A New Approach to Preaching: Is Practical Narrative What People Need Most?


Struggling to connect with your congregation through traditional sermon approaches? Discover how a new approach could be the key to making biblical truths resonate and stick.

Is Your Approach To Preaching What People Need? 

Ask any pastor, preacher, or seminary professor what the purpose of preaching should be, and you’ll get some common answers.

Most approaches fall within one of these four categories:

  • Verse-by-verse, 
  • Thematic, 
  • Narrative, and 
  • Topical.

Each of these approaches has merit. They each also have inherent disadvantages. 


Verse-by-verse seems the most popular. When done well, the Bible becomes the point. The issue with verse-by-verse is that application of the passages can be an afterthought. Christians sitting under verse-by-verse preaching may find themselves rich with information while poor in application. Application matters, as it is the application of information that God uses for our transformation. 

Verse-by-verse can also be incredibly dull, especially for unchurched people. I recently visited a church as they were concluding a 60-week series on John’s Gospel. I thought they said 16 weeks, and I felt that was pretty long. But it was 6.0. w.e.e.k.s. I bet John was even a little bored.


Thematic is a step past verse-by-verse. In thematic preaching, a pastor takes several verses or passages and preaches the theme behind the text. We see this most often when a pastor preaches a book of the Bible in a few weeks (rather than 60!). 

This is primarily a “big idea” approach to preaching. This approach is a bit more accessible to the congregation but forces a pastor to select what they believe is the point while skipping past other vital points.


Narrative approaches typically focus on stories and characters in Scripture. More on this in a moment.


Finally, topical preaching focuses on a primary topic, finding passages throughout the Bible to support the overall concept of the series. 

There are plenty of topical preaching critics. And I get it. The benefit of topical preaching is the focus (often, but not always) on life application. Yet the downside is evident, as people may find a better life without the necessity of Jesus and the Gospel. Topical preaching can easily sound like motivational speeches. And topical preachers have been correctly called out for proof-texting Scripture. 

Let’s Talk About Narratives For a Moment

No doubt you’ve noticed the power of a story.

There’s a reason stories resonate and stick in our hearts and heads.

Our brains are wired for stories—by God, by the way. Authors and filmmakers have known this for millennia. Stories have been our primary mechanism for sharing principles since the beginning of time.

Jesus knew this was true of the human mind. During his ministry, his most common teaching approach was through parables. These made-up stories had a heavenly meaning. Often, Jesus allowed the story to speak for itself, making a powerful and unforgettable point. 

Narratives are essential for our faith. 

The Stories My Kids Don’t Know

I grew up in a church where the stories of Scripture were the focus of my childhood Sunday School. We learned the story of Abraham, Moses, Joseph (OT and NT), Jesus’ parables, Peter, Paul, and more.

These stories were told to help me not simply remember a character but understand a biblical principle and how that character lived it out. This approach made the story and the principles stick in my head and heart.

I recently asked my kids about some biblical characters. They knew many of the names and some of the stories, but their exposure to the narratives was woefully less than mine as a child. 

My children also grew up attending church. I was a lead pastor for over 13 years! We were all there basically every week. However, our approach to teaching in children’s and student ministry was more topical than story-driven. My kids learned about relationships for a month, then wise choices for a month, and then serving others for a month. All with a biblical basis, but the character and story weren’t the focus. 

Topic after topic after topic.

My kids are great kids with a solid Christian foundation (it appears so far), but in hindsight, I see that the lack of narrative makes recalling the principles tougher.

A Better Approach to Preaching

I’m sure this has been suggested, so I’m not attempting to take credit or create a “new” approach.

That said, I wonder if an applied story approach to preaching is the best solution in our current culture.

Think about who’s hearing our messages today. There are some biblically literate people in our churches with deep faith, but those numbers are shrinking by the day. The most biblically illiterate generation is currently parenting the next most biblically illiterate generation. These people don’t know the stories, much less the books or verses. 

How can we help this ever-growing population engage with the principles of faith?

Perhaps we take a note from Jesus. What if we leverage the stories and characters of Scripture to teach sticky points and connected principles?

My Narrative Preaching Suggestion

If I were leading a church today, I would consider walking away from every preaching approach other than characters and stories. Yet, I would work hard each week to bring one point of application from the character into our modern life.

For instance, let’s take OT Joseph. You could teach this narrative in four (or even up to eight, but not 60!) weeks. Each week would focus on an element of the story and a key point of application for our lives.

  1. WEEK 1: God has a purpose for us all. Are you listening?
  2. WEEK 2: Processing before sharing God’s purpose.
  3. WEEK 3: What do you do when things don’t go your way?
  4. WEEK 4: What if God is with you, even in the places where God feels absent?
  5. WEEK 5: Speaking truth to power.
  6. WEEK 6: How to live when you’re the most powerful person in the room.
  7. WEEK 7: Forgiveness
  8. WEEK 8: Looking back to see God’s purpose more clearly.

These eight weeks may seem terrible at first glance. I wrote them quickly while flying to spend time with a church, but you get the point.

If you preach the story of Joseph while highlighting a fundamental principle each week, you stand a better chance of people remembering the story and applying the principle.

A Combination of Approaches for Today’s Culture

This approach is a powerful adaptation of several standard methods.

Let’s call it “Practical Narrative.”

A Practical Narrative approach allows us to teach the stories of Scripture while keeping practical application our focus. Connecting a story to a practical point of application accomplishes two crucial preaching hopes:

  1. We teach Scripture stories, which have been used for thousands of years to reinforce God’s message and character.
  2. We use narrative to embed the principles and truth of Scripture in people’s heads and hearts.
  3. We make the principles of following God stickier by attaching them to a memorable story. 

As people engage with and experience life, keeping stories in their hearts and minds helps them better apply their stories to their hands. 

How can you incorporate more Practical Narrative preaching into your annual preaching calendar?