10 Years of One-Point Preaching

Ten years ago, I made a big change in my preaching approach, switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching. I did so in June 2006 after reading the first couple chapters in Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. In 2007, I wrote my post, One-Point Preaching, which is still the most-read post on the blog. In 2011, I reflected on 5 Years of One-Point Preaching.

Much of what I’ve said before is still true. I appreciate the emphasis on building an entire message around a single point. It brings greater focus and creativity, but it also helps me preach with fewer notes (if any).

Back at the five-year mark, I noted that I had just started reading Resonate by Nancy Duarte. The book is great alongside Stanley’s book and I actually wrote a series of posts reflecting on the Duarte’s book (see “Resonate”: Bringing It All together).

As I begin a short-term sabbatical in a few days, and I plan to review both Communicating for a Change and Resonate, and also read Ways of the Word, which looks good. As I said in 2007 and 2011, and throughout my preaching journey, I’m very much a work in progress!

2014 Bishop’s Retreat

We just returned from the 2014 Bishop’s Retreat for Our Clergy Family, which was held in Lancaster, PA. The retreat is for pastors and their families from our conference.

Tracy Radosevic, this year’s presenter, is a storyteller, and she was excellent. Tracy spoke often about, and from the perspective of, the Network of Biblical Storytellers. She said their goal in storytelling is 75% word accuracy (with the biblical text) and 95% content accuracy (the gist of the story, maintaining the integrity of the text).

Tracy told several biblical stories and also presented tips on the process of preparing to tell stories. Tracy’s storytelling was nourishing and replenishing. And her teaching provided some helpful tools for storytelling and sermon preparation.

Tracy talked specifically about storytelling (i.e., telling the biblical story), her teaching can also be applied to general sermon preparation. She talked about “MULLing the text” (MULL is an acronym for Master the text, Understand the text, Live with the story, and Link personally with the story). She offered some practical tips for each area.

I will work on incorporating MULL into my 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation, which have some similarities. I should also be able to improve the way I mark up the text during sermon preparation (see my post, Sermon Prep With iAnnotate, for my current process). And, I am especially looking forward to getting better at “mastering the text” (which does NOT mean memorizing the text).

This was the sixth retreat that Joleen, Ethan (who’s 6), and I have attended, and it was Sarah’s fifth (she’s almost 5). This was also Joleen’s and my first full year on the planning committee for the retreat.

The retreat includes four sessions—Monday evening, Tuesday morning and evening, and Wednesday morning. We like to arrive a day early for extra downtime Sunday evening, Monday morning and afternoon, in addition to the built-in free time on Tuesday afternoon. The kids enjoy child care during the four sessions, but their favorite activity is the children’s indoor water playground during free time (see photos below).

Interestingly, Tuesday was a snow day, as a major snowstorm moved through the region. Below, you can see a photo of our car halfway through the storm, and one from my ill-advised drive around town late Tuesday afternoon (the worst part was driving on secondary roads that didn’t seem to be plowed)!

All in all, it was a great event and a good few days away for our family!

“HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations”

Recently, I read the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations by Nancy Duarte. The book brings together, and builds on, Nancy’s previous books, Slide:ology and Resonate, which I’ve blogged about extensively (this post includes links to the other seven posts in the series).

I won’t repeat too much of the content from Resonate and Slide:ology, but I will share some of my other favorite highlights.

Nancy points out the challenge for communicators, that they are sometimes too “self-focused.” She says, “They have a lot to say, they want to say it well, and they have little time to prepare.” One of the problems is, “These pressures make them forget what’s important to the audience.”

Nancy suggests …

Spend a moment in your audience’s shoes. Walk people through why the initiative matters to them and to the organization, what internal and external factors are driving it, and why their support will make it successful.

One of the misconceptions about communication, especially among preachers, is the purpose of the talk. It’s easy for preachers to think it’s all about the content, the information. But it’s really about transformation. Nancy writes …

When you present, you’re asking the people in the room to change their behavior or beliefs in some way, big or small. Before you begin writing your presentation, map out that transformation—where your audience is starting, and where you want people to end up. This is the most critical step in planning your presentation, because that desired endpoint is the whole reason you’re presenting in the first place, and people won’t get there on their own.

It’s important that the presentation connects with the hearers.

Whether you evoke frenzied enthusiasm or puzzled stares or glassy-eyed boredom depends largely on how well your message resonates with the audience.

Presentations must also be built around a single, big idea.

Your big idea is that one key message you must communicate. It’s what compels the audience to change course. (Screenwriters call it the ‘controlling idea.’)

