Learning the Simplicity of Story

I grab any and every opportunity to learn about the nature and power and significance of story.  Today, I discovered a useful breakdown of the key story elements presented in a simple, accessible format.

The context is marketing.  I am not a marketer.  Still, I am intrigued by this unique perspective on story.

I am not sure how you might use it, or if you will.  If you discard it completely, that’s okay.  I didn’t want to pass an opportunity to share it with you.

Thank you Copyblogger for providing great content!

Here you go, enjoy:

The Amazingly Simple Anatomy of a Meaningful Marketing Story [Infographic]Like this infographic? Get content marketing training from Copyblogger Media that will give you an unfair business advantage.

Learning I am Just a Messenger

It is tempting for people to elevate a pastor above a messenger.  It is tempting for a pastor to desire such status.  It happens more frequently in large churches, but small churches aren’t immune.

You know a church or pastor is upholding this phenomenon when the main attraction is a single human leader.  People become followers of a person and not Jesus Christ.  Some indicators are:  an unwillingness to support a guest speaker (in a former church where I worked, people would call in each week to ask if the senior pastor was preaching in order to determine whether they would attend), attendance without a commitment to serve, and leaving the church when the current pastor retires or resigns.

I am fortunate to be on staff at a church that doesn’t breed this culture.  Our lead pastor, Brett Rickey, is a humble servant who honors God with all of the praise.  He isn’t seeking to build an empire for himself.  His passion is to reach the lost with God’s love.

It is relevant for me to learn that I am just a messenger because of the role I serve as a communicator.  As one who delivers a message to one of our worship services each weekend, the temptation is real.  I want to communicate effectively.  I want to keep people awake.  I want the audience to laugh and respond positively.  I want people to moved by what I say.  I want people to return the next week.  I want to know that what I am saying is making a difference.

If I am not careful, I can confuse myself as well as other people.  I cannot become an idol to myself or anyone else.  However good or bad I deliver a talk, it isn’t about me.  It’s about the message.  What’s important isn’t that others believe in me as a preacher.  Most important is that people come to believe in and trust God.  It is up to me to be faithful to the message in such a way that people can clearly distinguish between it and me.

I am reminded of this lesson from the experience of Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas fled to Lystra.  While in the city, they meet a man who is paralyzed from the waist down.  He’s never been able to walk.  The man listened carefully and with much interest as Paul was speaking.  Upon looking at the man, Paul felt a sense of deep faith emanating from the man’s heart.  In a loud voice, Paul instructs the man to stand to his feet and walk.

The man jumped to his feet and walked.  Amazed by what they witnessed, the bystanders immediately spread the word of the miracle.  But, they were confused.  They assigned the glory to Paul and Barnabas.  Based on their religious experience, the people of Lystra mistakenly perceived the miracle to be the work of the gods Zeus and Hermes.  They believed Paul and Barnabas to be the human form of these gods.

Within a short period of time, the priest of Zeus was preparing a sacrifice.  He ordered the oxen and garlands to be brought to the outer gate.  Crowds of people gathered there with him.

When Paul and Barnabas heard of it, they rushed into the middle of the crowd, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this?  We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15 NRSV).

Paul and Barnabas could take advantage of this moment for their own glory.  I mean, who gets a chance to be named a god?  Seriously, they want to crown them Zeus and Hermes.  Zeus!  It doesn’t get much better than Zeus.  These two could setup an empire.  Their influence would flood into all the surrounding areas.

Instead, Paul and Barnabas declare:  I am just a messenger sent by God to bring you the good news of the one true message.  The result wasn’t simple.  It took much convincing to restrain the people from offering a sacrifice.  Later that day, the people were influenced by the Jews from Antioch to stone Paul.

I am learning to realize that I also am just a messenger.  My desire is to be faithful to humbly admit this truth with courage.

Learning Why You Should Encourage Female Pastors to Preach

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 8.26.12 AMI didn’t recall the conversation.  If she hadn’t reminded me, I would have no recollection of what was said.  Just yesterday, I received a Facebook message that brought the story back to life.

