Wisdom is often gleaned from unlikely places. I guess Proverbs gives us good remit for that. Naturally Christians still need to filter it through a biblical worldview, around the wisdom of the cross. But I reckon we should be wisdom-expectant as we look out at the world. And the other day I spotted some ripe wisdom growing in an unusual place, which I think has potential crossover for those of us involved in preaching and teaching.
It was over at Hootsuite, a social media resource site, where Evan Lapage was writing about Calls To Action (CTAs). In business-speak these are essentially ‘outputs’ for a product/website that you want customers to engage with and follow through on, i.e. you might want them to read why your product is amazing and the CTA would be to then sign up on an online form at the bottom of the page. Lapage argues that a website should have “a minimal number of calls-to-action. Ideally, it would only have one.”
And then he quotes Shawn Parkinson, a Hootsuite designer, who offers this nugget:
“A CTA is kind of like throwing a ball at somebody. If you throw three balls at the same time, they probably won’t catch any. Make one really good throw.”
You can see where this is going, but isn’t this true for our Bible teaching? We do CTAs all the time as teachers and preachers – essentially every big take-home point or main line of application is a CTA.
And the point is that when communicating I can have the best content in the world, but if I don’t give people a way of picking up that content, of holding onto it, i.e. a CTA, then I’ll probably fail to really communicate for life change. Lapage is arguing that the chances are that people will take away just one thing. That’s just what we do. Serve up much more than that and it’ll probably just be left on the church carpet and won’t come home. Give me three points and no overall connecting point? Well, even with the best will in the world, I’ll probably just leave with diddlysquat.
Naturally as preachers of God’s word we care about our content, but do I care about my communication? How crazy to spend hours digging into the Bible, rightly working hard at being faithful handlers of God’s truth, but to not then give time to considering how we communicate that content.
If you throw three balls at the same time, I may not catch any. Make one really good throw.
So what does that look like?
…That would mean I work hard to articulate what I’m presenting from the Bible in one main point, perhaps using a phrase-that-stays or a sticky idea.
…That would mean I show how that point clearly, tangibly applies to real life. Rather than presenting a point that is just stating something, I present a point that calls for action. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15, rather than presenting “Paul argues for the resurrection life to come”, I instead present as “When you know you only live twice, what have you got to lose now”.
…That would mean I don’t overload on the content-front (and thus I resist the temptation to assume everyone takes substantial notes and will read through all of them before Monday morning).
And this isn’t about dumbing down. We’re not limiting ourselves to one throw because people have forgotten how to juggle. For a start, we’re not natural jugglers! But more importantly (and to stretch the metaphor) juggling isn’t a natural form of throwing either. What I mean is: this is how communication works. When you typically communicate it is much more like a good strong throw than it is like inviting someone to juggle: it is a message with a (sole) point.
And I think that’s how God has designed the Bible to work too. Bible books have purposes: each author is being used by God to communicate a big overall message.
Of course that purpose will have different dimensions to it. A Bible book will be able to be broken up into smaller sections, chapters and verses. These will work as building blocks that need to be communicated to get to the overall point, i.e. subpoints that build together to take you to the main CTA. Likewise these sections can be taken as separate sermons/talks (what we call expositional preaching), and will each have their own unique CTA (effectively a subpoint in the book overall). Some books will be more logical, some will work more like a canvas, depending on the genre. And, of course, a point will also apply in different ways for different people.
But the main point, the CTA, is there, running through the portion of Scripture like a message in a stick of rock. So, in each piece of communication, make one really good throw.
What do you think? Does our preaching and teaching expect people to juggle? Do we neglect communication? I’m resolved to work on my preaching and teaching and I’d love your input, below.
The full article from Evan Lapage, 5 Snarky (but Simple) Design Tips That Will Immediately Improve Your Content, can be found here.