One-Point Preaching

(For more recent reflection on one-point preaching, please see 5 Years of One-Point Preaching and 10 Years on One-Point Preaching).

The most impacting book I’ve ever read on preaching/communication is Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lanes Jones. The book is based on the preaching approach of Andy Stanley, lead pastor of North Point Community Church.

I read this book in 2006 and immediately began putting the approach into practice, even before completing the book. Andy’s approach has renewed my passion for preaching!

The approach involves building the entire message around one point. This is quite different for most preachers who were trained to prepare multiple-point sermons. But, Andy argues, “In a preaching environment, less is more” (13).

It’s been a little while since I transitioned to this approach, so now with a little experience, let me offer some reflection on preaching one-point sermons.

1. Determine your goal
Andy argues that the goal of preaching should be to “teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible” (95). The goal is life change, not simply passing on information.

2. Pick a point
Narrowing down the message to a single point is the heart of Andy’s approach. Instead of preparing multiple-point messages, pick one point and build everything around that point. It’s “the glue to hold the other parts together” (103).

If you give people too much to remember, they won’t remember anything. … everything you say can be life-changing, but if they can’t remember it then it won’t change a thing. … You’ve got to narrow the focus of your message to one point. Then everything else in the message supports, illustrates, and helps make it memorable. (39-41)

Narrowing the message to one point is probably the biggest challenge of this approach for many. Andy says, “if you have been preaching for any length of time … your challenge will not be finding the one, but eliminating the three” (105). Andy says that while “lists go on paper … single, powerful ideas have a way of penetrating the heart” (109).

Andy suggests crafting a sticky statement, a statement that presents your point in a memorable way. This is a step that many communicators skip, but one that Andy is convinced “makes all the difference” (112).

I’ve enjoyed crafting sticky statements (some are better than others). Andy gives some examples of sticky statements he’s used on page 111, but here are some of my favorite sticky statements that I’ve crafted in the past year …

  • Lost hearts run away from giants; brave hearts run toward them!
  • Peacekeepers want to make everyone happy; peacemakers want to make everyone healthy!
  • Oneness is God’s dream for us!
  • Choose your treasure wisely because your heart will follow!
  • God blesses the world through generous people!
  • To prevent heart disease, change your lifestyle!
  • When God calls, just say yes!
  • It takes a crew to complete a mission!
  • God entrusts his work to trustable people!
  • God-followers are mobile followers!
  • When you get knocked down, bounce back up!
  • God is leading a search and rescue operation!
  • God can do a lot with a little!

3. Create a map
Andy offers a basic map, or outline, summarized by the words, ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE. This map “is built around the communicator’s relationship with the audience rather than the content” (119).

  • ME and WE are about finding common ground with the audience (how the day’s topic connects with the communicator and as many people in the audience as possible).
  • The GOD section is where you talk about the text, God’s thoughts on the topic.
  • The YOU section is where the topic is applied to the audience.
  • The final WE section is for casting vision – “you paint a verbal picture of what could be and should be” (129).

4. Internalize the Message
Andy talks about owning and internalizing the message. He says, “Until you can stand up and tell a story, you’re not ready to preach” (53).

The secret is to reduce your entire message down to five or six pieces. … Remember, the goal is not to cover everything in your notes. It is to take your audience with you on a journey; to move them from mile marker to mile marker until you reach your destination. (137)

The advantage of this approach is that it forces the communicator to reduce his or her material to the bare essential minimum. Andy says, “If it doesn’t support, illustrate, or clarify the point, I cut it” (142).

5. Engage the Audience
Andy talks about the importance of engaging the audience. He suggests, “Attention and retention is determined by presentation, not information” (146). “It’s our preparation and presentation that will keep people engaged” (147).

