Seth Godin, an influential thinker and internet must-follow, posted today about “Every Presentation worth doing has just one purpose” that is making the rounds on the preacher’s circuit as well:
Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose
To make a change happen.
No change, no point. A presentation that doesn’t seek to make change is a waste of time and energy.
Before you start working on your presentation, the two-part question to answer is, “who will be changed by this work, and what is the change I seek? ”
The answer can be dramatic, “I want this six million dollar project approved.”
More likely, it can be subtle, “I want Bob to respect me more than he does.”
Most often, it’s, “I want to start a process that leads to action.”
If all you’re hoping for is to survive the ordeal, or to amuse and delight the crowd, then you’re not making a presentation, you’re merely an entertainer, or worse, wasting people’s time.
One of the things of which I had to take more initiative in my seminary “standard package” was preaching. My alma mater was terrific in 49/50 other areas, but during my years there the preacher professor was being replaced, and so the dean of the chapel taught the preaching class. It was….very theological. So I tried to supplement my mandatory education by taking another preaching class taught by a black preacher in the area, and I interned under the finest preacher I could find for my field education.
One of the tenets that I picked up from that self-laid emphasis–and continue today for every single sermon–was a “Behavior Purpose Statement.” This was taken from Frank Thomas’s seminal book They Never Like to Quit Praisin’ God, where he says in his “Preaching Worksheet” (pp.74-80) that every sermon must have a change in behavior at its core.
For Thomas, that behavior–oddly enough from the title of the book–should involve praising God in some way. Looking back over my past few sermons, “praising God” wasn’t my focus, but some level of behavior change was. For example, my last sermon on Baptism had this as its purpose statement:
Behavior Modification Purpose: To see baptism as being charged with the mission of Jesus Christ to transform the world and to be okay with uncertainty along the way.
Like Godin, I want each sermon to mean something, not to simply be “pleasing in the sight of God” but to evoke real change of behavior or opinion–and by opinion, I mean the way we live out our opinions.
But it occurs to me that others may not see behavior change as the purpose of preaching but that it is a more philosophical or spiritual exercise. This is a struggle as each person comes to the sermon with a different desire–is it right for us as preachers to want just one thing for our congregation: that they change their behaviors? Because if people’s behaviors don’t change, are we, as Godin says, just wasting people’s time?
So what do you think?
- Should sermons be about behavior change? Is that the expressed result of every single sermon?
- Are there sermons that were meaningful to you that didn’t involve behavioral change?
- Last one: Is the Sermon on the Mount about behavioral change?
For further reading: the United Methodist Clergy group is discussing Godin’s article here.