If you're not clear on what you're trying to say, neither are your listeners.
Tip # 1: When your message is still in your head test whether it's as clear as you think it is: write or say your message. If you have one simple sentence you're probably good to go. If you don't, use Tip #2.
Tip # 2: Answer the question: "What do I want my listeners to know?"
If you follow these two tips you'll be miles farther to writing effective sermons, guaranteed.
If you want the explanation for why these two tips are necessary for every sermon,
Have you noticed that professional communicators all get editors?
- Screen writers
- Professional speakers
They all get editors as part of the package deal.
But not preachers.
We're about the only group of professional communicators who routinely offer our final draft without running it through an editor first.
That's not true for every preacher, of course. Some are in preaching groups, some have spouses or good friends who are willing to read, listen, and offer useful comments.
But most of us don't.
In the absence of an editor, what's next best? I'm not being flippant when I say,
Get as clear as possible yourself.
(And, no, that's not the tip.)
That may seem really obvious, but here's the trap most of us fall into.
We think we know our message. It's super clear in our heads and we feel a sense of relief. Whew! We got it! Thank you, God!
Then we go to write the sermon.
Our thoughts are surprisingly jumbled.
One paragraph doesn't fold neatly into the next. We had the perfect illustration, but, hm! Now it doesn't quite seem to fit. Do we need a different illustration? Or maybe there's something we didn't understand about the text; should we go back to check it?
We get frustrated. Then maybe panicked if we're too close to our sermon deadline.
What went wrong?
Our message wasn't as clear as we thought.
And if you're not clear on what you're trying to say, neither are your listeners.
The problem is that our brains don't think in straight lines the way a sentence and outline require. Our brains sprout ideas more like bouncing ping pong balls.
When we're thinking about our sermon messages, we may believe we have the message nailed down. We may think our message is set, clear, and ready to be explored on the page or with notes. But instead of a clear message of Good News like,
"Jesus starts his ministry in obedience through baptism," our thoughts bounce around like this:
Jesus' first act was to be baptized by John in the river Jordan by his cousin (John was his cousin, right?), and the dove lighted on him (why a dove and not an eagle?), and God said Jesus was his beloved (which we all are), and Jesus got baptized at all (which doesn't make sense; why did he need to be?) as a demonstration of obedience (which Jesus could do because he was Jesus, but I'm not so good at being obedient to God [feelings of guilt in tummy], but I guess that's why we need to be obedient anyway because Jesus was even though obedience was hard.
To keep a "clear message" in our heads is a bad idea.
(Here's Tip #1 >>>>)
Say your message out loud or write it down.
When we're forced to be linear we discover whether we have gathered our "ping pong balls" of message ideas, pulled out the ones that will wait for another sermon, and placed in a straight row the ones needed for this sermon.
- If you can write or say your message without needing to take a breath in the middle or feel the need to explain further, you're probably good to go.
But if you're having trouble writing your message in a single sentence because your "clear message" still looks more like the bouncing ping pong balls above, then go on to Tip #2....
Ask yourself What do you want to say?
When I was in junior high and high school struggling to get clear about my thoughts for a school paper, I'd go to my mom.
She'd ask, "What do you want to say?"
Inevitably she would say, "Write that."
Write it out. Do a stream of consciousness. Or dictate your answer and play back the recording so you can hear yourself. Did you say what you mean?
Another way to put it is,
What do you want your listeners to know?
- What do you hope they will walk away with by the end of the sermon?
- What's the one thing if nothing else you hope will sink in?
Write or say the answer in one sentence.
If your statement isn't clear then go back for some more digging and praying.
We want to make it as easy as possible for our listeners to grasp the message.
Follow these two tips:
- Tip # 1) Say your message out loud in one sentence. If you can't, then ask yourself...
- Tip #2) ..."what do I want my listeners to know?"
What you've just done is create a virtual editor. How so? How does "What do I want my listeners to know" function as an editor? How does the answer to this question affect the rest of the sermon? That will be next week's post.
In the meantime,
What do you need to craft effective sermons? Let me know.
I'm here to help you
Be Good News to Preach Good News.
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