October 18th, 2010 | No Comments »

If both your mission and the communication around your mission aren’t clear and easy, you’re frustrating both yourself and your constituents. I’ve been saying this for some time now, but amazingly, I get more push back than you’d expect.

In the last few weeks I’ve had multiple conversations with new bloggers and non-profit organizations about fine-tuning both their mission and communication streams. My axiom has been: Be generous, Be helpful. Initially, everyone agrees, but when I move on to highlight that constituents want things easy, simple and clear, my audiences have appeared shocked. But my instincts are nevertheless true. Whether you’re a CEO, teacher, pastor, writer, therapist…whatever, your constituent’s lives are intensely busy, their concerns are monumentally large, and their time is magnificently short. If you want to lead them, you have to wrap your arms around your phenomenal mission and contract it into bite-sized chunks for your constituents.

Yet in so many industries (especially the church), the professionals make accessing the pertinent information hard for the populace. We don’t mean to, we just do. And I think I know 3 reasons why. See if you make these 3 mistakes while formulating your communication:

1.  You’re A Intellectual Snob – You like demonstrating that you’re smarter than most everyone else so you use every big word you know and you employ the jargon of your scholastic guild. Whenever you can you turn your staff meeting, sermons, blog posts, etc…into your greatest hits from graduate school, you do. If that’s you, here’s a tip: The people you’re communicating with aren’t stupid, they’re just outside your field. They don’t know your field and don’t care about the intricacies of it. And, by the way, the sign of a truly smart person is the ability to explain complex things simple.

2. You Had To Learn It – Speaking to a physician years ago, I asked why resident doctors had to keep such long, insufferable hours which made them more likely to make medical mistakes. His response, “I had to do it.”  This notion is at play in a great deal of communicators. Since they had to learn Greek & Hebrew (or whatever they had to learn in school to do a job) they come to think no one can be a good Christian if they don’t know. In reaction, they make sure that their audience is forced to know the ins and outs concerning the peculiarities of their field.

3. You Don’t Want To Communicate – Know one says this, but it’s true. I’ve been apart of organizations that thoroughly believed they were elite. In order to keep this ruse alive the organization must remain small. Therefore, the more esoteric and ethereal the communication the better. And guess what, when you don’t want the masses, they know it.

Each of these are killers. Over the next week, review your most recent communications and see if these communication killers are at play in your world. I know, they are too often working in mine.

August 29th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

People question my insistence that preachers should ditch their points. Points, I have argued, are planted and buried with story, whispers and the inspiring word. People don’t need or want step-by-step directions and we’re not interested in the points. Do you need proof? Just think about the last time you read a “User License Agreement” on a computer program. Oh, wait, you didn’t read it. The reason is simple, you want to get on to engagement. Engagement rarely comes in 1…2…3. Below is perhaps the greatest proof ever.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&border=1
August 18th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

In the previous post, I began making the case that preacher’s should ditch their points (or at least the way we usually make them). So if you decide not to deluge your audience with points when you preach, what should you do instead? It’s a good question. First, I must restate the simple fact that scripture does not come step-by-step, point-by-point. The entire canon forms one grand narrative. Scot McKnight’s, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, is an excellent source to help you unearth this truth. Therefore, when you and I decide to abandon the “points-preaching model” and adopt a more narrative form, we are not losing a sacred pedagogical tool; rather we are assuming (and it is an assumption), that teaching like Jesus taught is a better model. As a Christian, I assume that everything Jesus did, He better than anyone else did. Insomuch, Jesus should be imitated whenever possible.

So, you ask, what should we do then after we ditch our pitiful points preaching? My answer, “Do what the text does.”

Here’s how to get started:

Assume the text(s) knows how to tell a story. When preparing your sermon try following the story of the text you’re preaching and sketch it out as one would a cartoon strip. Each move of the sermon should form a picture that tells a story, or at least part of one. The sermon then moves from beginning, middle and end becoming a story itself. Obviously, the various content and genres available in scripture mean that sermons look different from one another. An orienting text such as Proverbs or James is much more hard and fast than Jesus’ explanations of the Kingdom in the gospels. Sermons should reflect the nature of the text being preached. When Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” the Savior is allowing for imagination, He’s encouraging it. “Thou shalt not kill…” is a different kind of text, birthing a different type of sermon. Therefore, you do what the text does.