Nancy suggests thinking through, and anticipating, the resistance of the hearers.

As a presenter, you’re asking people to chair their beliefs or behavior. That’s not something they’ll enjoy or find easy, so every audience will resist in some way. … So think through why and how they might resist, and plan accordingly.

Ultimately, presenters want to get listeners to act on their message. To accomplish that, presenters must build an effective call to action. Nancy argues …

Presentations move people to act—but only if you explicitly state what actions you want them to take, and when. … You might ask everyone to take just one action, or you might provide a few actions people can choose from. Either way, be explicit in your request—and how it will benefit the audience.

I especially like Nancy’s suggestion of using “metaphors as your glue.”

For each point you make in your presentation, try to come up with a metaphor to connect people’s minds to the concept. You might even weave it like a thread throughout the presentation.

Well, there’s a lot more, including more content from Slide:ology and Resonate. Even if you’ve read both books, it still worth reading. It’s a good guide for creating more persuasive presentations. It will definitely help me to be a more effective communicator!

Practice Doesn’t Make Preaching Perfect

There’s a myth that says, “Practice makes perfect.” But there’s also a fairly common rebuttal that says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.”

Whether you are a musician, an athlete, a communicator, or whatever, just because you do something over and over doesn’t mean you’re getting better at it. You may simply be reinforcing bad habits!

I’ve heard John Maxwell say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice with evaluation makes perfect.” Practicing with evaluation and reflection is how we grow. That’s certainly true in preaching!

Preachers must constantly make adjustments in order to become better communicators. Occasionally, after preaching, I will list some adjustments I need to make, such as, “too much information; leave more on the ‘cutting room floor,'” “be further ahead by Thursday morning,” “create more tension in the opening,” “include more practical examples,” “do a better job of internalizing the text,” etc.

During my preaching journey, I’ve tried to make some adjustments. The biggest change I’ve ever made was transitioning to a one-point preaching approach in 2006 (after reading Andy Stanley and Lane Jones’ book, Communicating for a Change). In more recent years, I’ve been investing more time and effort in growing as a communicator, with an emphasis on sermon preparation (see Preaching Requires Investment).

One area that has undergone constant development over the course of my ministry is how I use sermon notes, which I wrote about a few years ago. Basically, I’ve tried many different approaches: handwritten or printed half sheets hidden in my Bible, a small notebook, one 8.5×11 sheet, a storymap, etc. More recently, as I’ve been using fewer and fewer notes, I’ve been limiting my notes to one post-it note (or preferably, no notes at all). The bottom line is, you have to find what works best for you. I’ve discovered that the more detailed my notes are, the more scripted and inhibited I feel (and I hate that feeling)!

While all of this is secondary to time with God and cultivating our relationships with God, we still have a responsibility to develop and grow the gifts God has given us to communicate God’s message!

What adjustments have you made along the way? What adjustments do you need to make next?

Preaching With a Demonstration of the Spirit

Over the last few months, some words by the Apostle Paul have been shaping my thinking about preaching.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2.4-5

My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I did this so that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of people but on the power of God. (CEB)

And, similarly, in 1 Thessalonians 1.5, he says …

… our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. (CEB)

Communication skills are important. We should certainly seek to grow and develop our skills and gifts. We should learn how to craft compelling messages (the book I’ve blogged about more than any other is a book on communication called, Resonate; this post includes links to all of the posts I’ve written about the book).

But preaching—the act of presenting and communicating God’s Word—is different than other forms of communication. It’s more than a presentation. When preaching takes place with a demonstration of the Holy Spirit, the presentation has a greater impact than mere words alone can possibly have. God does something in the lives of the hearers that preachers, no matter how skilled, can do on their own!

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a formula for experiencing a demonstration of the Spirit in preaching (at least I haven’t found one). But John Ortberg indicates that it’s simply part of the preacher’s life (see his article, When Bad Sermons Happen to Good Preachers).

I don’t know the formula, but I do know that prayer is huge part of the mix (see Preacher & Prayer). And cultivating a deep, vital, growing relationship with God!

That’s not always easy to maintain in ministry. A. W. Tozer laments, “In an effort to get the work of the Lord done we often lose contact with the Lord of work.”

Interestingly, early on in the life of the Church, the apostles hit a point where they needed to refocus their priorities. In the end, they decided to recruit a team and release ministry to them so they could “devote (themselves) to prayer and the service of proclaiming the word” (Acts 6.4, CEB). Communicating God’s Word and prayer must go together!

