Every so often I run into a blog post or a book that makes me stand up and shout, “Yes! That’s exactly what I think too!” It’s a rather exhilarating and embarrassing situation, particularly if I happen to be in a crowded coffee shop at the time of reading. “Sir, please sit in your chair and act like a normal person.” This scene most recently happened over this post from Brad Griffin on the Fuller Youth Institute site.
What I want to say here may not be popular with some but I believe in this concept enough to weather the criticism. Here it is: expositional preaching doesn’t work with students. What I mean is that 3 point propositional sermons are an ineffective model for promoting life-change in students and, truthfully, in most adults as well. There, I said it.
Part of me shutters as I type these words because I grew up in churches where propositional sermons were, and still are, the signpost of ecclesiastical (a big word for church) correctness. In addition, much of my pastoral training at the college I attended was centered around creating and delivering 3 point sermons. A few of my profs will probably retroactively fail me if they read this post.
And yet, here’s how I know I’m right: What were your pastor’s 3 points on Sunday morning? What’s that? You can only remember one thing about what your pastor said? I rest my case.
Please understand that I’m not saying that we abandon the Bible or wimp out on content. Our teachings must be built on Scripture and include the actual reading and unpacking of Scripture. What I am saying is that teaching with clarity and great storytelling trumps a deluge of content in every possible way.
Humans are designed to be moved by stories. God revealed Himself in story–through compelling and conflicted characters, gut wrenching tension and a plot line so incredibly moving that it has been repeated in books and movies over and over again. It’s the story of the Bible. My question is: Why do we take what is compelling and transforming in itself and shove it into a format of communication that sucks all the energy and tension out of the content?
Why don’t we do what Jesus did? Jesus told stories–powerful, transforming stories built around the truth of Scripture as it existed in His time. His stories hit people exactly where they were–their occupations, struggles, families, joys, fears and cultural context. Secondly, Jesus focused his teaching on a small group of 12 guys. He communicated to the masses and then unpacked his ideas with his 12 over campfires, meals and long walks. Lastly, His parables typically focused on one idea. Essentially, he communicated one clearly expressed idea through the vehicle of powerful storytelling.
What can we, as youth workers, learn from Jesus?
- The most lasting communications are crystal clear. They communicate one central idea…not 3.
- The most transformative communications ask you to do something. If we aren’t specifically asking our audience to act, we have failed.
- The most engaging communications include great storytelling. We must master the art of story.
- The most relevant communications lead to further discussion. Our communications ought to set up meaningful small group conversations.
So, how do you actually teach like this? Here are a few questions to wrestle with:
1. Can I boil my communication down to one point? Can I craft a memorable statement around that one point?
2. As I communicate, am I putting my audience in the shoes of the biblical characters involved in the story? Will they feel what the character felt?
3. Did I take my audience to the setting of the story? Did they feel, smell, taste and see the places, the people, the events?
4. Did my audience experience the tension of the story? Did they care?
5. Did I demonstrate why my one point matters in real life?
6. What did I ask my audience to do with my one point? Give them an assignment.
7. Did I send my audience to small groups with a compelling question to interact with?
8. Did I set up my small group leaders with tools to help bring the communication to the lives of my audience?
In order to communicate for life-change. We must communicate clearly, utilize the power of story, ask them to do something and set up small groups for conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
microphone image credited to Ben Rogers via Flickr