One of the best books I’ve read in the last few years has been Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s chock-full of well-researched goodness. One of the most intriguing studies they cite is The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads. If you read the article (or just the summary in Made to Stick), you learn that if you make an ad using one of a handful of templates, it will be much better (and perceived to be more creative) than if you put a group of people in a room and tell them to be as creative as they can.
Ever since I stumbled upon that study, I’ve been thinking about how it applies to sermons. There are lots of ways to structure sermons, but only a few seem to work really well.
As a result, I’ve compiled a list of sermon templates. When I’m preaching, I try to think through these templates to see if one naturally matches my subject, and I use as that the framework that I build the message around.
Template #1: Classic Expository Preaching
Simply use the outline/plot of the text as your preaching outline. This template is transcendent when done well, and painful when done poorly. It’s probably the most common template out there.
Template #2: Practical
In Acts 2 Peter structures his sermon around the answers to three questions.
- So what?
- Now what?
Template #3: How To
One of the simplest ways to structure a message:
- Tell them why.
- Show them how.
Template #4: Solve The Problem (Andy Stanley)
- Create Attention: “here’s a problem that needs to be resolved
- Integrate Scripture: “fortunately, we’re not the first ones to wrestle with this”
- Clarify The Significance: “here’s why this answer matters”
- Apply The Concept: “and here’s how to make it work in real life”
Template #5: Pronouns (Andy Stanley)
- Me (Orientation): Introduce yourself to the audience and to your personal experience of the problem you’re talking about.
- We (Identification): Show how the audience has the same (or a sufficiently similar) problem.
- God (Illumination): Tell them what the Bible says about how to respond to this problem.
- You (Application): Call for a personal response
- We (Inspiration): Explain how things would be change if we all responded in obedience.
Template #6: Life Change (Rick Warren)
- Establish a need
- Give personal examples
- Present a plan
- Offer hope
- Call for commitment
Template #7: The Story With a Punch (Inductive)
- Tell an engaging, carefully-chosen story (usually funny).
- Bring the surprise punchline from the Bible.
Template #8: The Question & Answer Outline (Thomas Aquinas)
- Make a bold claim (or ask a tough question and give an answer)
- Anticipate the objections raised by your claim/answer
- Answer the objections
- Repeat steps 2 & 3 as long as necessary to establish your original claim.
I hope these serve you well. I should hasten to add that these aren’t based on research — they’re the byproduct of observation and of what I learned at a few conferences. In other words, you can take what the article said about advertisements to the bank. You should only take my advice to the lemonade stand.
Chris Tilling helpfully points out
that ellipses can mangle meaning. Consider:
“As for yourself, you shall … come back here … smoking … pot”
Genesis 15:15–17, NRSV
Ellipses can clarify as well as mislead, of course. But an abundance of them makes me nervous. Always ask yourself, “What’s hiding behind those three little dots?”
Freshmen have arrived on campus this week, and we’ve had a blast meeting them. Our strategy isn’t super-sophisticated — we just set up a table on White Plaza and beckon students over to chat with us. We also give them free stuff (like popcorn and these really cool eco-friendly shopping bags).
The photo on the right is me and a couple of our hardworking students.
But there’s been an unexpectedly cool development. The table next to us has been for the Stanford Educational Studies Program (they’re trying to recruit some freshmen to teach high school students stuff) and is manned by one of our students, Ben. Ben works with really cold stuff — about as close to absolute zero as humanity has been able to get (millikelvins, if you’re curious). So something like liquid nitrogen is like hot chocolate to him — it’s at a mere 320 Fahrenheit below zero. I know 320 below sounds cold, but most of the universe is much, much colder than that — just not the part that we inhabit.
liquid nitrogen out to White Plaza and makes ice cream with them
So Ben brings these containers (called dours) of
in front of people. It’s very eye-catching. Massive amounts of fog are generated. And the resulting ice cream is yummy.
Anyway, the drink for my lunch had gotten warm, so I asked Ben if we could use some liquid nitrogen to cool it off. It worked like a charm. Plus it was fun to do. Extremely fun.
That morning I had already been thinking that I had one of the best jobs in the world. And then I get to play with liquid nitrogen. While doing my job. Campus ministry rocks.
if you’re reading this on Facebook click through to the original to see the pictures
We just moved from our old apartment to a house elsewhere in Menlo Park. So far we love it! The kids are especially jazzed about the yard and the ensuing prospects for outdoor play.
A big thank you to those who helped us move!
Props to Ben, Katie, Alan, John, Desirae, Irene, Chris, Femi, Ethan, Lindsey, Scott (way to serve with your postoperative self), Jen and Aaron. Lindsey and Sue deserve special mention because they each watched our kids part of the day, which meant Paula and I could both get stuff done. And a special shout-out to Emily who was planning to help but had to bail due to a last-minute medical emergency (get well soon).
Highlights from the move:
- Noticing that a disproportionate number of students decided to wear their Chi Alpha shirts for the move. My heuristic was to wear a shirt I didn’t care about… which makes me wonder how our students really feel about our shirts. 😉
- Happy Donuts for breakfast. Yum. Bonus: watching Ben get a sugar rush.
- Hearing my name used as a virtual curse word when people realized how many boxes of books they would have to carry. They love the erudite sermons, they just hate the way I prepare for them. 🙂
- Backing a U-Haul into my narrow driveway. Yikes!
- Chris getting scratched by a rose bush and me (for once) having the right line at the right time, “He doesn’t need a band-aid — he needs a Y chromosome.”
- New York Pizza for lunch. Two King Kongs and a Large. Excellent.
- Having our internet activated on the day we moved in. Sweet!
- Our new neighbor dropping off brownies. How very kind.
- Having our super-studly moving crew stay to help us assemble and lay out furniture. Way above and beyond the call of duty. THANK YOU!
- Costco Hot Dogs for supper. Those dogs are delicious. And huge.
- Double bonus: watching Ben cuddle up after a hard day’s work and drift into la-la land.
For those to whom it matters, our new address is 1032 Ringwood Ave, Menlo Park, CA 94025.