Simply put, you have to manufacture interest … your first responsibility is to pose a question your audience wants answered, create a tension they need resolved, or point to a mystery they have been unable to resolve. And if you launch into your message before you do one of those three things, chances are, you will leave them standing at the station. (153)

6. Find Your Voice
Every communicator is unique and has different gifts. Every communicator must find his or her own style (i.e. “voice”). Andy says …

Be who you are. But be the very best communicator you can possibly be. To do that you must be willing to sacrifice what’s comfortable—what has become part of your style—for the sake of what is effective. (170)

Changing your approach is hard to do. The longer you’ve been using your current approach, the harder it is to change. As John Maxwell says, Practices does NOT make perfect; it makes permanent!

What I’ve learned/experienced along the way …

  • Greater creativity. Switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching greatly improves my creativity. Rather than being distracted by multiple points, I am more focused. Because of this, I’ve been more creative.
  • Freedom from notes. Switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching has allowed me to preach with fewer notes.
  • Now that I’m pretty comfortable with the basic approach, it’s time to start experimenting and finding ways to further develop the approach.

If you’re considering switching and wondering where to start, here’s what I’d suggest …

  • Read the book.
  • Check out Andy Stanley’s messages online or look for North Point’s Weekly Message Podcast. Listen for his point/sticky statement and observe his map.
  • If you’re having trouble narrowing your message down to one point, you could start by turning one of your multiple-point sermons into a series by making each of your main points into a sermon in itself. By the way, this won’t necessarily make your sermons shorter, but they will be deeper, more focused, and more penetrating.
  • Turn your point into a “sticky statement” — as short, concise, and memorable as possible. Delete any unnecessary words. Crafting a statement can take a while and it’s usually late in the process till I get the statement the way I want it (and sometimes I get it the way I want it after I’ve preached the message).
  • Follow the ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE map.
  • Once you become comfortable with the approach, you can start experimenting with it.

Incidentally, I often use mind mapping in my sermon prep (see StoryMapping), which works well with this approach.

I hope this is helpful!

“The Barbarian Way”

It’s been a little over a year since I first read The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus, lead pastor of Mosaic. Erwin is one of my favorite writers and Christ-following leaders; I consider all of his stuff must reading (especially for leaders).

Every Christ-follower who wants to live whole-heartedly and unabashedly for God should read, internalize, and live out this book! I’m still somewhere around stage two of this process.

In the book, Erwin laments the fact that “Christianity over the past two thousand years has moved from a tribe of renegades to a religion of conformists” (5). Erwin argues that “Christianity has become docile, domesticated, civilized” (17). The book is an effort for Christ-followers “to hear the barbarian call, to form a barbarian tribe, and to unleash the barbarian revolt” (17).

The Church has an identity problem. We don’t know who we are. We don’t fully understand why we’re here. Erwin writes …

God’s will for us is less about our comfort than it is about our contribution. God would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance. (45).

Part of the identity problem, Erwin argues, is that, “When we are born again, we are dropped not into a maternity ward, but into a war zone” (126). Because of that, Erwin adds, “Maybe the first word we hear should not be ‘welcome,’ but ‘jump'” (126).

Unleash the untamed faith within!

I find myself agreeing with Erwin when he highlights the difference between the way things are and the way things could and should be …

Somehow Christianity has become a nonmystical religion. It’s about a reasonable faith. If we believe the right things, then we are orthodox. Frankly whether we actually connect to God or experience his undeniable presence has become incidental, if not irrelevant. We have become believers rather than experiencers. To know God in the Scriptures always went beyond information to intimacy. We may find ourselves uncomfortable with this reality, but the faith of the Scriptures is a mystical faith (61).

Finally, one thing is clear from the book. Living the life of a barbarian, a Christ-follower with an untamed faith, is certainly not the safe route. Erwin writes …

The civilized build shelters and invite God to stay with them; barbarians move with God wherever he chooses to go. The civilized Christian has a routine; the barbarian disciple has a mission. The civilized believer knows the letter of the law; the barbarian disciple lives the spirit of the law. The religiously civilized love tradition; the barbarian spirit loves challenges. The civilized are satisfied with ritual; barbarians live and thrive in the mystical. For a civilized disciple, religion provides stability and certainty; for the barbarian, a life in God is one of risk and mystery (79).

