Here is a hard truth: Most preachers are “big picture” people. They have a ton of information, they see how all the pieces fit together, and they know how important it is to see that “big picture.”
Sadly, this is one of the biggest obstacles that, as a communicator, you have to overcome, but overcome it you must. The good news is this: it’s not that hard. You can actually become a fantastic communicator if you know how to write just one sentence.
What Usually Happens
Often, when a preacher is putting together a sermon, he maybe picks a subject, or perhaps focuses on a verse or passage. Research is done, a general outline is made, and the preacher gets up and talks until he finishes. Rabbit trails are taken. Points are made. People go home.
This approach often results in the kind of scenario that is the foundation of one of my favorite “church” jokes:
A man overslept one Sunday morning and, by the time he had showered, dressed, and driven to church it was almost time for dismissal. However, when he pulled into the parking lot, no one was walking to their cars. He quietly stepped into the church through the back doors and saw the pastor preaching in full-force. The man eased up to one of the ushers and quietly asked, “how long, do you think, until he’s finished.” The usher looked at him and said, “He finished 45 minutes ago, he just doesn’t know it.”
Now, the merits of that joke’s funniness can be debated, What can’t be debated is the truth of it. Often – too often – speakers (because preachers aren’t the only ones guilty of this) get up to speak without a clear goal. When asked what they’re going to talk about, they might say:
- I’m going to talk about parenting.
- I’m going to talk about tithing.
- I’m going to talk about the importance of Jesus as the Shepherd in Psalm 23, as understood through the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with parallels found in Jeremiah, and what that means for us today.
None of those are good answers to the question. Why? Because they are just too vague. Even the third one is so broad, that I can guarantee you sitting through that sermon will be painful.
That One Sentence
I mentioned a secret to becoming a fantastic communicator, and it’s this: The Ugly Sentence
I am an adherent, a devotee, a disciple, an evangelist, if you will, of the SCORRE Method. Going to the SCORRE Conference absolutely changed my life. Now, this isn’t an ad for the SCORRE Conference (but you can register using this link or the one in the sidebar for $100 off using the code JMARLER), but it was at the SCORRE Conference that I learned about The Ugly Sentence. This sentence can be found, even if never spoken or written, in every great speech you have ever heard. (Yes, even if the person writing the speech never heard of SCORRE. It’s there… trust me.)
It’s formed like this:
(Every) __________ can/should __________ by/because __________.
In this sentence you create a conduit through which every word you speak in your sermon should flow. You have a great story about that time you went fishing and caught a snake? Great! Does it serve the ugly sentence? No? It’s out.
The Ugly Sentence (rightly called the Objective Statement in the SCORRE Method) gives laser focus not only to your preparation, but to your delivery as well.
- Every person should live a generous life because of these 5 benefits.
- Every person can live a full life by answering these 3 questions.
- Every woman can have a stressless day by repeating these 4 affirmations throughout the day.
And my personal favorite of all time:
- Every church should navigate their journey of growth on these 3 ships.
What To Do With All That Ugly
Once you have The Ugly Sentence, preparation for your sermon (speech, presentation, article, paper, book, etc.) becomes easy (or at least easier) because everything you think about is at the service of that one goal: to drive home the point to every person in the congregation that they can/should do this thing by doing this/for these reasons.
Now, in case I’m misunderstood, especially in sermon preparation, you have to be engaged with God, listening to Him, and ready to respond to what He would have you say. And it is certainly true that God can give you a great sermon on the spot. But those are rarities.
When you get up to speak you need to have a single message you want your listeners to take away from that presentation. You have to have a point.
Otherwise… what’s the point?