We invited her to see our new home.  It’s not really a new home.  It was built in 1959.  It was new to us, though.  We recently bought it and had given it a few facelifts.  She came over to check out our progress.

It was a couple years ago, now.  The tour of the house made a pitstop in Brooklyn’s office for a quick chat.  Somehow the conversation led me to ask, “Have you had an opportunity to preach at your church?”  I should stop here and tell you that she is a youth pastor.  She had been a youth pastor at the same church for several years.  I was assuming that a church that would hire a female youth pastor would also be supportive of women preaching.  It felt natural for me to ask about her experience behind the pulpit (even though not many of use a pulpit anymore).

Her answer was, “No.  I am not sure how they would feel about that.”  Being the forward person I am, I then asked, “Are you good?  Tough question to answer.  Probably would take that one back if I could.  Regardless, the next thing I said was, “You should preach.  You need to preach.”

As she recalls this moment, she walked away from the conversation “shaken a little, doubting herself but finding encouragement that someone, who doesn’t even know me all that well, had confidence in me.”

Nearly two years later, she wrote a message to say, “I finally had the gall to ask to preach…and they said “No.”  Not a confidence booster.  It’s also a common response female pastors receive from their male counterparts.  February came and the pastor approached her with the question, “Do you still want to preach?”  

This time,” she said, “I was stubborn, and didn’t want to, but I thought back to your words and knew I had to.  So I did and it was awesome!  Last week, I preached again at another church.  

Her message ends with thoughtful words:  “Thank you so much for having a pretty ordinary conversation with me one Saturday afternoon that has given me so much encouragement to do the one thing I never saw myself doing!”

The primary reason she never saw herself preaching is because no one told her she could or that she should.  It wasn’t because she was incapable or didn’t have the desire.  Her God-given potential was neglected in large part because she is a girl.  Such a sad truth to realize.

It’s hard for me to imagine a conversation I can barely remember provided enough support for her to pursue her calling.  I certainly am not special.  Nor do I take any credit.  It’s simply a reminder of the reason why it needs to be said to female pastors more often.  God has gifted women with the power to preach.  Not just to men, or children, or teenagers, but to everyone.  Most female pastors will never hear encouragement from their peers and or most male leaders.  They need to hear it from somebody.  That somebody can be you.  Your simple word of encouragement could be the spark that provides the courage to pursue preaching with confidence.

If you lead a church or attend a church that supports women in ministry, I urge you to encourage the female pastors you know to preach.  If you don’t, then who will?

Learning Your Comfort Zone Can Be Too Comfortable

My comfort zone does not include acting.

If you were to do a psychoanalysis on me, it would most likely lead you to an embarrassing childhood moment.  Auditions for the church christmas musical would be the setting.  My age would have been about 9 years old.  The result was complete rejection.  I auditioned for the talking candy cane, the lead male role.  Didn’t get it.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t get any speaking role.  I was so bad, they chose a girl to act the part.

Devastation.  Embarrassment.  Humiliation.  One of those “I’ll never do that again” kind of moments.

From that day forward, I shirked any opportunity to pursue acting.  Even with my family and closest friends, I can’t get myself to do it.  I can’t play the part.  I feel too stupid.

I faced the limits of my comfort zone Christmas Even 2014.  Our church’s Christmas Eve service is already planned, including an element of spoken word.  It was originally written and performed by our High School Pastor, Tomy Cummins, for the student ministry Christmas event.  He blew everyone out of the water with his performance.  The audience response was a standing ovation.  It became viral within our church and community.

Tomy was asked to perform the spoken word on Christmas Eve.  He said yes, pending one caveat:  his wife didn’t go into labor (her due date was December 23).  Baby didn’t come that day, but you guessed it.  Labor pains starting happening December 24.

At 8:49am, I receive a text:

I think you’re going to move from on deck to at bat for me tonight.  I will confirm by lunch.

Before noon, I receive another message:

“I’m gonna go ahead and pass the ball to you.”

