August 2010

We have 10 online MDIV classes underway now for the Fall with a team of 14 different faculty (praxis courses are team taught).  We are now going two full days a week, with the leading edge onsite cohort (and some friends) meeting on Tuesdays for Worship and a spiritual formation course called Goal Setting and Accountability.  On Thursdays we have a new cohort meeting for Missional Church and a spiritual formation course called Change and Transformation.

Dr. Wayne Schmidt posts next week…


There has been lots of buzz of late concerning the power of narrative preaching to connect with postmodern people who crave, enjoy, and are moved by a good story, or narrative. Of course, narrative preaching is not new. Some homileticians, including Fred Craddock and Eugene Lowry, have been talking about the power of narrative sermons for more than three decades. However, the presumably more practical and relevant 3-5 point linear sermons have monopolized the preaching scene since the rise of Post-Enlightenment Modernity. Point by point linear sermons can be effective but, despite their promise of practical relevance, this sermonic form has become quite predictable. And, as preachers and listeners alike will confess, predictability can crash a sermon before it even takes flight. Perhaps another sermonic form is needed to captivate, inspire, and even surprise listeners.  

The parables Jesus preached had a knack for inspiring and surprising listeners. Furthermore, the parables did not always tie up loose ends in the name of practical relevance. Jesus’ parables were structured by a narrative, not linear, logic. This is not to say that the only sermon that will honor the name of Christ is the narrative sermon; but we can conclude that if Jesus, the master preacher, employed narrative elements in his sermons, there has got to be wisdom in utilizing this form.

What a Narrative Sermon Is Not…
So, what is a narrative sermon anyway? I’m glad you asked. Let me first describe what it is not. A narrative sermon is not merely a few video clips thrown together to support the points the preacher is sharing. It is not the stringing together of a few personal stories from the preacher’s life to convey a handful of propositional points. Making points and then illustrating them with a variety of personal stories, though not homiletically diabolical, does not a narrative sermon make. No matter how many little narratives are placed within these sermons, they still incorporate an overall linear logic.

Even if the genre of the main preaching text is narrative the sermonic form may itself be more linear than narrative. Summarizing the story about a biblical character, say Moses, through linear points (i.e., Moses Prays with Passion, Moses Obeys with Passion, Moses Leads with Passion) forces a narrative text into a linear sermon that robs both the text and the sermon of their power.

 Sermons with a linear logic flow from the introduction to point one (proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to point two (proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to point three (proposition, exposition, illustration, and application) to the conclusion. This form made good sense for a Modern world that, thanks to scientific empiricism, sought to dissect and explain the sum of the whole by reducing it to parts, or points. The desire to know, master, explain, and simplify a biblical text drove the homiletic machine.

What a Narrative Sermon Is…
The structure and goal of a narrative sermon is quite different. The narrative structure is not built with points but with the elements of a good story. Setting, character development, problem, plot, climax, and resolution make for a good story and, I would add, an excellent narrative sermon. The difference between the two sermonic forms is striking:

Linear Logic Sermons                                                           Narrative Logic Sermons
Introduction                                                                                     Setting/Character Development
Point 1 (explain/illustrate/apply)                                           Problem
Point 2 (explain/illustrate/apply)                                           Plot
Point 3 (explain/illustrate/apply)                                           Climax
Conclusion (or more points)                                                      Resolution

The preaching landscape, especially in the West, has changed. People shaped by postmodernity tend to crave inspiration more than information, and experience over knowledge. This is not to suggest that postmodern people do not want to be well-informed; most do indeed. However, the people in our world and church must first be inspired before they even care to be informed concerning Christ and His kingdom.

Narrative has been the most successful mode of communication for inspiring people across cultures and centuries. Simply put, story speaks to us in a manner that inspires movement toward an encounter with God. The Bible, in its canonical form, really is a unified meta-narrative that tells the redemptive story of God’s saving love for the world. Perhaps this is the reason why the Bible is the number one selling, cross-cultural book ever.

While I have incorporated various sermonic forms in my preaching over the years, the narrative expository preaching of a single biblical passage has impacted my own faith development significantly, not to mention what it might have done for those who have heard those sermons preached. While linear sermons are a necessary and helpful form for communicating didactic information, narrative sermons seem most-suited for transformational inspiration. The church will always need informative teaching but my preaching “gut” tells me that the narrative form has a better track record for opening up the door of didactic desire. 

