NorthPoint just started a new series called You’ll Be Glad You Did. The kickoff message on February 24, 2013 was actually recorded by Andy Stanley on the previous Friday evening. It was the opening talk of a transit weekend retreat. Andy taught the message to a room full of middle school students, knowing it would be shown on Sunday morning in church.
Andy was teaching junior high school students, knowing the message would be shown at area churches on Sunday. As he walked off the stage Friday, a camera followed him as he addressed the adult service. It was like the Inception of sermons. Communicating to two audiences is a difficult task for any communicator.
I couldn’t help but think how many parents appreciated the look inside the message their kids are hearing at NorthPoint. But I also couldn’t help but jot down some notes on communication from Andy’s message. It was masterful.
Here are seven things I learned from Andy Stanley’s sermon to students.
1. Andy used a ton of humor. The message was all about labels, and how we accept labels from other people, and miss out on the fact that only our maker has the right to label us. Andy told stories from his own time in junior high school. He talked about getting the nickname “Sabertooth Andy” because his teeth were so messed up. (I bet a lot of people could relate to that). He talked about being labeled “not smart” after his teacher just wrote “NO” in red ink on a math test. Andy didn’t talk about all his successes in junior high…he made fun of himself. And whether you’re teaching junior high kids or senior adults, this is a great way to make a connection.
2. Andy built tension into his talk. I’ve seen him do this time and time again, but this message was a great illustration. There was a time when he wanted everyone to think about the question he was going to ask. Think about it, not answer it out loud. He spent several minutes baiting the crowd and setting up this moment, so by the time he put the question on the screen, it just hung in the air. Too many times, we assume people are interested in our message. Work on the tension early on and they will lean in.
3. Andy introduced an idea and then brought it back at the end. I’ve seen comedians do this throughout the course of a set, and it’s a great way to weave a major point through an entire message. In this case, Andy said that manufacturers, owners and purchasers had the right to label something. This came in the first few minutes of his talk and then he moved on. Later, he came back to this idea and said that God – the one who made you, owns you and purchased you – is the only one who has the right to label you. When you tease and idea or set it up early, you can come back to it later. Done right, it can be a great a-ha moment.
4. The message was short. The message was about 30 minutes. This might be longer than you think middle school students could handle (it’s not…you just can’t waste their time and you have to be on your game.) 30 minutes seems like the right length for most sermons. It’s not a hard and fast rule. In general, I think we need to say what needs to be said and then stop talking.
5. Andy started with them. I believe that while sermon preparation should start with the scripture, the sermon itself should start with the audience. The goal is to teach the Bible, but in order to do that effectively, we have to start with where people are. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, thoughts and desires? What are they thinking in that moment? The first minutes of Andy’s talk were not wasted…He was building a connection by starting with where they live and what they deal with on a daily basis.
6. Andy made the audience the hero. Here’s a secret….your audience loves to feel smarter than you. When you talk about the things you mess up, the people can relate to you. When you make them into the hero, they connect and pay attention. In this message, Andy referenced the room of adults listening (remember…this was an Inception style sermon!), and said, “Right now, there is a room of adults who are saying – I wish someone had told me these things when I was a kid.” Andy told the students they could get this right the first time. Without putting down anyone, Andy made a room full of junior high students feel like they could do something better than their parents.
7. Andy taught one passage. Andy got to Romans 12:1-2 and unpacked some meaning from that verse. It was a bite-sized teaching time – He knew it didn’t have to be the final word on the topic. He didn’t jump all around the Bible and confuse people with a bunch of verses. He taught one passage, and he taught it well. Of course, he used a sticky statement to tie it all together. The bottom line of this message was “The labels people put on you could cause you to miss God’s plan for you.”
Every Senior Pastor should teach students from time to time. It will keep you on your game and will force you to work on your craft. Adults will often sit through a boring message because they are supposed to…students usually will not.
As someone who cares so much about helping people communicate God’s Word authentically, passionately and effectively, it was great to see how Andy did so in front of junior high students. It was refreshing to see a Senior Pastor willing to communicate to junior high students. And a church willing to give show a message in the adult service on the weekend.
I learned a lot from Andy’s message. Not just about finding my identity in Christ, but how to connect with students. I don’t know if I’m an expert in communication, but I do love serving churches by helping the pastor preach better messages. That’s one reason I devote so much of my time to the Preaching Rocket Core Coaching Program. I don’t know of a better way to work ON your calling and your craft.