Listen to some Jerry Clower
If you grew up and lived in the Deep South in the 1970s through the 1990s you know all about Clower. A comedian, Clower was born and raised in South Mississippi and looked every bit the part -- heavy-set, thick gray hair, huge smile and deep southern drawl. His down-home humor and comedic routines about southern culture were downright hysterical. He was the clean comedian of my parent's generation, and I never heard of an audience he did not have rolling in the aisles with laughter.
But what made him so funny and effective as a comedian was not his material. You or I could have taken his material and received blank stares. What made him so effective was his ability to tell a story. Some might say that Jerry Clower was a one in a million talent, but the truth is he was about a one in a dozen among his generation in the South. There were Jerry Clowers all over South Mississippi. They did not perform on stages with vast audiences; they simply told stories on the front porch steps to listening family members and friends. Storytelling was a part of the fabric of the culture and it took place wherever two or three were gathered.
A short time ago I downloaded one of Jerry Clower's famous bits about a baseball game on my iPod. An amazing thing happened: My boys absolutely loved it, and after hearing it a few times they could repeat it almost verbatim. They begged me to put more Clower on my iPod, and I noticed how intently they listened to the stories -- knowing that they had to listen carefully for how the story fit together so they could enjoy the punch line.
I realized then just how impoverished our culture is with the lack of storytelling. Television, with its imagination zapping power, has replaced those front-porch times.
The culture of Jerry Clower not only produced good storytellers but also good story-listeners. How important is it that we become good story-listeners? Our spiritual health and well-being depends on it. Have you ever thought about how God chose to reveal Himself in His Word? He gave us the awe-inspiring story of creation, fall, the promise of a skull-crushing Savior, the preparation of His coming, His unusual arrival, His counterintuitive ministry, His death, burial, bodily resurrection and the promise of His sure return and consummation of His everlasting Kingdom. The unfolding of His story is full of twists and turns, high and lows, irony and suspense every step of the way.
God certainly could have revealed Himself to us in the form of a Bible dictionary. We simply could have looked things up in the index and learned about all of the topics and doctrines we needed to understand. But He did not do that. That is why good expository preaching does not come in a Bible dictionary format, but rather it tells the story of Christ and the unfolding of His Kingdom purposes, and it also challenges you to evaluate your story in light of His. This is also why sermons that skip the Story in an attempt to boil the Bible down to lists and life application points fall short and call into question the wisdom of God in the way He chose to reveal Himself to us.
If you see my family driving down the road in fits of laughter, we probably are listening to Jerry Clower -- and, I am convinced, becoming better sermon-listeners. After all, nobody ever stopped Clower in the middle of a story and said, "Would you just skip all of the detail and description and give us the point?" If he had done that you would not have gotten the point.
You might not run to the computer and download Jerry Clower bits, but you should at least think about what it means to listen to the story of the Bible. God thought enough about stories to reveal to us the Ultimate One by which we evaluate every aspect of our lives. Let's start telling His story on front porches and in break rooms and everywhere else two or three are gathered. And let's start getting excited about listening to it as well.
David Prince is pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.