciting Incident, 2) Progressive Complications, 3) Crisis, 4) Climax, and 5) Resolution.
Lowry also discusses what sets the stage for a good sermon in the first place. He writes that a sermon is born out of the Intersection Point between a scratch and an itch. The scratch is the biblical theme of the sermon. The itch is the felt-need in members of the congregation. Where the biblical theme scratches the felt itch, a sermon is born. A biblical sermon theme might be interesting, but if the sermon theme does not scratch an itch, then the congregation leaves thinking, “So what?”
This itch is not the same as the itch described in 2 Timothy 4:3, “3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” What makes Lowry’s itch very different from the itch in this passage is that your sermon them will be sound doctrine. The writer of 2 Timothy is concerned with teaching that is not biblical. Your theme, the scratch, will be biblical. It just needs to scratch an itch that the congregation feels, or they won’t understand what the sermon means for their lives. In other words, without scratching the itch, there will be no clear application of your sermon. A sermon is born when the biblical theme scratches the felt-itch of the congregation.