Stories That Serve
Using Illustrations in Expository Preaching
Stories are a powerful tool in the hands of a preacher. Used poorly, they can become the central focus of a sermon, usurping the rightful place of God’s word as teacher and guide. Used well, they support the cause of truth, bringing the word of God to life with fresh clarity, relevance and power.
This concise book serves as an excellent introduction to the role of storytelling in expository preaching. Ed Moll, a seasoned preacher and preaching trainer, offers readers a comprehensive guide to the types of stories that can support biblical teaching, from simple images and metaphors to full-fledged narratives, illustrating how each type can best aid the preacher in teaching the word of God. An excellent resource for both experienced preachers seeking to grow their skill and new preachers just starting out on their journey, this book provides practical exercises to put learning into practice and includes reading lists for those wanting to dive deeper into the topics raised.
I’m always impressed by how frequently and fluently many Ugandan preachers pepper their speech and sermons with local proverbs and parables, and how well-received and appreciated they often are by congregations. But integrating such “little stories” into a sermon in order to serve and teach listeners without being distracting or confusing can be tricky. I’m so grateful for Ed’s help to do this effectively with this excellent little book, Stories that Serve. It’s the most practical, applicable, clear and helpful guide to this topic I’ve yet found. I’m planning to apply these principles into my own preaching and will also be sharing this book widely with my students and colleagues to help them do the same.
Head of Theology, Uganda Martyrs Seminary Namugongo, Kampala, Uganda
Founder, From Every Nation, https://www.fromeverynation.net/
Some of us leave church on Sunday talking about the amusing little story that the preacher shared in the sermon. But we can’t for the life of us remember what the Bible passage was about. Ed Moll’s wonderfully helpful book will enable his fellow preachers not to fall into this trap. The great strength of this book is its focus on the power of God’s word to change human lives. Ed helps us to think about how little stories, our illustrations and applications, bring clarity not confusion to the exposition of Scripture, so that God’s word is clearly understood. I wish I’d been able to read this book when I began my own preaching ministry thirty years ago; and I’d love to be able to share it with fellow preachers I’ve served alongside in England, Kenya and Australia.
Director of Training and Development,
Church Missionary Society Australia
No doubt illustrations play a vital role in making sermons relevant. But as Ed Moll says, “We want neither big stories that swallow up the sermon nor no-stories that stifle it, but little stories that serve the sermon and allow the text to do the work.” (p. 5). What “little stories,” are, where can one find them and how and where in the sermon these can be used most effectively are valuable insights this book offers. If one wants to know how to give supporting help or how stories can help with clarity, this book is a guide.
Langham Preaching Movement Coordinator, Nagaland, India
Several authors have noted that one of the weaknesses of expository preaching is the lack of good illustrations, or what Ed Moll calls “little stories.” Many of us have heard expository sermons with no stories at all and we know how difficult it is to follow and put into practice this type of preaching. This challenging book is for all who love expository preaching but don’t know how to use little stories in their sermon.
Langham Preaching Director, Latin America
Ed Moll has made a decisive contribution to helping us to understand illustration clearly, substantively and passionately. It’s not simply about telling stories, it’s about telling the stories that fit, a gift of the Spirit.
Langham Preaching Movement Coordinator, Latin America
Stories That Serve is short, well structured and easy to read – accessible. It is approachable enough for preachers who want to improve their sermon illustration skills on their own and a superb guide for designing interactive lessons for teachers of preaching.
Jennifer Cuthbertson, DMin
Langham Preaching Coordinator for Facilitator Development
This book is a concise and practical guide on how to use little stories to motivate, illustrate and resonate themes and ideas from biblical passages. It provides a structure and overview of different types of stories that are best suited for different forms of sermons. This should be read actively as the author includes different exercises to learn and apply the lessons in each chapter into the reader’s own sermons and past preaching. Serious students of the Bible and pastors will benefit greatly from this concise resource.
