by Josh Pease
We’ve all been there.
You’re sitting on a plane, and the helpful flight attendants are helpfully helping you understand how to survive a water landing.And what are you doing? You’re completely tuning them out. No, don’t lie, you totally are. You’re reading your book, or actively ignoring the person next to you, or stealth-listening to your iPod.
Think about this for a moment. These people have life-saving information – information VITAL to everyone’s survival – and it all couldn’t be less interesting. Why? Because you’re convinced you already know everything you need to know, and that they have nothing useful to teach you.
Those of us who speak about Jesus have this same obstacle every single week. We’re standing before a crowd and speaking for 30-40 minutesand in that time we are communicating nothing less than the hope of Jesus – a life that matters now, a life with God for all eternity.
But the mistake we often make is the same mistake the flight attendants make: presuming your audience will listen because 1) this is important to you and 2) hey, EVERYONE wants to know this stuff, right?
Unfortunately, no. Most of our audience is coming to church with varying degrees of interest. There are some who are passionate about Jesus and desperate to learn. You could be doing a verse by verse exegesis of the Book of Judithand they’d be fascinated.
But the truth is most people aren’t absolutely convinced they want to listen to you. If we’re honest, WE aren’t always convinced WE want to listen when OTHER people preach. So how do we make sure that we don’t end up like a flight attendant? We tell stories.
By that I don’t mean “tell a bunch of anecdotes.” What I’m suggesting is that we make our entire messages a story – one that has a beginning, middle and end. My plan is to write a few posts about how to do this over the next few weeks, but to wrap up this one, here is one thought on how to begin communicating a message as a story:
EXPOSE THE GAP – the mistake too many communicators make is to rush to God’s solution before explaining there is even a problem. Going back to the flight attendant analogy, imagine if one of them said “we know you’ve seen this a thousand times, but pay attention because we found out our OLD way of doing things causes people to die.” No one on that plane would miss a word. Why? Because the flight attendant exposed a gap. She let people know“there’s something you don’t know … but you are going to want to.”
Too often speakers say “today we’re going to talk on what God says about …” This is the surest way to shut off someone’s brain, because your audience already thinks they know where you’re going. Instead, expose the gap. If you’re talking about sex, talk about how hard it is to resist sexual temptation, and how impossible that seems. If you’re telling people the good news of Jesus, spend a LOT of time pointing out how broken and painful a world we live in. This happens up front, within the first 5-8 minutes.
If Jesus said it, that means we need to hear it. But your audience doesn’t believe that right away, so prove it to them.
When we help people see “you’re currently here, but you want to be here” we’ve introduced a dramatic tension into their lives. We’ve said “you live in constant stress and anxiety … is there any way out of that?”Or, “you’ve been living your life pursuing money for a long time, but you’re not any happier … could there be another way?”
And by exposing a pre-existing conflict in their lives, we’ve primed them to go on a journey toward resolution. We’ve hooked them into the story of their life, and how Jesus could radically transform them.
And after that, they won’t want to miss one word you say.
Step 1: forget the person you’re with. SAVE YOURSELF! I mean, I know it makes sense, but no matter how you say it that’s some cold logic right there.
You know who you are.
 Or if it’s me, I will magically, and without trying, go 42-46 minutes every single time. It’s weird.
 I wonder if anyone has ever taught exegetically through an apocryphal book?
 I should mention here that I owe a large debt to both Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Made to Stick by the Chip and Dan Heath. Both books are insanely good.