If you’ve ever had the opportunity to stand in front of a crowd and deliver a sermon, message, or talk, you know it can be one of the most daunting experiences. It consistently shows up on lists of people’s most dreaded fears.
It’s further complicated by inner doubts. Is what I have to say important? Will anyone even care? Will I make a fool of myself?
For those of us in the church world who give messages on a regular basis, the challenge to be captivating, inspiring, and even timely adds additional pressure.
After over twenty years of ministry and listening to hundreds of talks from sermons, podcasts, to TED talks, I’ve noticed a pattern that is a template of the best examples I’ve heard. Its a simple template and one that can be used by anyone for any topic, whether you are a pastor delivering sermons or a business person in the market-place delivering a talk on stock futures.
I’ve adopted this template the last few years and I use it as a way of making sure every message I present has at least one of these dimensions.
The 3 Dimensions are:
1) The Vertical Dimension
This presents the vertical relationship we experience with God. What does a particular text teach us about the character and nature of God? What are the objective truths that we can learn?
In many ways this is the teaching/information phase. What is often called the ‘exegesis’ of a text or passage. In a non-church context this is where you teach on the product or principle you are introducing. It forms the central structure of your message and it is likely the primary reason people are sitting in front of you in the first place.
As important as this dimension is, it is also the dimension that can lose an audience the quickest. It can potentially come off as a data-dump or worse, a form of advertisement.
For those in the church, staying in this dimension becomes a theology lesson. Not that it’s bad, but it can come off as distant, academic, and even irrelevant to many. I’m sure some of you are upset with me on this point, and there are certainly many great teachers that can hold a crowd with their ability to hold people’s attention by the strength of what they are teaching.
But my point is this. The messages that rise above the others goes beyond this dimension and into the next two. As important as this dimension is, it can end up filed under ‘good to know stuff,’ but not always relevant.
2) The Horizontal Dimension
This is the application dimension. It takes the vertical dimension and applies it on the horizontal level. How does this message apply to me? How do the lessons here get practical traction in my life? How do I start making the changes necessary to bring this into my life?
I have been told that many years ago, the application of a message was easily assumed by an audience. Not so today. People need to be made aware of the practical implications of what’s being taught.
This is also the dimension where creativity can flourish, as well as personal stories and anecdotes. It’s the place where the academic meets the practical and makes the points of the message hit home. In a non-church presentation, this can be the place where the sales pitch gets introduced.
There is a danger here, though, and this is mostly for those in the church world. Just as staying in the vertical dimension comes off as theologizing, staying in the horizontal dimension becomes nothing more than moralizing. Both dimensions are vital for a Gospel-rich message.
Still, for the message to really impact the heart of your listeners, there is one more element needed.
3) The Hope Dimension
This dimension is related to the horizontal, but goes beyond simple application. It evokes imagery that inspires people. What difference will it make in my relationships, in my community, in my country? What a better society we would have if this was part of everyone’s life?
The first two dimensions are the tangibles, but this third one has the ability to inspire and motivate in ways the other two can’t. It can move people to see the value of your message and leave better than they came. It can be the impetus of what prompts those in the audience to tell others. It can be the catalyst that fosters real change, and any speaker worth their weight wants their message to be a force for positive change.
From my experience, these are the three dimensions of a message that resonates with people in meaningful ways and gives the heart of your message the traction it deserves. These do not discount the work of the Holy Spirit to touch hearts, but are presented as humble observations of the structure of messages that are most impactful.
Would love to hear your comments on what you have observed in your experience. For what it’s worth, the message of the Gospel is too important and weighty to be delivered in ways that leaves people feeling indifferent or unconvinced. I hope you agree.