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 Most Under Recognized Ingredient in a Powerful Message

Have you ever picked up a book and had a tough time putting it down? Ever wonder what makes it a “page turner”? It’s the space between the problem and where the author is taking you. In fiction it’s the distance between what the hero wants and where he is now, in self help, it’s the distance between your problem and the solution the author is going to provide. 

Your audience has those same gaps—we all do. Those gaps drive our attention and energy. 

The GAP is what makes a sermon work. 

Stop Asking Them to “Join The Conversation”


Stop asking your audience to “join the conversation.” Honestly, shouldn’t you be the one joining? Sure, sometimes you’re the one to highlight the issue or the one to uncover something that your tribe needs to talk about. But asking someone to join the conversation only alludes to social proof, plus it implies that they aren’t already a part of it. It suggests that they didn’t already find it important but that they should now. That’s not really what you were trying to get across, was it?

Instead, shouldn’t we as authors, teachers, thought leaders be the one who’s joining the conversation? Should we be the one who’s paying attention to the problems and issues our audience/tribe is dealing with/thinking about/concerned about?

Asking someone to “join the conversation” is a call to action, but it’s a pathetic one. Asking someone to take action by merely talking about an issue or idea is the absolute lowest common denominator one can find. That’s like wrapping up an enthusiastic presentation and saying to your audience “Thank you for your time, for your attention, and for making a difference. Stick around and let’s chat.” Sure, one or two people might want to talk, but you missed the opportunity to have a much bigger impact. The debate hungry audience members/readers will “join the conversation,” but I doubt creating debate was your ultimate goal. It may be something you enjoy but none of us are ultimately satisfied with debate, we want action. We want our audience to buy a product, get involved in an issue, or even make a decision to change their life.

We don’t mind if debate is a rest stop on the way to taking action, but it can’t be the end of the journey!

So in your next speech, presentation, blog post or article, commit to a stronger call to action. In fact start there, commit to knowing what you want your audience to do before your even start. Ask yourself: “Why am I writing this? What do I want my audience to do after reading/listening?” Define your destination before you start. If their is something worth debating, it’s going to happen all by itself. You might as well take a deep breath and ask for something bigger!

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Article originally appeared on Medium.com  @stevenjbarker