Sign me up. I want to be a barbarian for God, a Christ-follower with an untamed faith!

The Weariness of Criticism

This week, I’ve (Randy) been reading through 2 Samuel in my Scripture reading. 2 Samuel 16.5-14 especially caught my attention.

King David and his army are fleeing Jerusalem because of David’s son Absalom’s rebellion. On their way into hiding, “a man came out of the village cursing them.” This guy is yelling insults and actually throwing rocks at David and his army (I dunno, that sounds pretty dumb to me!) Fortunately for him, David chooses not to respond, but rather to continue on with the mission at hand (getting out of town!). David knew the outcome was ultimately in God’s hands, anyway. Criticism goes with the territory of being a leader!

But the last statement in the paragraph especially struck me:

The king and all who were with him grew weary along the way, so they rested when they reached the Jordan River.

I’m sure the journey itself was tiring (they were fleeing for their lives after all), but it’s interesting this verse immediately follows the description of this guy’s harassment of David. Life is challenging enough as it is. It’s even more challenging when people you serve and lead hurl insults (if not rocks) at you!

If you’re a leader, you know that criticism goes with the territory of being a leader. Leaders have a lot to learn from David, who in this case, chose not to be distracted from his purpose. Leaders also receive confirmation in this story what they already know by experience, that criticism is tiring.

If you’re a leader currently weathering attacks, stay focused on the mission and keep moving forward. Know that the outcome is ultimately in God’s hands!

Interconnectedness

I just wrote this for our charge’s (monthly) church newsletter (November 2007) …

Currently our sermon series is based on Acts 2.42-47, which gives us a snapshot of what the first century church looked like. They were a faith community, living their lives together, giving away their lives to others.

Being together lends itself to the concept of interconnectedness. We are connected to one another and we are not complete without the other. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are one body (Ephesians 4.4-6).

Perhaps the image of a puzzle is helpful. Each piece of the puzzle is unique and distinct to itself, yet it is pretty meaningless apart from the whole. You rarely know what the completed puzzle looks like when seeing only one piece. But when all the pieces are connected, a complete picture emerges.

We’re connected to one another. We’re not complete without each other! Imagine those puzzle pieces are people, imagine yourself to be one piece of that puzzle. God designed us to connect with others.

In Acts 2, the believers connected to study the Scripture, to pray, for Holy Communion, to worship, and to eat meals together. They connected by pooling their material means and giving to anyone in need. Their connection was a witness and many came to know Christ because of it.

I hate when I put a puzzle together and there are missing pieces. It’s so disappointing after all that work! And yet there are pieces, people, missing from our life together as the church.

Do you sense their absence? They may be absent from our Sunday worship gathering. Their gifts may be absent from our midst. There are those absent for they have not yet recognized God’s saving grace. And there are those people groups who are absent for they have yet to hear the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Who are you missing?

Songs for Leaders

Music plays an important role in our lives. It helps us express our hearts to God. And some music inspires us to change the world! So, this has me thinking about songs that challenge the leader in me.

Many songs inspire leaders, no doubt, but here are a few songs that are inspiring me these days …

By far my favorite song right now is the new release from Sara Groves called “When the Saints.” It’s from her upcoming CD, Tell Me What You Know.

“When the Saints” is full of so many biblical and historical references (listen for references to Jeremiah, Mother Teresa, Nate Saint and his family, Jesus, as well as the ones named, like Paul, Silas, and Moses); it’s so full of references, in fact, that Sara seems to hardly have time to take a breath! 🙂

All the words in this song are good, including …

And when I’m weary and overwrought with so many battles left unfought, I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard, I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars, I see the shepherd moses in the pharaohs court, I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord […] and when the Saints go marching in, I want to be one of them.

I recently discovered Sara Groves when I heard her song “Something Changed” in the movie, The Ultimate Gift, which we wrote about previously. This song (which is on Sara’s Add to the Beauty CD as well as the soundtrack for the movie, The Ultimate Gift), too, is a good song for leaders, particularly Christ-following leaders who want to help others experience life change. The songs reminds us that change isn’t something we create, fake, or earn; rather, it’s a gift! Some songs inspire leaders to change the world for God!

