It’s OK to tell the truth about your past
One of the major challenges I had when I first got saved was giving up on novels. I could read novels nonstop. I read Gone with the Wind in 48 hours straight. I am not joking.
I loved to read stories about people, places and events, and when I got saved, I would still hide to read these books as my church then didn’t want anything read except the Bible or Christian books. Problem was, most of those books weren’t telling stories. Thank God I eventually did find several Christian books that shared stories and had loads of testimonies in between the hardcore teachings.
Testimonies are stories about how we made it through difficult and trying times. We overcome by those testimonies. How? We are telling others that if we came through the issues, they too can overcome by the power of the Lord.
People like to read a book or hear a sermon that makes them connect to the writer or preacher and that makes them feel that we are real people who are just privileged and called to be passing on divine truths to our audience. There are many reasons why I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but most especially what draws me to the Holy Bible is that those who wrote the Bible were real people. They talked about their good days, their bad days and their in-between days and shared how Almighty God delivered them daily from their real issues.
I remember preaching once to the youth at church and shared the story about Tamar’s rape by her brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13). I related the story to our day-to-day lives, explaining why Christian youth must be street-smart and take nothing and no one for granted even if they are a brother or sister that comes to church. One of the young people raised his head in surprise, and said, ‘Pastor did that really happen in the Bible?’ Our young and mature people need to know that the Bible relates to us even today and that’s why we should share stories from the Bible and our personal stories as we preach.
At this very moment I am thinking of the new phone I got this month. My phone contract expired, and I fortunately live in a country where you can get new phones without paying cash upfront. Hallelujah! A great smartphone, and it looks absolutely beautiful. But you know what? No matter how beautiful this phone is, it probably will never operate at its optimum if the apps and other functions do not work appropriately. I see the phone as the gospel and the apps and software as the different ways we use to ensure that the message of the gospel is passed down to people of every status and mental ability in a relevant way.
The whole essence of the gospel is that we retain the old-time Word, with all of its integrity, but use apps and software that we regularly upgrade to pass on the gospel in ways that it are relevant to our everyday lives. As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as an approved worker who has nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of truth with precision’ (ISV).
The stories of Jesus
Our perfect example, Jesus Christ, used a lot of parables and stories to illustrate many deep spiritual truths that we stand upon as Christians. My favourite parable is in Matthew 13 where Jesus spoke about the farmer and the seed. After that parable, the disciples were really curious about why Jesus used parables. From the Lord’s reply we can deduce that he used parables and stories not only for illustrative purposes but also for the following reasons:
1. He wanted the people to look beyond the surface of the story, reflect and think deeply about the instructions, principles and morals, and to break down the complexities of the story to the language of their day.
2. The Lord wanted even the layperson to understand the dynamics of Christianity and God’s kingdom.
3. He needed people to connect with the symbols and items that they used in their everyday lives, like seed, farmers, pennies, servants, rulers, virgins, wedding feasts, and tax collectors that the everyday and lay people would connect with instantaneously. (And who would not remember a story about a tax collector?)
4. Our Lord wanted to ensure that people had lasting impressions about the stories they heard from him, and that the stories facilitated better understanding of deep yet needful spiritual truths.
I have often told my friends and ministry colleagues that our true competition today as churches is really not the next church or the next ministry but anywhere else that people would rather go to on a Sunday than come to church. So our real competition is the movie theatres, the video games, the other books, the shopping malls, television, the internet and social media and so on. And they all are doing everything possible to capture the mind and imagination of our very congregation and audience. We therefore cannot be passive about our presentation of the gospel. Our presentation therefore must be upgraded in style, illustrative, interesting and dynamic while of course still maintaining the very solid, tested, already proven and infallible word of God. You can have your undiluted bottle of Coca-Cola while changing the cup and adding a straw just to make it a bit more interesting. Of course the word of God is living water and much more serious than a bottle of Coca-Cola but I am only stressing a point.
What am I saying? The face of church is changing daily and the body of Christ cannot lag behind. So we have to find very interesting ways to draw not only mature believers to church but also the young and active in mind who are being drawn away from the house of the Lord by the so many other things that appeal to them.
Staying true to the core
In closing, I must maintain that no story, illustration or interpretation of Scripture should tamper with the very core message of the undiluted Word of God. That’s what makes the Word of God different from any other word: its power and authenticity. In using stories and illustrations to present the gospel, a preacher must show a good balance between the stories and illustrations and core biblical doctrines so that our listeners are not drawn away by the stories but become believers who are grounded in the faith and understand the seriousness of the Christian faith. That is what it means to handle the word of God with precision and with great skill.
Revd Marjorie Esomowei and her husband Revd Clem minister at Triumphant Church International in London, having oversight of churches in the UK, Europe and Africa. She has founded Wisdom for Women International, Wise Women Awards and The Comfort Home Orphanage. Before joining her husband in ministry she was a successful investment banker.