© 2010
Lenny Luchetti

I don’t know when we have had such a large MA cohort start.  Here is the group onsite with Bob Whitesel for orientation before flying to online worlds unknown:

Lenny Luchetti, our Proclamation professor, is up to post this Monday!

Watch for a post on Thursday this week as we have the largest online MA cohort start I can ever remember–18.  We’ve revamped our MA in Leadership to focus more on lay and parachurch leadership.  Here are the courses:

Non-Profit Management
Cross Cultural Ministry
Bible as Christian Scripture
Leading a Multi-Generational Ministry
Power, Change, and Conflict Management
1 hr. Research seminar
Introduction to Christian Theology
Spiritual Life and Leadership
Transformational Communication
Global Christian History
2 hr. Project Capstone
6 hrs electives

For more info, click here.

The Dean received this email from a student at the end of two weeks of intensive classes:

“I serve at a very small rural church south of Wichita, Kansas.  My church’s budget has suffered greatly over the last two years, forcing us to cut my compensation and benefits to bare minimum levels.  Despite these cuts, my wife and I felt led to increase our missions giving to lighten the blow on the missionaries we support.  We sold our two cars to buy a single minivan to be used in our ministry at the church until it could afford to buy its own.  That little van travelled 30,000 miles since we bought it in June of last year, taking us all over the country on vacations and trips to the seminary, including a jaunt up and – thankfully – down Pike’s Peak in Colorado.  I share this to provide the context for what happened this week.

“On our trip to the August intensives, our wheels began making a sound as if something was caught in them.  I didn’t notice anything when we stopped to refuel, so we continued on our journey resolving to get it looked at when we returned home.  While at the seminary, I drove missionary Jim Eckhardt to a restaurant we were meeting at after the day’s class.  He said the sound was a brake problem that really needed to be looked at before I did any more significant driving.  Over dinner, Jim mentioned it to Joshua Bowlin, another missionary in our cohort who had joined us for dinner.  Joshua offered to help me replace my brakes at his parents’ garage near the campus.  I just needed to pick up the parts on the way over and he would change them for free.

“When Joshua removed my front wheel, he called me over to view the condition of my front passenger brake.  It was not only worn, it was destroyed.  Half of the rotor was completely missing, the rotor disk was broken off of its own center, the pads were worn to the screws, and the caliper was irreparably frozen.  He told me that God must surely have protected my family all this way because it would be impossible for that brake to contribute anything to the vehicle.  The severe damage turned a 30 minute project into a 3 hour project on a night in which there were assignments due and studying to be done.

“I can’t help but be thankful for the multi-faceted blessing from the Lord. I’m grateful for God truly providing ‘travelling mercies’ over so many miles and  very perilous situations – especially driving on Pike’s Peak!  I’m grateful for Joshua Bowlin freely offering his time and labor in the August heat without complaint during a week of intensive course work.  And I’m grateful for the bigger picture here.  Months ago, when my wife and I obeyed a nudge for sacrificial missions giving, we had no idea that God would use two missionaries to bring such a timely blessing.

“The story has one more twist.  During the next week, I came into class and found a handwritten note in an envelope addressed to me with enough money to cover the cost of the brakes!  It read:

‘God has touched the hearts of your cohort to share this gift with you.  We hope it helps with the extra expenditures you’ve acquired this week.  God Bless!’

“Let me just respond by saying ‘Praise God!’ for my cohort.  Lifelong relationships continue to be developed and God’s blessing has no difficulty being shared.” 

… with Wayne Schmidt as the speaker.  Another great worship service.

2010 Convocation Service – Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University from Nathan Lamb on Vimeo.

This is the second week of our August intensives, with four classes going on.  Norm Wilson, with the help of Jim Fuller and Jeff Fussner, is teaching two sections of “Cultural Contexts of Ministry.”

John Drury and I are also teaching additional segments of Theology (John) and Bible (Ken).  Finally, we have Dr. George Hunter from Asbury teaching on emerging trends in church growth.

I am truly amazed at the good things that are happening here!  Certainly we are very thankful to the Lord for what He has and continues to do.  One of the most special is to see the ministers so encouraged by each other.  Ministry is like getting beat up one week and then going back for more the next.  I can see how good it is for the ministers to be together. 

Sure, they’re taking classes, working hard, staying up late writing.  But it’s like a retreat.  The fact that they’re in cohorts together rather than random collections of students for an individual class has truly made classes into spiritually formative experiences.  When they’re online together, they remember being together on campus.  And when they come back together on campus, it’s like meeting up with old friends. 

Gloria Deo!

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