And I cannot make it. And I cannot fake it. And I can’t afford it. But it’s mine

Another song we’ve discovered recently is “Little is Much” (from Wide-Eyed and Mystified) by Downhere. We used the song at Community Day in September. The song’s chorus states:

Little is much when God’s in it. And no one can fathom the plans he holds. Little is much when God’s in it. He changes the world with the seeds we sow. Little is much, little is much.

As a leader, I often feel the world is too big for me to change. This song reminds me that it’s not about me. It’s about God changing the world through the little seeds I sow!

Finally, a song that I listened to a lot a couple years ago during the merger process the Alexandria, Barree, and Petersburg churches were involved in, was “In Me” (from Lifesong) by Casting Crowns. Casting Crowns is one of our favorite groups and this songs says that when God asks me to go, “I’ll go but I cannot go alone.” It’s a good reminder for Christ-following leaders who are called to change the world!

Well, these are a few songs that inspire me to change the world for God. What songs inspire you?

Three Important Words

Awhile back I (Randy) was thinking about my life as a Christ-follower and I thought about the importance of the following three words: know, honor, and obey.

Know God. Honor God. Obey God. It doesn’t get much more basic than that!

Three important words for Christ-followers are know, honor, and obey! Shortly after beginning to think about these three words, I read through Isaiah and came across the following words in Isaiah 11.1-3 (CEV)

Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David’s family will someday be king. The Spirit of the LORD will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the LORD. His greatest joy will be to obey the LORD.

Later I was reading John 17.3-4 (CEV) where Jesus says …

Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent. I have brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you gave me to do.

Know God. Honor God. Obey God.

Getting Our House in Order

Everyone keeps telling us that our lives are going to change dramatically when we bring our child home from Korea. We’re sure that will indeed be the case and we’re trying to “get our house in order” before we become parents.

By that we don’t only mean setting up the baby’s room. We mean getting our values, commitments, and priorities right. And one of our values/commitments is: family must be a priority!

We’ll continue to have other priorities, of course, including our marriage and our ministries. But getting the priorities straight will be the challenge!

Family must be a top priority! Since everything flows out of our relationship with God, God must be primary in our lives. That should be a no-brainer for Christ-followers. The trouble comes for many when priorities get out of order. Many couples get into trouble when they make their child(ren) the center of their lives. Ed Young’s Kid CEO is a good resource that explains the dangers of letting your child rule your lives. Ed Young discusses the importance of modeling a good marriage for your child, and you can only do that if you continue to value/prioritize your marriage (read Kid CEO at Google Books).

Many in leadership often put their jobs/ministries ahead of their families. However, we believe a Christ-following leader’s primary ministry is to his or her family. The most important disciple we will ever have the privilege of discipling is our child! This certainly seems to be Paul’s emphasis in his advice to his young protege, Timothy.

Of course we recognize the fact that it’s very easy for us to talk about this now, before we bring our child home. But, as we said, that’s why we’re thinking through our commitments/values before we become parents!

Check with us in a year (or a few years) to see how we’re doing! 🙂

Who’s in Charge?

A couple months ago, I (Randy) did a 3-week sermon series called, Who’s in Charge?

Sermon 1.0 made the point, We grow when we face our storms with faith in God! The reality is, we all face things that cause us fear. When we face them head on, in spite of our deepest fears, it leads to our growth.

Some things that tend to keep us from growing include lack of faith and/or lack of an awareness that God is with us. But we can learn from the experiences of those who’ve gone before us, people like Jesus’ disciples, who encountered many things that scared them. One incident is their experience on their boat that caught in the middle of a fierce storm. You can read it in Mark 4.35-41.

You’ve gotta face your storms with faith! In the middle of the storms I face, I (try to) pray, “God, I know you are in charge. Grow my faith through this storm!”

