If you’ve ever felt the fingers of fear creep up your spine, you may have been home alone late at night and heard your floors creak. Or maybe someone asked you to write (or worse, present from stage) a message for a women’s ministry.
For most, public speaking falls right below the fear of imminent death. Up there with public speaking is the agony of having to write anything more than, “I hate to write.” Nevertheless, you’ve been asked to prepare a message—and you said, “Yes.”
Whether you get the call to write or present a message, let me relieve you of some of your fears with a simple three-step template. In today’s post, we’ll cover step one.
Step 1: Prep Your Work
My daughter urges me to take the time to prep the walls and windows before I paint. One day I may listen to her and save myself the vast headaches that come with scraping paint off every surface on which it doesn’t belong.
Similarly, I prefer to jump straight into the writing stage, but prep work pays off. Listen to my daughter if you won’t listen to me. The following six prep steps make the writing phase easier.
All kingdom work depends on prayer. God alone is the source of all wisdom and power. Prayer takes our eyes off our abilities (and inadequacies) and fixes our faith onto Him. Without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and in the hearts of our audience, our words will produce nothing of lasting value.
Prayer brings us to the throne room and reminds us that all we do is for God’s glory, not our own. Only He truly knows the message our audience needs, and only He can change them through our words. We can trust Him with the results. Pray as God leads you. Below are a few requests you may want to make as you pray (Eph. 3:14–21; Job 12:13; James 1:5; Prov. 2:6; 2 Tim. 2:7; Phil. 4:6).
- Pray for yourself (the writer/communicator) that God will work in you and give you . . .
- Wisdom to know what to communicate to help meet your audience’s needs.
- Humility to speak or write for God’s glory, not your own.
- Ability to communicate clearly.
- Pray for your audience that God will work in them and give them . . .
- A teachable heart that’s willing to learn.
- An understanding heart that’s able to discern and grasp your message.
- Conviction and strength to respond to your message with positive action.
2. Determine Your Main Point
The best messages have one main point. An avalanche of excellent points will quickly slip out of their memory.
Summarize your message in a teaser statement. If it takes longer than ten seconds to share it (go ahead, time it), you’re either offering too many main points, or you don’t really know what your message is about. No matter how worthy an issue may be, if it doesn’t directly support your main point, set it aside for another message.
Along with this article, I’ll share an easy three-step template for creating an effective message that walks you through how to prep your work, work your prep, and trust God for the results. (It took me less than nine seconds to read this teaser—my summary statement.) You’ll notice that each step and their sub-points in this article support my main point.
3. Know Your Audience
No matter what they say, one size does not fit all. Tailor your message to fit your specific audience.
I once used a famous advertising slogan from my childhood as the foundation of a message to an audience of my peers. They, too, had grown up with the commercial and laughed as they repeated the slogan with me. My “biblical version” of it helped the ladies remember and respond to my main point. Months later, I shared the same teaching with a much younger audience. None of them had heard the slogan before. My message flopped from the start. Know your audience.
Avoid or clarify jargon that might confuse or lose your audience. In a biblical message, avoid “Christianese” and assume your audience isn’t familiar with the Bible passage you’re discussing.
4. Answer Three Important Questions
Our answers to the following three questions keep us focused on our main point as we write. Sometimes the answers to these questions lead us to change our main point to an even better one.
- Know: What do I want my audience to know?
What facts do your audience need to know about your topic? In this article, I promised to share specific steps to help you write an effective Christian message. If I only encouraged you to believe you can, but never showed you how, you’d feel cheated.
In a biblical message, note exactly what’s taking place in the passage of Scripture as well as the truths that are being taught. (Stick to the facts. We’ll get to interpretation next.) Briefly explain what they need to know without overloading them with too many facts or background information.
If it’s a how-to message, what facts will ensure your audience has the information they need to succeed? Anticipate questions they may ask and answer them in your message.
- Believe: What do I want my audience to believe?
Facts don’t move people to action. Beliefs about the facts do. When your audience walks away from your message, what do you want them to believe about your topic in hopes they’ll act on it? Because of this article, I hope my audience will believe that even if they don’t like to write, they can write an effective message and now have the tools to do it.
- Respond: How do I want my audience to respond?
We can wow our audience with brilliant writing or speaking, but if they walk away no different than before, we’ve only entertained them. But if our audience comes to the end of our message knowing how to respond to what we’ve shared, we’ve placed them before the door that leads to transformation.
Create a list of practical ways your audience can respond as a result of your message. You’ll draw from it during the writing phase. If your topic is more how-to (like this one), determine actionable steps they can take to implement what they’ve learned. As a result of this article, I want readers to download the template and use it with confidence whenever they need to create a message.
5. Share Stories
Stories stick in our memories and touch our hearts. What illustrations or stories can you share to help bring your message alive?
Personal stories help our audience relate to us—as long as we don’t make ourselves the hero. If we do, we risk coming across as arrogant and/or as someone who’s arrived. We want our audience to recognize us as fellow travelers coming alongside them on the journey of faith rather than peering down on them from our lofty positions. As much as is possible and appropriate to your topic, point your audience to stories about Christ, the greatest hero.
If you’re teaching the Bible, teach truth with the Truth—teach with the Bible. Many Christian messages are little more than an inspirational talk propped up and “endorsed” by verses. We want our stories to lead our audience into God’s Word rather than using the Bible as an opportunity to tell our stories.
Faith to believe doesn’t come from hearing what we have to say. It comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Like Jesus—the best storyteller—let’s use the power of story to draw others to God and His saving Word.
6. Create a Sticky Statement
A sticky statement is a short sentence that’s clever, compelling, and memorable. It’s a jazzier version of your ten second summary statement. The following sticky statements and the truths they illustrate have stuck with me for years.
If you don’t have a verse, you only have an opinion.
Suffering is never for nothing.
Sticky statements often reveal themselves during the writing phase as we tweak various options. In this article, my ten-second summary statement influenced my headings, which led me to the final version of my sticky statement.
My ten-second summary statement: In this article, I share an easy three-step template for creating an effective message that walks you through how to prep your work, work your prep, and trust God for the results.
My sticky statement: Prep your work and work your prep. God will take care of the results.
Next week, we’ll get into developing the meat of your message. Need homework? Download the template and start working your prep!