Defining the puzzle is a good place to start when preparing your talk.
In a previous post, I reflected on the question, “What’s the puzzle?” in relation to our dissertation projects. Since then, I’ve been incorporating the question into my sermon prep. I thought I’d say a little about it here for other communicators who may read this post.
The first step in our dissertation process is to define a problem. Our faculty mentor, Dr. Russell West, likes to use the word puzzle. Questions like “What is not as it should be?” help get at the heart of the problem. In a sermon context, I might ask, “What kinds of things are happening, or not happening, that are contributing to the problem/puzzle?”
Once the problem is identified, the purpose is revealed. The purpose flows out of the problem. For example, last Sunday, my problem statement was, “Because people don’t face their storms with faith, they don’t grow.” My purpose, then, was to try to encourage people to face their storms with faith in God. My point flowed out of this purpose: “We grow when we face our storms with faith in God.” To challenge my listeners, I talked about the story of Jesus’ calming of the storm while he and his disciples were on a boat in the middle of a fierce storm (Mark 4.35-41).
The challenge when preparing a talk is to focus, to discover the main point, and then to build everything around it. Even when studying a passage of Scripture, there are usually a number of directions a communicator can go. But focus is absolutely critical. Knowing what the problem/puzzle is goes a long way toward helping you find focus.