message prep

Does Your Message Have A Mission Statement? 

Imagine your church without a mission statement.

Would your church continue to become more and more effective? Effective at what exactly? Without an objective a church wanders aimlessly. It has no criteria to help it make decisions, no way to say yes to one idea or no to another. It struggles to rally support, it’s members have difficulty describing what makes it such a great church.

A mission statement provides the purpose, it provides the focus and it provides parameters to keep the organization moving forward.

Now, imagine your message without a mission statement. Can your message, your weekly sermon, become more and more effective? Effective at what exactly?

I know what you’re thinking….what the heck is a message mission statement? But before we answer that, let’s look give sermon prep some context.

Most of the pastors I interview say that the thing they most enjoy about message preparation is the study of scripture. They love diving deep into scripture and uncovering something they had missed the previous 100 times they read it.

Unfortunately this personal journey can often then dictate what we preach. We uncover something we find fascinating and assume that’s what our audience needs to hear…when it’s more likely that what we uncovered is what we needed to hear/learn.

Recalibrate our minds to move from personal study and discovery to the mind of a shepherd and leader.
— StevenJBarker

So, before we begin to write a given message we need to recalibrate our minds to move from personal study and discovery to the mind of a shepherd and leader.  

As soon as we feel like we’ve completed our research for a message we can stop and finish this simple sentence:

"As a result of this message, my audience will…."

Before we begin to write our intro or any of our points, we must first decide where we are heading. What is our mission statement? Why are we taking time out of our day to prepare or asking people to come and listen?

It may help to understand what makes your local audience different.

  • What does your local audience already understand about the scripture you are preaching on?
  • How are they living out this part of their faith?
  • How are they struggling with this part of their faith?
  • If they aren’t sure they believe in Christ yet, how will they interpret your message?
  • How do they begin to apply the biblical truth to their lives?
  • What does it mean to follow Christ as it relates to your content?

Do your research. Stop. Then, ask what does my specific local audience need to hear? Then speak to that.

My home church’s mission statement is this: “Help people find and follow Jesus.” The question for each weekend service then becomes “How does this message help people find and follow Jesus?” If we can’t answer that question (clearly) we are probably wasting peoples time.

Question of the day: 

What is the mission statement for this weekend's message? 

As a result of this weekend's message, my audience will....

How To Engage Your Cerebral Cortex During Sermon Prep

In 1981, a man named Roger Sperry won an award. It wasn’t the first award this star athlete had won was one awarded for an entirely different reason. In 1981 Roger Sperry won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for something that has changed how we think about "how we think".

Sperry taught us that we have a Cerebral Cortex, divided into two major hemispheres. These two hemispheres performed an exhaustive range of intellectual tasks, called cortical skills (including: Logic, Rhythm, Lines, Color, Lists, Daydreaming, Numbers, Imagination, Word, Gestalt [seeing the whole picture]).  Sperry's research showed that the more these activities were integrated, the more each intellectual skill would enhance the performance of other intellectual areas.

The question then becomes how do you engage logic, color, lines, lists numbers, imagination and words? How do you engage your entire cerebral cortex for more vibrant brainstorming and preparation?

I’m not sure if you’re like me, but I’m not a very linear thinker when I prepare to teach. My research tends to take me down rabbit trails, and more often, into what seems like the perfect analogy to make my point (only to later realize the idea was half baked). And while that’s not necessarily bad when trying to create a full bodied message, organizing those thoughts while maintaining that creative state of mind seems to be a challenge.

That was, until I discovered the simple art of mind mapping.

Maybe you learned to mind map years ago or maybe this is a new concept to you, either way I believe mind mapping can fully engage your cortical skills and more fully engage your brain with a few simple steps.

In fact, in 2009 R. Al-Jarf did a study “Enhancing freshman students’ writing skills with a mind mapping software” and showed significant post test differences between experimental and control groups as a result of using mind-mapping software. Not only did experimental students make higher gains, they became faster at generating and organizing ideas for their writing.

Mind maps also give you just enough structure to allow your mind to focus without restricting you to the point of frustration.

So how do you get started?

1. Pick a Canvas

This could be simply a whiteboard with some colored markers or you could invest in something a little more mobile like an app.

My personal favorite is a Mac and iOS app called MindNode [link].

2. Pick your Subject

This should be the theme, the central verse or the specific topic you’re message is tackling. This is your starting point, the focal point on your map.

3. Layout your Structure

Your three main branches are the three basic elements of any message.

