Monday, October 20, 2008

A Master Storyteller

The Rev. Dr. Reginald Mallett is presently conducting a series of services at our church. Rev. Mallett is a physician and a British Methodist minister who has made many trips to the US on preaching tours. This is his tenth visit to Trinity in the past twenty-two years. And he has said this is his last tour. Next August he will be back at Lake Junaluska for three weeks, and after that no more.

Listening to him preach in the Sunday services I was quickly reminded of his brilliant mind and his honed method of leading a congregation into the heart of his message. He regularly employs one preaching technique I have rarely seen elsewhere. It has to do with how he uses illustrations.

Like a great storyteller with just the right amount of details, Reg takes you down a path with a story, and then turns onto another path, which actually is the path he intended to take you on. What happens to the listener is that with the first story you think you know where it’s headed, but then with the change, you don’t know what to expect. Will there be another shift? Will you return to the original path/story? The technique hooks the listener into careful listening.

Most preachers just add in a story that they feel helps illustrate the point. Some fail to even make decent transitions or applications of the illustration. Mallett gets you there with a personal connection.

Last night’s sermon was based on Hebrews 1:3 “when Christ had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” The gist of his message was the confidence we have that Christ has finished the work that was necessary for our salvation and what our response to that can be. He used an illustration about William Wilberforce, the British House of Lords member who became a great abolitionist. Wilberforce was dying when the Slave Abolition Act finally passed in 1833. A messenger dashed to his bedside to announce the good news and Wilberforce said, “It is finished, thanks be to God.”

That’s where we ended with that illustration, but it sure isn’t where we started. We began with a minister’s collection of books, various types for different studies, and Mallett’s collection of 23 volumes of Wesley’s letters. Then the path led for a short while on the subject of John Wesley’s prolific letter writing. The last letter Wesley wrote was to William Wilberforce. And there we turned onto the path of Wilberforce’s finished work.

Mallett didn’t include that Welsey died in 1791, only four years after Wilberforce became involved in the abolitionist movement. The actual relationship of Wesley and Wilberforce was not important. One simply took us to the other.

Well, like my father has said many times: when he listens to another preacher it makes him want to preach. He either wants to get up and do justice to the Word, or he’s inspired to want to try and do as well. Mallett, with his homiletic proficiency, inspires.

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