To help maintain my focus, Paul’s words have become part of my prayers

O God, please let my message and my preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ, be presented not just in speech or mere words—even convincing wise words—but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power and with deep conviction, so that people’s faith won’t depend on human wisdom but on the power of God! Amen.

Finding Your Rhythm for Sermon Preparation

I recently wrote Rethinking Sermon Preparation where I talked about the nature of sermon preparation (God works on and in the preacher first so that the preacher can help hearers take a similar journey). This post is about finding your rhythm for sermon preparation.

It’s easy to fall into a rut with sermon preparation. We may learn how to prepare sermons in a college or seminary class, or on our own, and think that’s the only way to prepare sermons. Then we’re stuck doing it that way for the rest of our lives!

But, there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach for sermon preparation. You have to find what works for you, and the only way you can do that is through lots of experimentation and trial and error!

Some preachers carve out one full day or two half days a week for sermon prep; others schedule smaller blocks of time each day. Some prepare week to week, focusing on one sermon at a time; others work on sermons a few weeks ahead of time. Some work in quiet, secluded places; others prefer noisy, public places. Some write out full manuscripts or detailed notes; others create story maps or story boards.

The bottom line is, don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s only one way to prepare sermons. Work on it until you find the rhythm that works best for you, and be flexible to adjust it, as necessary.

How has your sermon prep evolved over the years? What have been the most significant changes you’ve made in your preparation? What adjustments will you make in the near future?

Rethinking Sermon Preparation

The area I’ve worked on the hardest in the past year is sermon preparation. It’s always a struggle to make time to prepare sermons because it’s hard work and there are plenty of other things to do!

As I wrote in my post, Preaching Requires Investment, Bill Hybels has been quoted to say …

Preaching has been the single most vexing activity that I am engaged in, in Christian work. Nothing beats me up or puts me on my knees for longer periods of time, frustrates me more, or creates a greater feeling of dependency on God than preaching and teaching.

I’ve written posts in the past about my attempts to improve sermon preparation, including The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation, which was a revision The 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation. The 4 Ss (Soak, Study, Shape, and Simmer) still describe my general process for sermon preparation, but I will always be looking for ways to improve the day-to-day process!

But lately, I’ve been thinking about the nature of sermon preparation. Sermon prep really isn’t about writing, or putting together, a great sermon. Rather, sermon prep is about God forming his message in the preacher so the preacher can communicate it to people!

Sermon prep is about experiencing God’s Word personally and taking a journey with God, and then taking the congregation on a journey through the sermon. That’s not easy to do. It’s easier to focus on the task of putting a sermon together. Tasks are easier to complete. Journeys are much more difficult and unpredictable!

Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate talks about the communicator as the mentor (rather than the hero). Duarte says, “You’re simply the voice helping them get unstuck in their journey” (20). To be a good mentor, “place the audience at the center of the action, and make them feel that the presentation is addressing them personally” (20). (I’ve written a lot about Resonate; start with “Resonate”: Bringing It All Together).

Thinking of the people in the audience as heroes changes the nature of communication. The goal isn’t to impress people with profound knowledge or great communication skills. It’s to help people on their journey. Duarte writes …

As mentor, your role is to give the hero guidance, confidence, insight, training, or magical gifts so he can overcome his initial fears and enter the new journey with you. (20)

Similar to the idea of a mentor, I like to think of the communicator (and the leader) as an Adventure Guide. Different from a Travel Agent, who sends people on journeys they may not have taken themselves, an Adventure Guide takes the journey, too!

We can only help people on their journey if we are taking the journey ourselves!

My favorite image for this is a funnel, which I heard Louie Giglio talk about last year during the free online event, Preach Better Sermons. I mentioned it in my post, 5 Takeaways from Preach Better Sermons. Giglio used a funnel to illustrate how God’s Word should pour into us and work on us so that a meaningful, focused message comes out. God must do a work in the preacher through the text during the process of preparing to preach!

I certainly haven’t mastered it, but here are three ways I’m trying to prepare to preach

  1. Maintain a strong devotional life. I read through the Bible unrelated to sermon prep. Prayer is also vital (see Preacher & Prayer).
  2. Soak in the text, preferably more than a week before delivery (the further ahead, the better). See Sermon Prep With iAnnotate to read about my process for soaking in the text.
  3. Constantly ask, “What does God want me to say?” and “What is God saying to me?” It can’t just be what I want to say to “them”!

It’s hard work. But it’s necessary because sermon preparation is about God forming his message in us so we can communicate it to people!