My pulse increases immediately.  Butterflies are swarming in my gut.  My hands are sweaty.  He is asking me to fill in for him.  Spoken word is as much acting as it is preaching.  I watched his performance.  He spoke those words with passion and emotion and conviction.  He was awesome!  That’s kind of out of my comfort zone.

I wanted to cry wolf.  I was searching for an excuse.  “Nope.  Not me.  I can’t do it.  It’s Tomy’s thing.  Plus, I barely have anytime to practice it.  Please, someone tell me you don’t think I can do it.”

I did it.  I stepped outside of my comfort zone and did it.  With fear and trembling (and profusely sweating), I performed my first spoken word.

I am okay.  The pain of fear wasn’t too bad.  I wasn’t hurt.  No one laughed at me.  I wasn’t humiliated.  Failure didn’t occur.  It was actually quite exhilarating.

I learned something.  By stepping beyond the bounds of your comfort zone, your limits are expanded.  The diameter of your circle of comfortability grows.  You are free to wander into new and exciting territory.  Instead of looking through the fence to the other side, your boundary is moved to include it.

With a wider zone, you have more room to run, play, and discover amazing realities about yourself and the world around you.

Your comfort zone will try to keep you too comfortable.  Don’t let it.  God has a vision for you with open fields as far as the eye can see.


Learning Your Message Can Improve by Perfecting 1 Skill

Fourteen years ago, Brooklyn and I had no idea the value of a skill taught to us by Rick Ryding in the course Curriculum Design.  We were juniors at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (then it was College) fulfilling the requirements of our degrees.  It was a core class in Brooklyn’s major, Christian Education.  I just liked taking the same classes as her, so I signed up.  Plus, it counted as one of my electives.

You had to be absent-minded or completely clueless to walk away from the class without knowing the most important lesson.  We practiced and practiced and practiced aaaannnnd practiced writing objective statements.  Easy, yet complicated.

An objective statement is a main idea written in a clear and concise sentence.  Everything you want to communicate must be contained in this one little statement.  In one sentence, your audience should know exactly what you are talking about.  No guessing or speculation.  You state precisely where you are headed.

Brooklyn and I had objective statement nostalgia this week.  Our minds returned to that classroom and those homework assignments.  The memory can’t be described as sentimental, but was definitely felt.

Our messages have room for improvement, we realize.  The answer seems to be that ominous skill we learned a decade ago.  Our messages need to be communicated more clearly.  To do so requires our ability to perfect the objective statement.  Time to refresh.

This is hard,” are the words that come out of our mouth.  Tears of struggle and frustration are shed.  Helplessness and hopeless set in.  “I can’t do it.  I don’t know why, but I just can’t do it. It’s the one thing I struggled with in class.”

It’s the end of the week.  We haven’t given up.  We stand beside our original inclination.  Your message can improve by perfecting the skill of defining your objective in a clear statement.  Your message improves when you can state the Big Idea.

Not sure how?  Ken Davis, in his book Secrets of Dynamic Communication, provides a great tool to help you get started.  Practice filling in the blanks:

You can ___________ by ________________.


You should ____________ because ________________.

Whether you teach, preach, write, or blog, your message can improve by perfecting one skill.  Practice it.  Give yourself time.  Don’t give up too early.  Believe in yourself.  You can do it.

Write objective statements.  Claim your big idea.  Your message will improve.

Learning Sermons Can Be Confusing Without Followup Conversations

I’m in to my sermon.  I’m preaching it.  Feeling in the groove.  Until, a face in the audience stands out to me.

Not because this person is bad.  No, this person isn’t sleeping either (can’t say that hasn’t caught my attention before).  The face I see reminds me of the story this person is living.  A story of pain that could be complicated when listening to my message.

Jump to the day after the same sermon.

I receive a message from a friend.  It alludes to a situation that arose the night before, at the church service.  The circumstances he explained were like pages torn out of my notebook.  What they were experiencing was directly related to the main point of the sermon.  The question is, How does the message make sense in this particular context?

Four days removed from the sermon, I receive another message.