With God in charge, we can face our storms with faith, stay alert for opportunities, and have a persistent faith! In sermon 2.0, I talked about seizing opportunities. When we miss opportunities, it often leads to regret, sometimes characterized by the sad phrase, If only! To protect us from this kind of regret, I challenged listeners, To seize opportunities, stay alert!

One thing that causes us to miss opportunities is simply not paying attention, not being alert. Sometimes we just fear taking a risk. But it seems that everywhere Jesus went, he was faced with opportunities. One lesson is found in Mark 5.1-20 where Jesus climbs out of the boat, only to quickly meet a man possessed by an evil spirit. This was an opportunity!

What do you do when faced with an opportunity? Seize it! Turn your if onlys into next times. Stay alert. Keep your eyes open. To seize opportunities, stay alert!

In the final message (3.0), I talked about the dangers of the crowd, those people (or things) that get in our way. If we’re not careful, the crowd can keep us from experiencing God’s fulness; however, persistent faith that pushes through the crowds experiences God’s restoration!

Scripture includes some great examples of persistent faith. Read Mark 5.21-43. As Jesus was going about his business, a woman in the crowd who had suffered for many years with constant bleeding, demonstrated persistent faith to get in touch with Jesus.

Basically, we all have a choice to make regarding the things we deal with, to surrender or persist. Yes, there are things we need to surrender to (I think of Paul surrendering to God on the issue of the “thorn in the flesh”). But in other areas, we simply need to persist. Persistent faith that pushes through crowds experiences God’s restoration!

How awesome would it be if all Christ-followers face their storms with faith, stay alert to seize opportunities, and have a persistent faith!

Stewards of God’s Creation

Today is Blog Action Day. Bloggers everywhere are talking about one issue. The issue this year is the environment. When I think about the environment, I think about the importance of caring for God’s creation.

Many stories exist of St. Francis of Assisi, often called the patron saint of animals and the environment, and his special relationship with animals. One of the most famous tells how he tamed a wolf that terrorized a village so that the wolf and the people lived in peace with one another from that time on. This story reflects the belief of St. Francis that it is the duty of humankind to protect and care for all nature as stewards of God’s creation.

Many churches offer a blessing of the animals in early October. Manor Hill United Methodist Charge did so for the first time on Sunday (10.14.2007). People were invited to bring their small pets (and photos of larger pets and herds) to be blessed. We enjoyed a beautiful sunny day on the hillside by Faith UMC.

Thanks to Jeff Glenny for coordinating and leading this service! Each person and pet were given a copy of the following prayer:

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. On the fifth and sixth days of creation, you called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all animals his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this animal. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.

If Baby Willis Could Speak

If Baby Willis Could Speak
If Baby Willis Could Speak
Ever since we received the photos of Baby Willis we’ve had this image in our minds. And even before the referral, this message from the future Baby Willis has been a big motivation for us this year.

What a year it has been! We went to Asbury in January 2007 to take a dissertation-writing class to begin the dissertation process. Also in January we mailed our formal application to officially begin the adoption process. (How crazy is that?!)

Amazingly, it seems that the two processes have paralleled each other throughout the 9 months that have followed. When we had to complete a stack of paperwork for adoption, we’d have a little breather from our dissertation work. When the paperwork was done, it was time to jump back into dissertation-writing. Looking back, we couldn’t have planned it that way ourselves! God has been good!

But it’s not over. We’re still moving forward and we have a lot to do in the next few months. Today, we completed the last major stack of paperwork that makes our acceptance of Baby Willis official. Now it’s just a matter of waiting (till around February, plus or minus a few weeks).

As we wait, we must really focus on the last leg of our dissertation work. We have 1) some revisions to do in the next week or so, 2) begin work on our field research, 3) process/analyze the field research, and 4) write the final two chapters. After that it should just be a matter of polishing and refining our writing in preparation for early spring defenses (possibly after returning from Korea). Get your dissertations done! (Baby Willis)

Among other things, we look forward to taking Baby Willis (we’ve gotta come up with a new name!) with us to Wilmore, KY for our graduation in May 2008 as we celebrate the completion of one part of our journey and the beginning of a new part!