The Problem

This is the branch where you attach every “twig” of an idea that will help your audience understand the problem. It may include a personalized story highlighting your own experience with the subject at hand. It should also include examples of how different segments of your audience is likely experiencing the problem (see "The 1 Question You Forget To Ask Before You Preach").

The Teaching

This branch is packed with ideas, context and your bottom line. Ideas may include stories, analogies, and antidotes. Context will include the possible scriptures you might reference in your teaching. Adding them here doesn’t mean they will end up in your final product but they help you engage scripture from multiple angles. If you’ve already created a One Page Series Plan (see "Create A Killer Series") you’ll already have content to get your research started.

This branch is also the place where you can begin to craft that perfectly word-smithed bottom line (which never seems to come out right the first try). Don’t get into to sucked into the word-smithing right away. Write down a few ideas and let them live as twigs on this branch.

The Application

If you’ve already started to answer the question “What do you want them to do?” (See "The Most Under Recognized Ingredient in a Powerful Message") you can plug in some of those next steps here. How can your audience apply what you are saying? As you created examples in “The Problem” branch, you can start to offer the next steps here in “The Application” branch.

4. Get Started

Just like writing; your first draft isn’t about editing. It’s about getting all the great ideas out of your head. Editing comes later when you’re ready for your critical mind to kick in.

Jump around and add your ideas as you dive into your research and when you’re done, you’ll have a treasure trove of fantastic content to move into your writing stage. Not only will you have your ideas organized, they will be organized in a logic flow rather than just in the order you discovered them in your research.

The 1 Question You Forget To Ask Before You Preach

When writing any message there are a number of questions that need to be answered. What do you want your audience to know? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? What scripture do they need to understand? What problem are you highlighting? What theme are you developing? ...just to name a few.

But the most important question, the most overlooked question, must be answered first. And the answer to that question will change how you approach every other facet of your message. 

The question is this: Who are you speaking to?

The answer to that question isn’t a simple one and the more detail you can provide, the more personalized your message can become.

If we were to jump on the phone and I asked you that simple question, how would you answer?

(I encourage you to write the answers to these questions down every time you begin your message prep. In fact, grab a piece of paper and follow along right now.)

Let's unpack that simple question with some detail. 

How old are they?

This makes a difference. Their stage of life changes how they view your topic. Their life experience impacts their perspective and their reaction.

For example, if you speak about parenting, are there only young parents in the room? What if there are grandparents present? What about teens? How does what you’re saying impact them?

What gender are they?

How does your message apply to men? Does it apply differently to women?

Where are they in their faith journey?

This question is incredibly important and how you answer this question will eventually describe the audience you attract. If you decide that your audience consists of maturing believers and you speak only to how they can apply what you’re teaching, you will eventually only be speaking to maturing believers. People exploring faith will feel out of place and likely decide that what you are speaking about is out of reach.

On the contrary, if you only speak about issues that people exploring faith are dealing with, your maturing believers will eventually loose interest assuming that what you are saying doesn’t apply to them.

Understand that everyone is at a different part of their faith journey and speak to each one.

What socioeconomic factors are they dealing with?

Socioeconomics can effect the points of pain your audience feels. If you only use examples from one group it can be hard for another to relate. You might be dealing with the same core issue, but how it manifests itself may be different.

What is their family life/home life like?

Family and home life create the context for most people’s lives. Are they coming from a broken home? Are they coming from a stable home? Who’s working? Is it just mom, dad and the kids at home? Are their other parties involved (grandparents, roommates, etc)?

Where do they fit in the family?

How does your message apply to Dads? Does it apply differently to their children? And what if they are sitting next to each other…which they most likely are. Are you speaking to them individually or as a family unit?

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a valuable place to start. Most importantly, understanding your audience is the difference between speaking to the group and speaking to the individual.

Understanding your audience is the difference between speaking to the group and speaking to the individual.
— StevenJBarker

Applying this to your message prep:

Before you write any message, clarify who your audience is. Understand them in detail and write it downl. Do this before you begin your message prep. Then jump in to your regular routine. 

When you get to your final product, review it through the eyes of your audience. As you rehearse, imagine you are speaking to specific individuals representing the "list" you created prior to your prep. Then make the necessary adjustments as you go. 

Answering that "most important question" will help create a message that will meet them where they are and help each member of your audience taking own spiritual next step. And that's what it's all about. 

Question of the day: What other questions do you ask to better understand your audience makeup?