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preaching like shrek – brett jones

It’s a question for the ages: how do we do preaching in a way that is engaging across the age groups?

In our context, we do OK with 2 of the more challenging demographics – youth and younger adults.  But we began asking questions about how we could do a better job engaging with children through preaching.

Some swear by Children’s talks.  Others have their Children’s workers take a families’ service.  Messy Church works for some.  Others have made use of the Children’s Story Book Bible.  We weren’t the first to ask the question.

But when we looked at the options that others had tried they didn’t fit us.  So we asked a different question: what occasions do parents and children happily inhabit the same communication space?

The answer for us?  Shrek.  Toy Story.  The LEGO movie.  Masterpieces in story-telling and character development that span the age ranges with their clever multi-level scripts that engage universal human themes.

We began the process of deconstructing the Shrek phenomenon against some of our other convictions and came up with a bit of a list:

  • Story is a universal paradigm – the right stories told in the right ways will reach anyone. Preachers already use stories in different ways as they construct parables, illustrations, allegories or narrative sermons – could we learn from Jesus and Shrek in our storytelling?
  • Journey offers something to the worship space – if our services are dualistic in nature, fractured down the preaching v worship divide then the worship journey is unhelpfully constrained. What if the whole thing was worship and the preaching components were part of the journey?
  • Learning styles are different for different people – does the available media give us opportunities to engage people in different ways according to learning style preferences and attention span?
  • Layering content is something made more possible by technology – what if some of the preached material was made available in real time but only accessible by adults as a part of amplifying content – sort of real time footnotes or hyperlinks
  • Participation or perhaps a more focused term, response, is at the heart of authentic worship – How will we plan for response?

The result was preaching that was story-based with strong interactive elements including opportunities for elements of the narrative to be owned by participants.  Narrative preaching elements, usually broken into 3 chunks that defined the worship journey, were constructed in various forms – allegories, point of view stories from biblical characters, point of view narratives from within biblical accounts (but not necessarily from biblical characters), fictional accounts that reflected biblical truths in the story lines…really whatever we could come up with!  These included:

  • The Quest – an allegorical fairy tale that engaged with self-sacrificial love and the in-breaking Kingdom of God
  • The Great Easter Mystery – a Cluedo style mystery recounted by Luke the archivist in his library
  • Unfrozen: Unfreezing Faith With Frozen – a tour through the songs of Frozen and the biblical resonances and discords that emerge – we made hearts of ice and everyone got to let them go…
  • Letters to God – Writing letters with David the psalmist
  • A Fishy Tale – the story of Jesus’ calling of the disciples as told by Simon Peter’s younger brother
  • The Great Adventure – the story of a young boy who longs to see the Messiah and begins to follow up rumours of a King born in Bethlehem (the story hints that this might be a young Simon Peter…)
  • Life Lessons from the Lego Movie – a story about Jesus the Special and Emmet (Hebrew for truth…)

Throughout, the preached components were complemented by other elements that together advanced the worship journey through the use of media, communion, active responses, table talk interaction, contemplative stations, prayer, worship singing, scripture reading and a popcorn maker.

For us this became a monthly part of our rhythm that was highly valued as an expression of integrated, all-age worship.

A couple of questions emerge from this journey:

In what ways might we re-envision how preaching fits into the wider worship journey?  What opportunities do we have in our contexts to include genuine all-age approaches to worship?

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