“If you can’t reduce it to a slogan, people will never remember it.” — Rick Warren
“Memorable is portable.” — Andy Stanley
Quick: what are two or three things your dad taught you? Here is my answer:
- Many hands lighten the load.
- We don’t all do things alike.
- New is not always better; it is just new.
Notice you don’t find any paragraphs there. You don’t find book chapters. You dont’ find any long, complicated (deep?) ideas. What you find is what we always find when we ask what people remember: short, pithy, memorable, easy-to-pass-on statements.
Jesus was a master at this. Look at His longest and most famous sermon, easily the most important piece of prose ever written. It is full of these slogan-ish statements:
- You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. Matthew 5:13 (NIV)
- Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17 (NIV)
- Love your enemies. and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44 (NIV)
- Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1 (NIV)
- For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14 (NIV)
- For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 (NIV)
- Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:27 (NIV)
- Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Matthew 7:1 (NIV)
- Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7 (NIV)
And, perhaps the most classic, the most quoted sentence of all time: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Matthew 7.12
And, it wasn’t just the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus constantly peppered his teaching with memorable, succinct, slogan-ish statements.
If you would teach so that people will hear and understand and remember and be changed by what they hear, teach like Jesus: include short, memorable statements.
Southwest Airlines, the Army, and Newspapers
Heath and Heath discuss this in the excellent book on which I am basing this series of articles. One example is Southwest Airlines. Their slogan, “THE low-cost airline” guides every decision they make at Southwest. Herb Kelleher said, “I can teach you the secret in running the airline in thirty seconds. This is it: We are THE low-cost airline.” If thinking about serving meals on board or entering new, higher-cost airports the question always comes back to: will that help us to remain THE low-cost airline.
The Army uses this concept of simplicity as they give orders to troops. Here is a saying: no plan survives contact with the enemy. Because of this, the Army has developed what they called “Commander’s Intent”. It is a short, simple statement that tells everyone what the goal is. Things may not go as planned and they may have to improvise, but by understanding the Commander’s Intent–take this hill, or, take out this installation, or whatever they know how to respond when things don’t go as planned.
Newspaper writers are taught this in a concept called the inverted pyramid. The idea is to put the most important things first. If the article has to be cut, just lop off some off the end. Novels and short stories, in contrast, are written in the opposite way. The punch line comes at the end. Newspaper writers know why people read newspapers–they want to get the facts. By putting the essential facts up front, the reader gets the gist. If they want more information, they can keep reading. If they just read the headline, they will know something of the story. Newspaper writers are told to, “not bury the lead.” Look at the first two lines of this article for an example of this.
A recent example
I am preaching these days out of the book on Nehemiah and am trying to follow this example. Overall the series is called, “Nehemiah’s plan A for Success.” Here are the ideas we have looked at so far:
Ache. Nehemiah had and aching heart and so should we. He moved toward the pain, not away from it. He gathered more information about his hurting city. To quote Bill Hybels, he was having a Popeye moment: “That is all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” (If you would like to see the Bill Hybels video, check out my Facebook page.)
Ask. Nehemiah asked in prayer and so should we. Nehemiah’s prayer exemplifies something that is true of all Bible prayers: Bible prayers don’t sound like Baptist prayers.
Aim. Nehemiah had a goal and should we. Nehemiah could state his goal in one sentence. He wanted to rebuild the all around Jerusalem.
Assess. Nehemiah clearly did some planning and so should we.
Repeated Phrases in Good Questions
I am reminded that I could do a better job of this in the lessons I write. I often try to include a repeated phrase that is used in a series of questions. For example:
- How does it benefit us to become people of faith and confidence?
- What does lack of faith and confidence cost us?
- What keeps you from having more faith and confidence?
- How can we take steps to becoming full of more faith and confidence?
By the way, these four questions can be asked about nearly any topic and are based on a fundamental assumption that it is always in our best interest to live the Christian life. God is a rewarder. We will always be glad, in the long run, that we followed Him. I heard someone say the other day, “It is hard following God!” Yeah? Try not following God for a while, see how that works for you!
If there is one repeated phrase I would want my people to remember it is this: it is always in our best interest to live the Christian life. For more information on Good Questions that Have Groups Talking, see www.joshhunt.com Click on the link that says Lessons.
It is not enough to teach what Jesus taught. We need to teach HOW Jesus taught. Jesus was a sticky teacher. We should be too. One of the characteristics of sticky teachers is they reduce the teaching to one Big Idea–one repeatable, slogan-ish statement.