Cut And Paste
This past weekend, my sister introduced me to the YouTube phenomenon of recut movie trailers. Pretty funny stuff.
Check out You’ve Got Mail:
And here’s a reimagined Mary Poppins:
The first thing I thought when I saw these? People do this with the Bible all the time.
Combine a bunch of actual quotes from Scripture, some creativity, and a predetermined agenda, and voila—you can make the Bible say just about anything you want it to.
The best way to ensure you don’t buy that kind of rubbish (or teach it)? Context.
Tradition Versus Innovation
Sometimes "the same" is good.
When things are done the same way they usually are, people know what to expect—“Oh—I’m supposed to listen/participate/brake/laugh/wait to be seated/etc.” Piggybacking on people’s previous experience allows you to take a shortcut. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel—just use the cues that work.
But “the same” can eventually become mundane, unimaginative, and can even border on the ridiculous. Take, for instance, this video:
Sometimes—whether you’re doing a newscast, preaching a sermon, teaching a class, planning a worship service, creating an event, or just about anything else—"different" is good.
"Different" disrupts precedents. It pokes at comfort zones. It challenges status quo. Different jars people out of routine and almost forces them to pay attention.
Unless, of course, you do “different” all the time.
Then it becomes the same. :)
The Teacher As Harbinger of New Things
Hey, there. Thanks for coming back around after my 2-week break. A lot happened during the last two weeks, but posting here wasn’t one of them. I’m happy to say, though, that I’m back in the saddle. Giddyup.
Teaching Bible stories is so cool. Drama, intrigue, love, revenge, conquest, betrayal, hope, suspense, reconciliation—it’s all in there. And it’s fun to communicate the awesome things God did in the lives of people we’ve come to feel like we know.
But there’s one thing we’ve got to keep in mind as we teach.
Because if we don’t remember this thing, we’re liable to totally miss the point and contribute to a warped faith in the hearts of those we teach. So here it is:
In the end, teaching isn’t just about what God did. It’s about what God is doing.
Check out what God says in Isaiah 43—
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
God’s specifically talking here about the awesome Exodus he accomplished for his people hundreds of years before this. “Forget about that,” He says. “I’m up to something new.”
Sure, God wants us to remember—to rehearse the stories that so beautifully and powerfully communicate who He is and what He wants. But He doesn’t want us to have a faith that exists in the past—a faith that unconsciously assumes that his incredible activity has stopped.
And I don’t think He wants us to be teachers who talk (or people who think) about what He did, and not about what He’s doing.
Those of us who teach the Bible aren’t just re-tellers of what God has done in the past. We’re harbingers of the news that God is up to new things and that those we teach can be a part of them.
Teaching isn’t just about what God did. It’s about what God is doing.
Teachwell—The What, Why, and How
Gearing up this month for a cool event we’re doing for the second time at Henderson: teachwell.
We’ve branded it as “a fun, engaging, helpful workshop designed to help you become the best Bible class teacher you can be.”
Teachwell grew out of an awareness that our church was asking people (around 70 of them every quarter) to teach our Bible classes without ever training them to do it. Sort of a “throw you in and hope you can swim” approach.
Enter teachwell. It’s a half-day workshop offered free to our members; we provide notebooks, childcare, snacks—the whole deal. And participation has been great. Last year we had over 100 of our members attend. This year, we’re shooting for more.
It’s a work in progress, to be sure. We’re still working out the kinks and tweaking it as needed. But it’s exceeded our expectations.
So, without further adieu, here are 5 reasons I think teachwell has been successful:
- It has a clearly-defined purpose.
While the idea was still freshly conceived, we asked “What 3 adjectives would we like people to use to describe their experience at teachwell?” The answer: fun, engaging, helpful.
Then, we settled on what the win would be: to develop the teachers we have and create the teachers we need.
- It’s easy to register.
The Sunday we announce it, we let people register by putting a “T” on the back of an attendance card an pass it in—an “act now” opportunity for those of us who tend to forget to do things (like register) later. After that, we provide multiple ways to register: a facebook event page, a form on our website, and calling the church office.
It’s not hard to register. It’s hard not to.
- It’s easy to attend.
We make it a half-day (not a full day) and we provide free on-site childcare.
- We do an autopsy.
Evaluation is the key to improvement. Attendees fill out feedback surveys before they leave, and we conduct post-event interviews with key people to get their perspective on what went well and what could be improved. Here’s what we came up with last year.
Then we ask ourselves these questions: Was it fun? Was it helpful? Was it engaging? Was it worth giving up a Saturday morning for? Did at least 50% of our current teachers attend? Were at least 20% of the attendees pre-teachers? How can we improve for next year?
- We go the extra mile.
Extra touches give a finished, “this is legit” vibe to the workshop. Things like a well-crafted logo, a cool venue, full-color custom-designed notebooks, well-produced videos introducing each session, quality snacks, and helpful giveaways all create an environment that piques peoples’ interest, adds value, and keeps them coming back.
Like I said, we haven’t gotten it perfect yet, but we’re excited about what this workshop is becoming. I bet your folks would be excited about something similar.
Oh—and if you’re one of our Henderson peeps, check out the facebook page and save your spot!
