By Andy Stanley and Lane Jones, Random House, 2006
Communicating for a Change, by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones, brims with practical insights into effective communication that any minister or Bible teacher will find helpful. However, other aspects of the book call for sober evaluation.
Related to effective communication, the authors emphasize having a clear goal that can be expressed in single statement. Everything should lead up to, support, or point back to that central, memorable statement of truth. Asking the five questions—what do listeners need to know, why do they need to know it, what do they need to do, why do they need to do it, and what can I do to make it memorable—has proven a useful technique when I get bogged down or distracted while preparing to communicate the single point of a passage.
Other good counsel includes internalizing the message by identifying the big chunks of the sermon that serve as “mile markers” through the message; building tension in the introduction and early part of a message that is relieved by the one point of God’s Word being presented; less information, more life; talking faster, and taking it slower in the turns so that “passengers” aren’t lost in transitions.
In my opinion, Chapters 12 and 13 are the most helpful. “Me-we-God-you-we” is an approach to organizing a message based on the relationship between the speaker and the audience, rather than the text. It starts with the speaker’s personal experience with a problem/question/need as a way to introduce the subject and invite people to identify with it. Next, the audience and the speaker engage together (we) in the process of discovering what the Bible (God) says to answer the question/solve the problem/ relieve the tension identified in the me-we portions. The listener (you) is then faced with the changes called for by the single point of the sermon. The message concludes with a challenge to imagine or envision the implications of an obedient response on the part of the community of believers–including the speaker and listener (we).
While commending these principles of communication, however, I found four areas that need closer analysis. First, the writers “make no distinction between preaching, teaching, or general communication.” But, while all forms of communication share common qualities, biblical preaching and teaching are unique. General communication serves the speaker and his audience. Faithful preaching serves God, proclaiming His Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Biblical preachers speak with divine authority that no one naturally receives (1 Cor. 2:14).
Second, the authors’ assertion that the purpose of preaching is to change lives is only partly true. Preachers proclaim Christ (Col. 1:28), not just ideas from the Bible that they judge to be essential, applicable, or appropriate, “all they gotta know,” in the authors’ words, to modify people’s behavior. God has already communicated what He considers to be essential to knowing Him (John 17:3, 6-8, 17). Also, teaching the Bible equips listeners with a model for how to grow spiritually, and to evaluate the messages they hear (Acts 17:11).
Third, the assertion that “burden plus passion equals change” fails to distinguish the divine power of biblical content from the human power of its packaging and delivery (1 Cor. 1:18-25; 2:1-5). When preachers talk about a “powerful illustration,” an “impactful delivery,” or “seven keys to irresistible communication,” often they are describing a human cause-and-effect. Of course preachers should use appropriate persuasive techniques, but they must never depend on them to convict sinners, justify believers, and sanctify saints, which only God can do. The authors may be correct in stating that, “presentation trumps information when it comes to engaging the audience,” but only the Word itself is “…living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Heb. 4:12-13).
Finally, the assumption that a generational shift has made it necessary to “abandon a style, an approach, a system that was designed in another era for a culture that no longerexists,” is unsubstantiated. The question, “Will you consider letting go of your alliterations and acrostics and three point outlines and talk to people in terms they understand?” attacks a caricature of textual expository preaching as a relic of left-brained modernity. This implies either that the old style of preaching was ineffective in its own generations, or that now we have to accommodate a new generation that is not only completely different, but justifiably disconnected from believers who went before them. This goes beyond the idea that truth never changes, but methods can and should. It confuses contemporary practice with relevance.
The wise reader will benefit from this book’s many helpful insights and techniques for effective communication, but will do well to carefully consider its perspectives related to expository preaching.