Marvin Olasky

After listening to sermons for the 35 years I've been a Christian, I agree with those who say the call to preach is the highest honor there is.

It can also be the most frustrating. Think of the Parable of the Sower:

Three-fourths of the seed lands by the road, or on stony ground, or amid thorns. Three-fourths of the sower's work is wasted. That parable, like so many Jesus presented, is not an icebreaker anecdote, a happy story to put listeners in a cozy, receptive mood. Jesus told iceberg parables, not icebreakers.

An iceberg parable is a story that can sink a ship as big as the Titanic. The Titanic had its first and last voyage across the Atlantic nearly a century ago. It advertised itself as unsinkable. Many non-Christians think of themselves as unsinkable. Many of us who have been Christians for a long time also start thinking of ourselves as unsinkable. I can get prideful and feel like a know-it-all. I need an iceberg parable to penetrate my hull.

Jesus knew how to ratchet up the tension in His parables: As Matthew 13:34 tells us, when Jesus spoke to crowds, "He said nothing to them without a parable." A young man turns his back on home and learns a hard lesson: Will he return to his father? A woman loses a coin and desperately searches for it: Will she find it? A man trades all he has for one thing more precious: Has he acted with discernment? Jesus brings us a wake-up call, not a snooze button.

I am a fan of strong expository preaching. I do not want to emerge into a world where movies or plays or purportedly sacred dancing substitute for it. Cute anecdotes that provide a break from biblical themes don't cut it, either. Jesus practiced seamless storytelling: His parables propelled His themes of creation, fall, and redemption. Today, some emergents want to scuttle sermons. On the other side, some pastors who emphasize expository, exegetical preaching are reluctant to tell stories. But I want stories within sermons, parables that are icebergs designed to rip open self-satisfaction.

An editor ripped apart my self-satisfaction 30 years ago and taught me about the importance of story. Back then a Fortune freelance assignment took me to Washington, D.C., where I worked a week of 16-hour days interviewing people in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Proud of the effort, wanting readers to have all the information I had ferreted out, wanting the editor to know how hard I had worked, my article draft was full of quotations showing all my research.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit
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