Assume relevance. Preachers prostitute the text with points when they think no one will care what the text actually says. As a matter of fact, I recently heard a preacher that I like and respect say, “I want to share 4 points with you. Now, I just made these up…” Really? What he’s actually saying is, “I don’t think this text is relevant to your felt needs, so I’m going to make it relevant. Therefore, I will twist and turn this text into an answer to a question.” I may be naive, but I’m going to assume the text is relevant. Not all texts are relevant at all times and in the same way; that’s a pastoral decision for you to make in the planning process. The idea many write sermons with is that these events happened long ago and life has changed so drastically that I must close the distance between my congregation and the Bible. Unfortunately, this move actually increases the distance and leads listeners to the unfounded belief that scripture is boring and just not for them. Any faithful Bible student knows, however, that Scripture is incredibly present. It just takes reading and faith.

(to be continued…)

August 10th, 2010 | No Comments »
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KNQfQzLpBM&hl=en_US&fs=1
February 10th, 2010 | No Comments »

A few posts ago, I commented, “Preaching naively believes that preaching can help” this troubled world. What I mean by this is that preaching, the act of speaking to an audience who will likely soon forget what was said, on the face, appears to be fairly anemic, but the preacher believes it is not. Jesus seems to think that preaching does something that nothing else can do. As His cousin, John, sits in prison, Jesus chooses not to visit or set John free. Rather, Jesus preaches. And it’s important to pay attention to exactly what Jesus preaches.

In Mark, as Jesus begins His public ministry, the apostle tells us that Jesus announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” Again, each word here could produce a book in it’s own right, but I want to highlight a few things that I think are generally important for preacher’s (and listeners) to keep in mind as we examine how preaching can help.

  1. “The Time is fulfilled.” Jesus is announcing a present reality. This reality is associated with both His presence and person, as well as heralding an eschatological vision. Therefore, the faithful do not simply await a future occurrence, but a reality that is being inaugurated. For the preacher, this means drawing the ears of the listener to God’s activity in the world today, rather than merely encouraging them to hang onto earth until we enjoy pie-in-the-sky. Weekly preaching needs immediacy! In short, the end has begun; we are caught between the now and the not yet.
  2. “The Kingdom of God has come near.” Christ announces a new system of both politics and living. We are invited, then, to live within this kingdom and assuage the narrow-mindedness of American left/right political polarities –or any other political system, for that matter – to see a vision of the kingdom of God. This is true of all systems or philosophies that cultures may offer. The kingdom of God upends all other kingdoms – American, financial, scientific, theological or personal. The preacher then must be certain not to loan the preaching event to alternative kingdoms; to spare the pulpit of his or her personal feeling about “Proposition Whatever” and call both all people – those with whom he or she aggress and/or disagrees with – to participation in the only governing that matters – God’s.
  3. “Repent and believe the good news.” After having told us that the kingdom of God was near, the Lord now instructs us regarding what to do about it. First, says Jesus, “repent,” literally to “change your mind.” He means to tell us to abandon alternative kingdoms, philosophies, politics, and epistemologies and believe the good news, which is, in short, Jesus Himself and not a theological system (Calvinism, Restoration, Methodism, etc…). Though many would like to reduce “the good news” only to the Passion narrative, this alone cannot be true, since Jesus is calling people to the good news BEFORE the Passion events. In large, Jesus proclaims that salvation hope can be found in Him; that there is a path back to wholeness for those who repent. Every pronouncement concerning God, then, should announce the good news. It matters little to beat up people about our estrangement from the Creator without a vocalization of the way back to God.

These 3 moves shape the fundamental message of Jesus’ ministry. You will notice here that Jesus’ preaching – both here and other places – lack the kinds of specifics and steps that contemporary preaching has devolved into. Jesus’ preaching is about a particular vision of the world. It is not nuggets, principles, helpful hints, or good advice. Those who reduce preaching to sound bites cut against the grain of how Jesus preached.  Sound bites, we should now have learned from the political world, don’t change the world. Preaching should aim for more.

To be continued…

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