It says, “Last weekend’s sermon was very good, but left me feeling conflicted.”  

Each scenario brings to light the limitations of sermons.  Without followup, each person stands at risk of being hurt and confused by the message they hear.  From where they are sitting, greater explanation needs to be given.  Questions need to be asked, and answered.

Sermons can’t provide the whole picture.  That’s impossible.  There’s no way to simplify God’s Word to thirty-five minutes or less. They are snapshots of the truth.  Everything is zoomed in, which means details will remain outside of the scope of the message.  That’s okay.  It’s for actually for your good.  I mean, you don’t want to sit through an eight hour sermon.  Or, do you?

Learning this about my sermons, I am learning the necessity of followup conversations.  Some of my listeners will need to know more.  They need to see the bigger picture.  They need an opportunity to imagine how it applies to their particular situation.  They need to clarify when there’s confusion.  They need courage to embody the truth when afraid.

Sermons can be confusing.  Followup conversations can eliminate such negative potential.

I’m open to the conversation.




Learning 3 Obstacles that Can Sidetrack Any Speaker

stageA friend of mine was speaking for her first time at an event she also planned.  Tough combo.

I had the opportunity to debrief with her about the experience.  I wanted to know the ups and downs, the good and bad.  We spoke about the strengths.  Then, we moved to the areas with room for improvement.  One recurring disappointment shared was her experience speaking.  There were obstacles that she didn’t see coming.

She handled the obstacles, well.  But, they were just enough to sidetrack her mind.  She never felt able to fully recover.

I assured her that every speaker at one time or another experiences these same obstacles.  Whether seasoned or not, it happens to everyone.  It brought to mind for me specific occasions when I have experienced the same.  I wish I had been thoughtful enough to warn her.

It may be too late to forewarn her, but not some of you.  So, here are 3 Obstacles you can expect will try to sidetrack you:

  1. Last minute criticism or false emergency.  You can count on someone coming up to you minutes before you walk onto stage with something to say that can wait till later.  They need you to know something, right now.  In this moment.  It is not a sweet whisper of encouragement in your ear.  It is a finger in your face.  Or, it is a spark embellished to be a fire that someone else should be able to extinguish.  Whatever is said, it changes your mood.  It alters your thinking.  It messes with your emotions.  My advice:  Give yourself 30 minutes alone before walking on stage.  If this isn’t possible, excuse yourself from a negative conversation as soon as you sense it moving in that direction.  Kindly ask to schedule a time after the event to discuss what’s on their mind.
  2. Late microphone check.  Less than five minutes to go before the event starts, and you haven’t sound checked nor do you have it on.  Guests are already filling up the room, and now you have to sound check in front of them.  Awkward and unprofessional.  But, we’ve all done it.  It causes enough stress to raise your blood pressure and throw a curve ball in your head.  Sidetracked.  My advice:  Sound check at least one hour before the event begins.  If not possible, sound check before any guests enter the room.
  3. Unfamiliarity with the venue.  This happens when the first time you step on stage as it will be during the event, is during the event.  Before the stage has been set or the stage lighting has been turned on, you have no way of feeling comfortable with the venue.  The lighting may be more than you expected, blinding you from the audience.  You may not like the podium, or you may want a podium.  The walk to put yourself center stage may be awkwardly longer than you expected.  My advice: Do a live run through of the event at least an hour before it starts.  All the technical and logistical elements should be set the same as if it was live.  To knock out two steps in one, you can even do this at the same time as the mic check.

There are more than three obstacles that can sidetrack any speaker.  These three were the culprits this particular time.  I would love to hear from some of you what obstacles you would forewarn other speakers about.

What has sidetracked you?

Learning 7 Preachers You Should Know About


  1. William Willimon.  You can watch one of his sermons here.
  2. Anna Carter Florence.  You can watch her sermon given at Duke Chapel (hint:  skip to minute 44:50).
  3. Lillian Daniel.  You can watch her sermon “Do you have anything to eat?
  4. Grace Imathiu.  You can watch her sermon “Bethany:  A Glimpse of Kingdom Living.
  5. Otis Moss III.  You can watch his sermon “Choose Life.
  6. Michael Slaughter.  You can watch his sermons here.
  7. Margaret Brown Taylor.  You can listen to her sermon “Learning to Walk in the Dark.
  8. T. Scott Daniels.  You watch his sermons here.