(Here’s the video we put together for last year:)
Why I Don’t Preach 3-Point Sermons
Occasionally college students studying ministry interview me about my work. During these conversations, the subject of preaching inevitably comes up and I find myself making a case for something I believe in strongly—something that’s near and dear to my heart.
It’s one-point preaching.
More often than not, when I get in front of people on Sunday, I’ve got one point I want to communicate. Not five. Or four. Or three.
And here’s why: If I try to communicate three things, almost nobody (including me) is going to remember all three. At best, they might remember the last point. The more I say, the less memorable everything I say becomes. Less information usually means more impact.
So I say one thing.
I decide what’s most important, figure out how to say it succinctly, cut away everything else, and then develop that one point as compellingly as I can.
This approach does two (yes, two—and I’m aware of the irony here) things:
- Promotes Quality
Three mediocre, slightly trivial points can hide behind one another. One naked point, on the other hand, demands scrutiny. If I’m only going to say one thing, I’d better make it good.
- Prevents Superficiality
With three, four, five, ten points, it’s easy to stay on the surface, state the obvious, avoid difficult questions or challenging application, and move on. After all, I’ve got other points to get to. But with a one-point lesson I’m almost forced to address questions, develop ideas, make connections, come up with thoughtful illustrations, and apply the text to real life. I’m more likely to communicate this point well, because there are no other points to hide behind.
I’m not saying the one-point approach is a magic bullet. There are some times it just doesn’t fit a given topic or text. Nor am I saying that every 3-point sermon is a failure. I’m just saying that in most cases, I think one point is the way to go.
What about you? Agree or disagree? Let me have it.
How To Tell A Story That Works
If you’re trying to communicate something, few things are more powerful than a story. Stories personalize ideas and illustrate concepts.
And they can be told in a myriad of ways.
For example, check out this 53-second ad from Google:
Telling stories is good. Telling stories creatively in ways that resonate with people’s current experience is great.
Once you know what you need to communicate, there are two questions left: What’s the story I want to use? And What’s the best way to tell it?
4 Questions Every Communicator Must Ask Before Presenting
Any time you’re preparing a presentation, there are 4 things you need to ask yourself. They’ll help shape your content, clarify your message, and ensure maximum impact.
If you can’t answer these questions concisely, you’re not ready to present.
Here they are:
- What do they need to know?
This is the bottom line. It’s the core content you want to communicate. Everything hinges on whether or not you get this across. Oh—and it’s best if you can answer this question in one sentence.
- Why do they need to know it?
Adults learn on a need-to-know basis. By answering this question (both in your preparation and in your presentation), you’re developing interest by demonstrating the importance/potential impact/centrality of what you’re communicating. Side note: Answer this question for your audience before you answer the first question and you’ll create tension that engages and compels attention.
- What do they need to do?
Here’s where you ensure your lecture/sermon/presentation makes a difference. It’s a call to action—an appeal for your audience to translate principles into practice. You need to challenge them to do something. The more specific you are, the better.
- Why do they need to do it?
Imagine a future where people actually follow through on what you’ve talked about. How would that tomorrow be different from today? Help your audience to see that. Dream a little with them here. Paint a picture of what’s at stake—inspire them to act by showing them what will change if they do.
I know—these sound pretty elementary. But I can’t tell you how many times early in my preaching and teaching I got up to speak without having answered one, two, three, …sometimes all four of these questions.
Sometimes these answers come early in your preparation, sometimes they come late. Sometimes they come easy, and sometimes they’re more stubborn. Regardless, if you work to answer them before you stand in front of your audience you’ll have done them a huge favor.
2 Rules For Teachers
Here are two rules to follow if you want to communicate well, whether you’re teaching, preaching, or writing:
- Don’t complicate what’s simple.
- Don’t oversimplify what’s complicated.
Protect simplicity and honor complexity. You’d be surprised how challenging this is to pull off.
How to Fail as a Teacher
Easy—just mimic this guy:
If you teach, preach, or write, your goal should be to communicate, not to make yourself look smart.
I’m sure this guy’s audience was specialized. But odds are yours isn’t. They’re just regular people trying to learn about God, math, management, whatever.
Jargon, overly technical terms, convoluted concepts, and sesquipedalian presentations make your audience confused and frustrated, not impressed.
The mark of a great communicator is not an audience that thinks you’re smart or educated. It’s an audience that has understood, embraced, and been radically changed by the content you’ve presented.
Lost In Translation
I recently had an extremely frustrating conversation.
The person to whom I was talking repeatedly cited things I’d previously said, while never once accurately articulating my point of view.
Funny how sometimes people can use the same words we used but communicate something entirely different than what we intended to communicate.
I walked away from that conversation thinking, I’ve never been so heavily quoted and so grossly misrepresented in all my life.
I’ve got to think God feels this way all the time.
For millennia, people have been quoting God. But how often has He been accurately represented? How many times have people used His words to communicate their sentiments?
As a Christian, and especially as a minister, I end up referring to God’s words a lot. And I never want Him to feel the way I felt after that conversation.
I don’t just want to quote God often, I want to represent Him well.