A game-changing book for me was Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley.
I had been pastoring for just over 10 years when I read this book. I had preached hundreds of sermons and had experienced marginal success, but things really began to take off after reading this book. Why? It was a revelation on the power of vulnerability.
I prepared and delivered messages like I had been taught in Bible School. I started with a scripture and expounded on 3 to 5 points. Every message would start with “turn with me in your Bibles to…” Some messages were good, but many were not. I felt justified in my approach because it was based on the Word. If the people weren’t getting it and applying it, it was their fault, not mine.
Then I read Communicating for a Change.
Andy Stanley taught a five-step delivery system. I decided to try it the very next Sunday and was shocked at the response I received from the congregation. Three weeks into using his system, I was approached by one of my leaders who said, “I don’t know what has gotten into you lately, Pastor Kelly, but your preaching over the last couple of weeks has been on fire!”
The best part wasn’t the compliment. The best part was that I began to see life change in our people as they began to apply what was being taught.
What is the five-step system? Andy Stanely simply listed it as:
Stanley encouraged his readers to not start with the scripture in the message. Why?
Many messages miss the mark because they are providing answers to questions no one is asking.
He encouraged communicators to start each message by firstly defining the problem, and when you do, make it personal. Begin with a personal story of a struggle or question you have had. This vulnerability endears the audience to you as a communicator because they begin to relate to you and your struggle. This is the “Me” portion of the system.
Many messages miss the mark because they are providing answers to questions no one is asking. Click To Tweet
After being vulnerable, Stanley then encouraged communicators to ask their audience one of these questions: “Have you ever felt the same way?” or, “Have you ever struggled with this as well?” This is the “We” portion of the system. It is a way to make the defined problem more personal. When a communicator is open and honest first, it makes it easier for people to admit that they might be struggling with the same problem or question.
The next step in the system is to provide a solution. This is the “God” part of the system because the solution is always God, Jesus, or a truth in the Bible. A proper introduction creates tension and the scripture provides relief because it has the answer. When preparing a message, it is wise to start with a scripture but then ask what problem does this scripture solve? Always present the scripture as a solution to a problem.
I began to spend a lot more time working on my introductions and, in particular, opening myself up by becoming vulnerable with my congregation about the thoughts, worries, struggles, and concerns I battled with. When I saw that people identified with them as well, I knew I had clearly defined the problem. Solving these problems with examples from the Bible further allowed people to see that they weren’t the only ones struggling and that the Bible was their source for answers.
Once people see the answer, the next question is easy; “What are you going to do about it?” That’s the “You” part of the system. It’s the action step. The response. Sometimes I even assign a homework assignment for the congregation to do over the following week to drive the point home even more.
The last part of the system is the “We” part. This is the vision casting portion of the message. It’s simply stating, “Imagine if we all overcame this problem, fear, or struggle.”
The system is quite simple. I’d encourage every communicator to read Stanley’s book and try his delivery system. It works. But for me, it wasn’t just the system that changed everything. It was the fact that I became more vulnerable as a leader. I always had a fear that if I admitted my fears, struggles and concerns, people wouldn’t trust or follow me anymore. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, when I became open and vulnerable, it endeared people to me as their pastor even more and made me a much more effective and trustworthy communicator. We’re in the struggle together.
I encourage every leader to step out and take the risk of being more vulnerable with your people. The results may surprise you as they did me.