What Downton Abbey Taught Me About Preaching
We had been hearing about Downton Abbey for the past couple of years as our friends lauded it’s wonderfulness:) The writers and produces have been doing something right because in it’s 4th season the show pulled in 13.2 million viewers per week in the United States. So when I saw the first two seasons on Netflix I thought my wife and I should give it a try and we were hooked right from the start. We watched both seasons, a total of 16 episodes in just over 10 days including a 7 episode Friday night:)
As I was thinking about the show, I realized there are 3 elements of this series that apply greatly to preaching.
Context Is Important
Early in the first episode, Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, receives news that two of his relatives have drowned while traveling on the Titanic. This immediately brings us to April 15th, 1912. Yes, it’s true unless you are a history buff you will not know the date but the point is you will have a feel for the time in history that this period piece is placed in.
Context – “The situation in which something happens, the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens.”
When our kids were young my son would often complain that his sister bit him. We would ask her if that was true and she would say “yes” and then we would have to discipline her. It was only much later that we found out that he asked her to bite him. So really he was getting what he deserved. Context is important to understand the story.
The Biblical writers added context to help their readers better understand what was happening in their story.
Luke gave political context:
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.”(Luke 1:1-3)
He also gave geographical context:
“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.”(Luke 24:13)
John gave social context:
“The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9)
Context is extremely important, the challenge is striking the right balance between giving just enough to set up the situation and too much which will bog down your message.
Character – “the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves : someone’s personality”
Downton Abbey has a very large cast of well-defined characters and this is a great part of the shows success. I remember reading a message by G. Campbell Morgan in which he was describing the type of person Jesus was, let me paraphrase, “Jesus was the type of person everyone loved. Knowing he was a carpenter, he was the kind of person the kids in town would bring their broken wooden toys to because they knew he would take time for them and fix their problem.” Artistic license may be needed here but using the context and helping our people consider the thoughts and feelings of the characters is another device to bring the character off the page.
Conflict Keeps You Watching
Conflict – “a difference that prevents agreement : disagreement between ideas, feelings, etc.”
There are certain characters on Downton Abbey that I want to see win, so bad. While there are others that get under my skin as soon as I see them walk on-screen. I can’t wait until they “get what’s coming to them” but they always seem to dodge the bullet to lie and instigate another day:) What am I saying? I’m invested.
Once again artistic license is needed but helping our people feel the wind cutting their breath off on the Sea of Galilee and the tension of Jesus talking with Samaritan woman, the more impact our message will have. Show their strengths, show their doubts.
When we consider the context, characters and conflict of any passage we are left with a treasure trove of material to work with to improve our messages and help them hit home. When we take time to set up the passage with some context, make our people feel something whether positive or negative towards the characters and heighten the sense of conflict, we will make our message much more memorable.
P.S. After I finished this post I headed home and as and soon as I walked in the door my daughter informed me that Season 3 of Downton Abby is now on Netflix. Oh happy day!!!!!