Preaching was a natural next step for lifelong storyteller Wes Spears. As we spoke, the Samford University senior and AoP ’12 member recounted reading and making storybooks with his parents as a preschooler. Spears said, “Storytelling is in my DNA and preaching is a natural outpouring of who I am.”
Growing up as a Baptist in the Southern United States, Wes acknowledges he is a product of his environment and is grateful. Grateful for the language of God and grace and the encouragement to read C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. “People you read fuel how you write,” and from these early influences Spears experienced the rich pallet of language in conveying truth.
His commitment to story is the ambiguity allowed for the reader, or hearer. Truth isn’t presented with hard theological edges but in more subtle shades when veiled in story, which resonates with Spears and his approach to preaching. He says, “Story allows for imprecise answers that don’t require God to fit in a particular box.”
Another influence is Barbara Brown Taylor, preacher and author, who explores the question of how to respond When God is Silent. Brown Taylor makes a point that God’s silence can be the result of people talking too much and filling up all of the space. Spears agrees in observing that we, the modern church, have a tendency to be too sure of ourselves. We speak too readily for God. Story allows the hearer to discern and discover their own answer from God, leaving room for discussion and ambiguity.
In the past couple of years Spears has taken the natural step of creating parables. He credits Peter Rollins, author of The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales, as being very helpful in cultivating this kind of thinking. He freely shares his work on his blog http://www.reluctantbaptist.com (Be warned, his writing is both captivating and extensive.) Taking his cue from Jesus’ use of parable, Spears takes the mundane and creates mystery. Using familiar language, symbols and motifs, Spears moves the hearer to “the twist” or the question that lingers.
Though crafting a parable is newer for Spears, his creativity was obvious in his teens and he’s happy to share his passion with younger storytellers. During the 2013 Festival of Young Preachers, Spears will be a guest artist for the first annual Gospel Slam. He will share an original 3- minute parable, rooted in scripture following the current AoP theme Gospel and the City.
The Gospel Slam will showcase the spoken artistry of young people on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. at Atlanta’s Grand Hyatt Buckhead. The event is designed to encourage teens to stand and deliver with guests like Spears offering inspiration. For details go to
In conversing with Spears about how he develops a parable, he first assumed his writing didn’t follow a pattern. But when asked about his creative process he traced the root to beginning with a question he can’t stop thinking about. After days of discussing and journaling without a satisfactory answer, he begins to form a story in response.
For instance he processed the theological quandary of “Where is Jesus since the ascension?” by creating a story of a character so desperate for the answer he goes by spaceship in search of Jesus. Spears took this literal approach as a way to express the futility of the question.
Though Spears uses his computer extensively for class and as a contributing journalist, he finds the reflective process of writing parables requires a quiet spot, pen and paper. Though he came by this process naturally, the commitment of pen to paper has been proven to be a more creative and personal connection than typing.
Spears indicates that by the time he starts writing an actual story, he has a sense of direction for the character(s) he has mentally walked with during the previous days.
“Writing a parable comes from me and my experience, so I need to be disconnected from the Internet and its resources when writing. A quiet place on the couch or the porch works best,” Spears added.
The use of story in preaching has been enhanced by Spears academic work in homiletics. The assigned text that made the pieces fit for him was Eugene Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot. A book he highly recommends to preachers and all who tell the gospel story. Preaching is both art and craft and requires intentionality. A full range of coursework, reading and life experience complement Spears’ process.
Preconception, egocentricity, and lack of empathy all get in the way of communication. Jesus’ use of parable gives a ready template for engaging listeners as one who walks alongside. Wes Spears seeks to be in that moment with his listeners, not from above or below. “Preaching is not just what happens between me and God. It is much broader. It reflects what happens between all who hear and God. The ambiguity of story gives room for all of us.”
And isn’t that the beauty of the Gospel? There is room for all of us.