Good morning, pastor . . ." I took a deep breath before responding because the telephone voice had the sound of, "This won't take much of your time, so I expect you to say Yes!"
Although petitioners and requests are varied, there is a haunting similarity to the plea. Most are asking me to prepare a personalized sermon, make it super-short, and get their meeting off to a good start.
"Could you please give us a brief devotional at Rotary Club next Tuesday?"
"Pastor, would you please share a few words at the beginning of our Ladies' Aid Society?"
"The Senior Alliance meets on Fridays at noon. Would you be able to talk for four or five minutes before we begin?"
I used to fear these calls, knowing that preparing a meaningful four-minute devotional could take as long to prepare as a full sermon. Sometimes I confess I was a bit insulted that they wanted me to be only a four minute introduction to the "real meeting."
I've discovered a method, though, that reduces preparation time while giving me a chance to be "meaningful" in only four minutes! Now when I receive one of these invitations, I reach for my calendar with anticipation, pleased for another opportunity to open the gospel door to a new group in the community.
The ONE-STEP process has five parts: ONE message point only; Sense the interests and needs of the audience; Target your study and plans to the audience; Educate them with a new nugget of truth, and Personalize your message with a dash of yourself.
One message point only!
This is an opportunity to say one thing, and say it so well that the listeners will remember it for 24 hours.
I love to talk about the Lord's Prayer and am tempted to share great information about temptation, forgiveness, daily bread, and the kingdom. But, if the message is to be memorable, I can talk about temptation or forgiveness, but not both!
One point. Only one point.
Sense the interests and needs of the audience.
Invitations come from wildly diverse groups: The city business council, the senior alliance, a Pathfinder club, nurses, X-ray technicians, teachers, the pastors' association, thrift shop volunteers.
Three questions guide me as I try to sense the needs and interests of each group.
1. What topic will the group be discussing at this meeting?
2. What unique needs does their work open up for these people?
3. What current news issue touches this group?
Sometimes I call the group leader, or some one who works closely with members of the group, and ask them to help me work through the questions. Asking for help always strengthens my presentation.
Often I discover an issue that is causing stress among the group, an illness that has focused their concern or a current news item that energizes their conversations. That information focuses my preparation.
Target your study and plans to the audience.
When the senior alliance lost their leader to cancer, my message was on comfort. The Pathfinders were studying flowers, so I talked about Solomon and the lilies. The student nurses were preparing for finals so I spoke on "God, the Great Rememberer." The thrift shop volunteers were having trouble with rude customers, so we discussed acceptance.
Targeting devotionals directly to the needs and interests of the listeners is a ministry approach that Christ used with incredible success. In almost every human encounter, Jesus individualized His response.
When Zacchaeus, the ostracized, climbed a tree hoping for a quick look at the Messiah, Jesus looked up and offered friendship.
When Simon, the expert fisher man, wanted to rest in the safety of Capernaeum, Jesus insisted on an unheard-of daytime fishing expedition.
When Lazarus died and was buried, Jesus discussed theology with Martha and cried with Mary.
Target your message to the pains of the group. Speak words that personalize hope and put skin on comfort.
If your group consists of elderly women who wonder about their value, tell the story of the widow's mite and remind them of their value in God's eyes. If you're speaking to a group of businessmen busy checking stock prices on the Internet, open with the words of Malachi 3: "The safest place for your money," or explore the hope of Jeremiah 29:11, "God has plans for you."
Educate them with a new nugget of truth.
Your devotional should tell them something they did not know before you came. Explain why Simon thought Jesus was crazy to go fishing in the daytime, why Jesus waited four days before raising Lazarus, why He went into Zacchaeus's house, ate with Simon the leper, spit in the eyes of Bethsaida's blind man, and why He waited till the Sabbath to heal the old man at the pool of Bethesda.
Take a picture from the Bible Atlas and explain what it meant for Lydia to be a "seller of purple." Use a draw ing from a book on "life and times of the Bible lands," to describe why David rejected Saul's cumbersome armor. Or use a quote from today's newspaper to explain how God responds to grief. The world is packed with information, most of it simple and common, that can bring sud den clarity to our understanding of God.
Consider some local sources for "truth nuggets."
- Someone who loves flowers and knows where to find the most fragrant blossoms.
- Physicians and other health care workers who know why our bodies do what they do, and who give good counsel on how to improve health.
- Police and other emergency care workers who know how to respond in moments of great stress and loss.
- Children and their primary school teachers. My favorite words of "truth" come from small children. Did you know, for instance, that "you gotta break cookies so all the bad stuff can leak out before you eat them"?
Personalize your message with a dash of yourself
To speak memorable words, you must become personally vulnerable. That's when listeners quit fiddling with their chopsticks and listen.
To connect with the seniors, talk about the incredible spinach crepes your grandmother makes. If your assignment is teens, describe how a popular song has improved your picture of God.
An honest insight into you as a genuine, struggling, victorious, failing, hopeful, eager, laughing human being helps cement your message into the hearts of the listeners.
When I speak on the phrase, "He will quiet you with his love," from Zephaniah 3:17, I tell how I eagerly embraced our blood-stained daughter after a bicycle accident—even though I am terribly repulsed by blood. "It's nice to know," I say, "that God is more repulsed by sin than I am by blood, yet He still reaches out to comfort us with His love."
Speak of things you love. Bring a flower from your garden, show off a curio you bought on a recent trip, or pass around a favorite book for everyone to touch. Be real, and use each item as an illustration that enhances your One Point of the day.
ONE-STEP is simply one spiritual point, personalized with an illustration, targeted directly to the needs and interests of a special audience and delivered with confidence.
ONE-STEP can take the fear of four-minute devotionals from you as it has from me. Instead of gnawing pain in the stomach, invitations for "a few brief words" can give you a burst of creative energy, and a chance to use that "one phrase" you underlined in Romans last night.