How do you invite and allow God to work on you during sermon preparation?

Michael Quicke on Preaching

Seedbed posted an interview of Michael Quicke, who teaches at Northern Seminary. The interview is broken into three parts: one, two, and three.

Quicke has written a couple of books on preaching that are actually still on my reading pile: 360-Degree Preaching: Hearing, Speaking, and Living the Word (paperback) and 360-Degree Leadership: Preaching to Transform Congregations (Kindle). After listening to the video interviews, these books may rise a little higher on the pile!

Quicke outlines four models of preaching: Herald Preaching (proclaiming), Teacher Preaching (the trap is explaining Scripture rather than teaching/proclaiming Scripture), Inductive Preaching (responding to needs), and Narrative Preaching (living within God’s story and seeing our stories within in it). He focuses on narrative preaching, noting that it’s not simply about telling a lot of stories. “No, you engage with the story of the text.”

Quicke advises looking “for the trouble in the text” because it’s going to be trouble for us and will point to what we need help on. He says …

The narrative preacher dwells in the story and understands that there’s a plot and a movement, and then in sermon form … you’re within a story which frames where you’re going.

When Quicke listens to preachers (including students), he’s wondering …

  • Has the preacher got something that God is saying in the text … about what God is doing in the text?
  • Has the preacher been immersed in the text?

When the preacher has been immersed in the text, “this Scripture means something to them and it’s come alive for them and it’s coming alive to me.” When the sermon is properly structured, Quicke says you get a “sense of the journey that the preacher’s been on, which is what preaching is all about.”

I love Quicke’s suggestion of immersing yourself in the text before consulting commentaries (my post, The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation begins with “soaking,” and comes before “study”). Quicke argues, “pastors go to commentaries too quickly” (usually because they’re busy!). He adds, “What really matters is that we spend time with the text before we consult commentaries and that time is spent prayerfully.” He suggests reading the text out loud slowly and prayerfully so that you can hear the text. “Living in the text is a spiritual thing … a discipline.”

As you read the text, pray …

Lord, speak to me through this, help me through this … you’re dealing with me first so that I can deal with the people.

Asked about the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, Quicke made the case for 360° preaching. He says the old model was 180° preaching where you have the Bible on one side and the hearers on one side and the preacher makes the connection. In that model, “a lot of the work depends on the preacher.”

In 360° preaching …

God speaks and the preacher is responsible for listening. Jesus is at the center; he’s the preacher; it’s his church. The bottom of the circle is the delivery and the rest of the circle is the response because it’s what happens afterward that really counts.

In this understanding, the Father, Son, and Spirit are all involved. He says, “we can’t do it without them.”

Quicke adds …

It’s a way of looking at preaching as participating in the trinity. It’s a big idea in terms of shaping it instead of me doing something, me participating with God, because of what he wants to do through me. It’s very humbling, but it’s very encouraging … because it means when you’re exhausted … you say, if the Lord’s calling me to this, he’s actually in the whole process.

Quicke responded to a question about preachers telling personal stories. He noted that the culture now expects preachers to be authentic, to show how they’re not immune to trouble. He says …

For preachers to be authentic, we expect some exposure … but it’s a delicate balance. You’ve got the keep the balance and remember that Jesus is preeminent.

Quoting John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” he argues this is “vital for preachers.” He warns …

If you’re taking any glory for yourself, it comes at the expense of Jesus. … You can’t magnify yourself and magnify Jesus at the same time. You tell a funny story about yourself, you’re going to have to work really hard to get back to the Lord.”

Quicke says you have to be careful how much of your allotted time you “use up on yourself.” He says, “make sure that ‘he must increase’ and that means not too much of myself, though enough of myself, and especially if it’s an evangelistic sermon, where you want people to know ‘I’ve met Jesus.'”

I personally found this interview helpful and challenging. I hope it’s helpful for you, too!

5 Challenges From Preach Better Sermons

Yesterday’s free, 4-hour online preaching conference, Preach Better Sermons, was great. It will take some time to process it all, but here are five things that resonated with me …

1. Find your own voice and be who are.
It was great to see different styles among the presenters. At least two communicators (Mark Batterson and Pete Wilson) said they use manuscripts, a practice which doesn’t seem common (or recommended) anymore. More than one speaker cautioned against trying to preach like someone else, encouraging preachers to find their own unique voice and to be who God intends them to be.

