The repeated phrase

 

One of the many smart things Rick Warren has said is that people don't remember paragraphs; they remember slogans.

They don't remember sermons or lessons or books. They remember  sayings:

  • Give me liberty or give me death.
  • The truth will set you free.
  • People don't care what you know until they know that you  care.
  • Only one life will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ  will last.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You must come to love the Christian life or you will never  come to live the Christian life.
  • If you can get them to the party, you couldn't keep them  from class.
  • Teach a half-way decent lesson each and every week, nothing  less will do.
  • Community must proceed content.
  • People are not looking for a friendly church; they are  looking for friends.
  • People matter to God.
  • Give Friday nights to Jesus.
  • Love at its best is a little bit boring. It is pedestrian,  earthy, stuff you can touch and feel. It is Diet Coke and table  games and bowling pins and somehow in the mix of all that stuff,  people feel loved.
  • Invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship  every month.
  • If we love them they will come and they will come to love  our Lord.
  • If we will be gracious to them, they will stick around long  enough to hear the words about grace.
  • There is an epidemic of loneliness.
  • It is not enough to tell them about a God who loves them;  you must love them.

Slogans can be used in every lesson. You would do well to reduce  every lesson to a slogan--a memorable sound-bite of condensed truth.  People don't remember paragraphs; they remember slogans.

But, having a slogan is not enough. Reducing all that you will  say to a slogan is important. Developing the slogan is good.  Focusing the content into a memorable slogan is an important first  step, but it is only one step. The next step is the real key.

Spin the slogan into a repeated phrase. Say it over and over  again. Say it loud. Say it soft. Say it early. Say it late. Say it  and say it and say it.

Jesus did this as he began the greatest sermon every preached,  the sermon on the mount. He made great use of the repeated phrase:

Blessed are the. . .

Blessed are the. . .

Blessed are the. . .

Blessed are the. . .

Blessed are the. . .

Blessed are the. . .

What is this sermon about? How to be blessed. How do we know? The  use of the repeated phrase. By repeating the repeated phrase over  and again you drill it into people's heads. You make it stick. You  make them remember. Make liberal use of the repeated phrase.

The classic example of the use of the repeated phrase comes in  one of the most famous speeches of all time. Count how many times  Martin Luther King says, "I have a dream" in this segment of his  famous speech:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we  face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise  up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths  to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of  Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave  owners will be able to sit down together at the table of  brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of  Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice,  sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an  oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will  one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color  of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama,  with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping  with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right  there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to  join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and  brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be  exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places  will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight,  and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see  it together.

Do you get the idea that Martin Luther King has a dream? This is  one of the most powerful pieces of prose ever written because of the  use of the repeated phrase. If you would be a powerful communicator,  make liberal use of the repeated phrase. Distill your message down  to a slogan and say it over and over again. Make it a repeated  phrase.

The repeated phrase over time

We don't just do it one time. We don't just repeat the phrase in  one lesson. If you just repeat it in one lesson they will forget.  Spend some time thinking about what Christian living is all about  and distill your thoughts into a handful of repeated phrases. Use  these phrases over and over again. Weave them into every lesson.  Don't worry about being boring. Make liberal use of the repeated  phrase.

As I think about the use of the repeated phrase, I think of one  of my heroes, Bill Hybels. There are a few phrases he has said over  and over and over again. He doesn't just repeat them once. They come  out in numerous sermons over time. The repetition only makes them  more powerful. The are memorable sayings. But we remember them  because Hybels turns them into a repeated phrase. Here are some  examples:

    • People matter to God.
  • There is nothing like the church when the church is acting  right.
  • Everyone wins. The believer wins as we join God in the  breath-taking adventure of following Him. The lost win as they  come to know Christ. The church wins. Everyone wins.
  • What a wonderful plan: let the leaders lead; let the  teachers teach; let the mercy givers give mercy.
  • Even unchurched people will bring their kids where their  kids want to go if their kids want to go there.
  • People matter to God. (He says that a lot.)

An example in a recent lesson

I thought it might be helpful to close this article with an  example of a repeated phrase taken from a recent Sunday School  lesson that I have written. I didn't have to look at many lessons to  find an example. The first one I looked at had this use of the  repeated phrase: The lesson is from Genesis 12.

What do we learn about Abraham from the first three words  in verse 4?

1

Abraham was characterized by instant obedience. God spoke  and he moved. Can you think of other examples in the Bible  when God spoke and someone moved?

Can you think of opposite examples–when God spoke and  someone hesitated?

2

How do you respond when you sense God is calling you to  do something? Would you say it is instant obedience, or  something less?

What are the benefits to us of following God in instant  obedience?

What does a lack of instant obedience cost us?

Footnotes:

1. Instant obedience is the key phrase.

2. Jonah is one classic example. Another is when  Israel didn’t want to enter Canaan at Kadesh. They later changed  their minds and wanted to go in, but it was too late.

Once we discover this key idea and distill it into a repeated  phrase, there are a handful of questions we can ask over and again  every week about a million topics. The above example is on being a  person of instant obedience. Suppose the topic is becoming a person  of faith and confidence. The questions might look like this:

    1. What is the benefit of being a person of faith and  confidence?
  • What does lack of faith and confidence cost us?
  • What keeps us from being people of faith and confidence?
  • How can we become people of faith and confidence?
  • Who are some examples of people you know that are marked by  faith and confidence?
  • What are some examples of people who limited their potential  by not having any faith and confidence. No gossiping, but do you  have any stories like that?
  • What is the relationship between faith and confidence and  the John 10.10 abundant life that Jesus promised? Can you have  one without the other?
  • Imagine a world where everyone was full of faith and  confidence. . . what would that look like?

By the way, if you would like access to lessons that make liberal  use of the repeated phrase, see www.joshhunt.com/sunday-school.htm

Conclusion

If you would teach and make it stick, make liberal use of the  repeated phrase.