What preachers do you think we should know about?

Learning the Audience is the Hero

stageI think about preaching/speaking nearly every day.  Partly because it is my job to deliver a sermon each week, and partly because I want my words to make a difference.

I might be justified in blaming the evangelists who visited my little church in Logan, Ohio.  It feels like yesterday that I was sixth a grader sitting on a church pew listening with ears wide open to traveling preachers.  I sat in awe of their ability to hold my attention and move my heart, saying to myself, “I want to do that someday.”

Here I am, 24 years later, doing it.  My desire is the same. I want the words that I say and the way that I say them to hold an audience’s attention and move their hearts.

So, everyday I work on and seek new ways to improve the talents God has given me.  At this stage in my development, Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate is speaking volumes into my practice.  One thought among many, is the formative idea that “the audience is the hero.”  She writes:

“Changing your stance from thinking you’re the hero to acknowledging your role as mentor will alter your viewpoint.”


“Changing your stance from that of the hero to one of wise storyteller will connect the audience to your idea, and an audience connected to your idea will change.”

Thinking about the audience as the hero changes the “why” behind my preaching.  It shifts the focus from information to transformation.  Rather than ask the audience to accept facts, you invite the audience to participate in creating a new reality.

I’m learning to see heroes when I preach.  It is not up to me to be the hero.  It is my privilege to call forth and inspire the hero in you.

How do you view the audience when you speak or preach?


Learning to Preach for Change

stageI don’t like change.” 

I haven’t thought about it much in my life.  I didn’t need to. I grew up in a small town in the Appalachian hills of Southeastern Ohio where little change happens.  Other than the leaves every Fall, change is not a normal experience in my hometown.  If change does come, it occurs so slowly that it is barely noticeable.

My dad has had the same job for over 25 years.  My grandpa has owned the same gun shop for over 60 years, and lives in the same house they built when it started.  My other grandpa worked one job his entire career, and never missed a day of work (he had enough vacation time saved up to take off almost an entire year).  My grandma and he still live in the same trailer I always remember, which is sneaking up on four decades.  The High School I attended existed in a building over 100 years old.  My pediatrician growing up was the same pediatrician for my aunt, and is now the pediatrician of my nephews and niece.  Major change hardly existed in the first 18 years of my life.

Almost the same amount of years later, I would say my life has included more change.  I have lived in Orlando, the east coast of Florida, Dallas/Fort Worth, and now back to Florida.  I moved from being a graduate student to working in foster care to managing a paint store to directing a college ministry to staying at home with my daughter to leading a Saturday night church.  Compared to my upbringing, I have experienced enough change for at least three lifetimes.

I have grown to expect change, but a part of my past is still with me.  It is a part that doesn’t like change.

Here’s why:  change has an element of the unknown.  It is frightening to think that I can’t predict or control what will happen.  The potential for losing something is increased.  The thing I lose may not be as good as the thing I gain, but the opposite could be true as well.

The crazy thing is, as a pastor, the goal of my preaching should be to encourage change.  Change of feelings, change of mind, change of heart, change of behavior, change of perspective, change of attitude, change of belief, change of systems, change of present, and change of future.  Preaching is impotent without a purpose of change.  Not change for it’s own sake, but change that transforms you and your world.  Change that involves an abandonment of the old and addition of a new way.  God’s way.

I imagine many who listen to a sermon are like me.  You struggle with change.  It is frightening.  You experience an internal resistance toward the sacrifice that might be required of you.  You may even like what your hear and accept the ideas, but the risks of change hold you back from moving to action.

I am learning I need to walk beside you in my preaching, not above you.  It isn’t me against you.  We are in this together.

How do you feel about change?  What is your reaction to a message that challenges you to change?