Varunaj Churnai, PhD
Old Testament Professor, Bangkok Institute of Theology and Bangkok Bible Seminary
Christian Education Pastor, Sapanluang Klongton Church, Bangkok, Thailand
Langham Preaching Movement Coordinator, Thailand
When learning a new skill, it is far better to go to someone who had to learn it the hard way than someone who is just instinctively good at it (but cannot explain how they did it). The person who has had to work things out step-by-step is better placed to share their thought processes. From the time when hefirst started to preach, Ed Moll realized that he was not one of life’s instinctive storytellers or sermon illustrators. But that is precisely why I always sit up and notice when he does preach; because he has considered carefully how to communicate well, he always manages to explain even complex truths withclarity and simplicity. It is also why this book is so helpful. I have learned so much from his methodical approach to illustrating better.
Mark Meynell, DMin
Langham Preaching Director, Europe & Caribbean
As a preacher, one of my ongoing struggles is finding and sharing the appropriate illustrations for my messages. I see the same challenge in pastors and leaders involved in Langham Preaching projects in Latin America. With clear concepts, recommendations and practical examples, Ed Moll not only givesus “the fish” but also “the hook and line” to fish for illustrations that help our listeners to understand, be motivated by, and apply the truths of God’s word, communicated through a biblical sermon.
Pastor, Shalom Christian Community, Ibague, Colombia
Langham Preaching Movement Coordinator, Central America
In the delivery of sermons, the criteria of clarity, faithfulness and relevance should be observed. Storytelling is a great way of communicating. Its powerful use has been exemplified by our master-teacher, Jesus Christ. The use of stories not only helps with illumination of the text but also with retention of the message. Moll’s book serves as a great tool for seasoned expositors, as well as those who are seeking to hone their craft of expository preaching. This book is descriptive, highlighting the different types of stories. It is also illustrative, showing how stories could be used. Further, it is persuasive in arguing why stories should be used in preaching. There is much benefit to be derived from reading (and re-reading) this book. I highly recommend it.
Langham Preaching Movement Coordinator, Caribbean
Ed Moll has produced an indispensable must-read tool for all preachers serious about expository preaching. He explains and demonstrates how “Explanatory,” “Motivational” and “Exemplary” stories should be used in the points and between the points in a sermon to allow the passage to speak under the topic as God’s word. As he puts it, he has given us a hook and line to fish for life and not just one meal. Get the book, read and apply the teachings and see our congregations grow in the knowledge of God’s word.
Former Principal and Lecturer, International College of Bible and Missions, Roodepoort, South Africa
Langham Preaching Regional Coordinator Emeritus, Southern Africa
Stories are said to be windows that shed light to a truth. An obscure idea becomes clear when a story is used to illustrate the point it is making. Stories are especially important in our sermons. Ed Moll introduces us to the different kinds of stories that we can use in our expository preaching. From his manyyears of pastoral and preaching experience, Moll shows us the advantages of using the right stories at the right place and the pitfalls of using the wrong stories. To be good storytellers, we need to learn the skills of storytelling. This is an excellent resource that will help anyone involved in preaching God’s word to tell stories that will help our hearers grasp the message of the sermon. Ed Moll has given us a treasure that needs to be in the hands of pastors, teachers and laypersons who have committed their lives to preaching the word.
Frew Tamrat, PhD
Principal, Evangelical Theological College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Langham Preaching Movement Coordinator, Ethiopia
Table of Contents
- Glossary of Terms
- Introduction: Big Stories and Little Stories
- 1. Different Kinds of Stories and How They Fit within a Sermon
- 2. Using Explanatory Stories for Illumination
- 3. Make Explanatory Stories Work Even Better
- 4. Tell Motivational Stories for Action
- 5. Use Exemplary Stories for Application
- 6. Where Do I Find Stories?
- Summary and Conclusion
- Appendix: The Five Foundational Values of Expository Preaching