2. Make the most of your prayer time just before preaching.
Prayer is a critical part of the sermon prep process, of course, but I loved the prayer routine Steven Furtick goes through just before he preaches. It was pretty intense. And somewhat quirky. His ritual involves scented anointing oil (I love Prayer Idiosyncrasies). I try to be intentional about my own prayer routine right before preaching (see my Desperate Preacher’s Prayer Guide), but after listening to Furtick, I will continue to do some work on my routine!

3. Show up every day.
Asked how he deals with writer’s block, Donald Miller talked about the daily discipline of writing. You never know when inspiration will come, and it’s more likely to come if you show up every day. Similarly, preachers must also develop the daily discipline of preparing. It reminds me that Elijah’s prayer during the showdown on Mount Carmel and Peter’s vision regarding Cornelius both took place during an “hour of prayer.” There’s something about showing up every day!

4. Check your motives.
Crawford Loritts said, “Don’t shoot to be the best preacher, but shoot to be a great preacher.” That’s a critical distinction, and an important reminder. One is competitive with others; the other seeks to honor God. Our goal cannot be to be the best, but to be the best we can be!

5. Focus on intimacy with God.
Crawford Loritts said, “You’ll never preach better than who you are.” Preaching isn’t just about developing and perfecting the right skills. The skills simply help us communicate what’s in our heart in the best way possible. The real power of preaching flows from a heart close to God!

These are five things that challenged me. Earlier this week, I wrote Preaching Requires Investment. This event was a great (and free) way to invest in your preaching!

Check out Preaching Rocket to learn more!

Preaching Requires Investment

Preaching is hard work. It’s not just the act of preaching that’s hard, but all of the prep that goes into it during the days (and sometimes weeks) leading up to the preaching event. Preaching requires a lifetime of investment!

Recently, I heard Bill Hybels quoted as saying …

Preaching has been the single most vexing activity that I am engaged in, in Christian work. Nothing beats me up or puts me on my knees for longer periods of time, frustrates me more, or creates a greater feeling of dependency on God than preaching and teaching.

My primary spiritual gifts are leadership and preaching. But it can be challenging to have two passions (I tend to have a one-track mind). That tension goes back about twenty-five years. Not long after devoting my life to Christ, I began sensing a call to ministry, specifically, “a call to preach.” But just before I graduated from college, I heard John Maxwell (before he was internationally known as a leadership expert), and I have been a student of leadership ever since.

For many years, I focused on leadership, and preaching took a back seat. That began changing in 2006 when I read Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (see One-Point Preaching and 5 Years of One-Point Preaching). Transitioning to one-point preaching has been the single biggest transition I’ve made in ministry!

Ironically, the transition to one-point preaching occurred while I was working on a D.Min. program with an emphasis in leadership. When I chose a topic for my dissertation, I tried to unite my passions for leadership and preaching. In my dissertation, I used the term “leader-communicator” and looked at how leader-communicators shape a missional culture through preaching and communication. It was an attempt to unify my passions!

Now, I am in the middle of another major transition in my preaching life (I recently wrote What I’m Learning About Preaching). Whereas the transformation in 2006 was related mostly to sermon structure, this transformation is mostly about sermon preparation.

I’ve always known sermon prep was important, of course (see The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation); it’s just always been a struggle to prioritize. On top of that, it doesn’t usually take me very long to put a sermon together. But, in recent months, I’ve been increasing the amount of time I spend soaking in and studying the text before putting the sermon together!

A major reason for this transformation is Preaching Rocket, a one-year video coaching program with monthly videos. It’s expensive (I’m grateful for my continuing education fund at Centre Grove!), but it’s an investment in my ongoing preaching development!

I can’t really point to anything specific about the Preaching Rocket program (I was one of the first to sign up nearly a year ago, as a charter member) other than it’s simply an opportunity to focus on my development as a preacher. And, the content is good. In the process, I’m gaining an appreciation for more effective sermon preparation!

Preaching Rocket kicked off last year with a free online conference called “Preach Better Sermons.” It was great (see 5 Takeaways from Preach Better Sermons). The next Preach Better Sermons event takes place tomorrow (May 1). There’s a great lineup of communicators, including Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, Mark Batterson, and a number of others.

I’m especially looking forward to Nancy Duarte, whose book, Resonate, I’ve blogged about extensively (the last one, with links to the others, was “Resonate”: Bringing it All Together). Duarte’s work has been a significant part of my preaching development (the eight blog posts I wrote about Resonate indicate that!).

Well, you can sign up for the free online preaching conference here. I’m looking forward to it. It’s another opportunity to invest in my preaching (and it’s FREE)!