Writer Lizzie Hutchison argues that the succinct writing of the famous American sitcom is something preachers could learn from.
I really like Friends. I’ve even got one or two of my own *canned laughter*. Wow, could I BE any more Chandler? Anyway… when I saw the Friends reunion show a couple of years ago I was shocked when fans of the series said that they used it as a prop to get them through the bad times. You need Jesus, I thought. And then I experienced the worst year of my life and I understood what they meant.
Sometimes life can throw some pretty hideous curveballs. I won’t go into it here, but for me one of the consequences was that I went through a phase of not being able to watch anything too intense or anthing with surprises. I never lost my faith, but I couldn’t cope with an entire sermon or bible study, I could just about handle the odd line of a Psalm. And when I spoke to a friend (an actual one) who went through a bleak time, she recommended Friends. And she’s a Christian too. It’s obviously not a substitue for Jesus, but it is a helpful distraction if you need to get your thoughts onto something positive before bed.
I was shocked when fans of Friends said that they used it as a prop to get them through the bad times. You need Jesus, I thought.
Friends is like a warm bath. In fact, I often watch it in a warm bath. And having done the entire ten seasons back to back, four times in a row (yup), I am increasingly impressed by the quality of the writing, in such tight 20 minute episodes. In fact, I think vicars the world over could take a tip from it. Possibly I’ve been burnt one too many times by the forty-five minute sermon, but I do think there’s a skill in keeping things short. That Mark Twain phrase always tickles me: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Longer is not always better. Read into that what you will.
Sure, now and again you need a detailed exegesis, but generally I think you give your congregation a much higher chance of remembering the message if it’s under 20 minutes. And I will say, this is not vicar bashing. Props to anyone who can actually write and deliver a sermon. I’ve never tried it, and the chances are I’d run out of material by minute six, and have to bring back flag-waving for the rest of it.
I think vicars the world over could take a tip from Friends.
If David Crane and Marta Kauffman can create a TV show with six protagonists and multiple subplots, with a narrative arc that consistently builds to an emotional zenith, and is relieved by a joke at the end, then I think we can do it from the pulpit. Or at least let’s give it a try. Failing that, there’s Aristotle’s infamous public speaking advice, to really ram the message home: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you’ve told them.” Could that BE any clearer?