Compass is my husband’s nickname. When traveling, he almost always takes the scenic, tree-lined, long winding gravel roads. His passengers are unfamiliar with the route or his next turn, but even if we are in the middle of what appears to be nowhere, somehow Paul can navigate us to our desired location without using a map.
He can guide us on these adventurous routes because he has an internal compass that keeps him aware of his position relative to his endpoint. Much like a writer who keeps True North in mind can guide her reader on a beautiful path that enhances the pleasure of reading while ensuring that the audience arrives at the right conclusion.
In ministry, the Word is our compass. There is no shortcut. There is no room to stray from the truth because if we do there are consequences. When we add too much of our own commentary, without check, we open the door for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The tighter our message clings directly to the Word of God, the more powerful it will become in the lives of those who are along for the ride.
In addition to a compass, most of us need a map to get to the right location. One way to map your message is using the process of Homiletics. I learned Homiletics from Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) International. It is a method to outline scripture with the intention of gleaning the main points and using the truths to teach others or go deeper in personal study. I highly recommend you study the process of homiletics as you develop your ministry messages. Here are some high-level lessons you can begin to apply now:
- Compass – Pray for wisdom and understanding. The Holy Spirit always guides to True North.
- Map – Read the whole passage through quickly for an overview of the material; read it again slowly, seeking deeper understanding. This creates memory traces of the territory, mapping it in your mind.
- Landmarks – Make note of the landmarks in the content of the passage. Re-read quickly to gain context, at the same time highlight and make note of places, people, key concepts, and repeated words and phrases.
- Road signs or Divisions. Based on the content you have highlighted and noted, divide the content into 1 to 3, not more than 4 sections of related information. Write a sentence for each division that encapsulates the main points while making them locatable, much like a road sign highlights the divisions of a city – exit 77b for northeast Grand Rapids.
- You are here! The Subject Sentence anchors the location of the passage in the Bible. Now that you have your divisions of related content, write a subject sentence for the overall passage. Limit your subject sentence to 10 words or less, using keywords that make the passage locatable in the Bible. Also, be sure that your subject sentence hits on the main idea of the passage.
- The arrival point is your Aim – Pray for God to reveal wisdom and understanding of what you are to learn and teach from this passage. Review the divisions and subject sentences to glean the aim of the passage. The aim will be worded in such a way ‘to cause the audience to’ take action on x, y, or z. For example, to cause the audience to learn repentance is a turning away from a former sin pattern.
- Application Question – where the rubber meets the road. Develop a question for each division that points the audience to apply the Aim of the message to their life now (not later).
I have included a small sample of scripture. While this is not a perfect example, it will provide you with an idea of how to get started with your message map using scripture outlining.
Sample Scripture Outlining: Genesis 26:34-27:29
26:34-35 At 40 years old Esau has 2 Hittite wives who cause Rebekah and Isaac grief
27:1-4 Isaac is old, sends Esau to hunt and prepare tasty food so that he may bless Esau
27:5-10 Rebekah intervenes on Jacob’s behalf; orders Jacob to “do what I tell you” so that Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau.
27:11-17 Rebekah dresses Jacob in goat’s skins and Esau’s clothing; prepares tasty meal & sends him to Isaac to deceive him in order to receive his blessing
27:18-29 Jacob claims to be Esau, deceives Isaac into eating and blessing him instead of Esau
Division: Genesis 26:34-27:29 Isaac plans to bless Esau; Rebekah sends Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing
Subject Sentence: Isaac plots to bless Esau; Rebekah schemes for Jacob.
Aim: Cause the audience to learn that deception divides people
Application Question: Where are you tempted to get your way by any means possible rather than by relying on God’s sovereign plan?
Once you have your outline, use your creative and God-given talents to color in the rest of your message while remaining true to the word and the aim of the passage.
The challenge for a writer is to succinctly deliver a memorable message. We do this by chunking data that is REASONABLE, INCREMENTAL, and meets our reader’s GOALS.
Reasonable – Determine the aim of your message and commit to remaining within the aim. If you wander too much off track, you will lose your audience’s attention to a more tightly knit message.
Incremental – Do not give all of your knowledge or tips away in one sitting. Build up your reader’s interest and cause them to desire more from your future messages.
Goals – It’s important to clearly articulate your aim for the audience. What do you desire the reader to do, think, or become as a result of the words you share with her/him? Hold your words firmly to this goal and stray only with purpose. For example, perhaps you add a bit of humor to lighten the mood if necessary but quickly direct your spoken words or pen back to the aim.
Equipped with the Word and Holy Spirit as your compass, mapping your message with the aim of scripture will keep your readers on course and mark your work for Kingdom impact.
Don’t forget to take advantage of our Early Bird Special for Speak Up Conference tickets for the July 14-16, 2021, virtual event.