Discovery In Preaching – Show and Then Tell

Detail of a microscope illustration“Show Don’t Tell” is almost a mantra among many novelists. The cliche’ comes from the idea that you should not tell people things or points in your writing, you should show them. Instead of telling them that your character is a mean old guy by saying “he was always a mean man to everyone he meets” perhaps you tell a short story about how the man often steals candy from babies or kicks little defenseless dogs. Note that the short story tells the same thing that you wanted to say, only it gives it within the context of a narrative.

This reminds me of the prophet Nathan who told David about his unsavory actions by giving a story. Narratives are powerful because they help people remember the points in your sermon. But they are also powerful because they point the people to discovering the truth themselves rather than simply you telling them. They will remember this “discovered” truth longer than because it comes connected to story.

While certainly there are times to tell. But going back to the example of Nathan the prophet, why not show and then tell, rather than just telling and never showing. So go ahead and promote discovery by following your novelist friends and remember to “Show Don’t Tell!”

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Sherman Haywood Cox II

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

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