As I prepared for a set of talks at the International Christian Broadcast Media Conference in Seoul, South Korea, several long term lines of thought are coalescing, and what is coming out is a cohesive theme around the idea of “The Message.”
Of course, in church, the “message” is what we call the sermon. And as Protestants – people of the Word – we put a high value on the message. It is the high point of worship and the basis for our community spiritual formation.
The message is also the term used in communication and language circles to talk about the nature of our interaction and the way we share information, form meaning and accumulate knowledge.
I advocate for the power of story and metaphor and image to communicate. These are settings for our messages, to complement and counter the deep influence of propositional thinking in Western culture, which has become the primary way we present our messages in church.
What has come together is a series of ideas around the nature of what happens when we share a message.
In church we’re taught about the power of the Holy Spirit when we share a message.
In seminary we’re taught about the importance of theological integrity when we share a message.
What we’re not taught, and what we desperately need, is a deeper understanding of the influence of our communication – our language, symbols, and signs – when we share a message.
I’ve built my talks for the Seoul event around a basic chart, first introduced by linguist Roman Jakobson almost 100 years ago. Here it is:
SENDER —-> MESSAGE —> RECEIVER
This chart is deceivingly simple. It suggests a linear path by which a simple exchange happens, from the sender to the receiver. But the reality is far from simple. Each stop is dynamic and layered.
If you ever played the Telephone Game as a kid, where you sit in a circle and take turns whispering a message into your neighbor’s ear, until at the end it comes out vastly different than it started, you know that the message is in fact fragile and fraught with danger.
What I will suggest in these talks, and in what may be a book or set of books to follow, is that there are things we can do to help the message survive the journey intact.
Here is a brief overview of my talks, with working titles and descriptions, broken out according to Jakobson’s path:
(SENDER) Eureka: Turn Your Ideas Into Brilliant Messages with the Discipline of Creativity
God has given each of us some kind of creative genius, an exceptional ability to see and act on a specific part of the message of Jesus that will change hearts and lives, build communities, and further God’s kingdom. Understanding our part in the message begins with an exploration of our own, God-breathed creativity. This section explores creativity as a spiritual discipline, the relationship between seeking God and discovering our pursuits, and how abiding by a creative process can be a means by which we both experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and build a better world for others.
(MESSAGE) Shareability: Transform Hearts, Lives and Communities with Messages That Click
Transforming hearts, lives and communities has always been about the message. But the act of communication is not just a transaction from sender to receiver. If the digital age has taught us anything, it’s that messages have influence in the context of a community. Communities that share the message with one another is a core part of the message of Jesus gets heard. In this section, explore keys to better shareability including how to clarify the message, how to earn the community’s attention, secrets to good images, how to tell stories that resonate, and how to develop systems for sustained influence.
(RECEIVER) From Crowd to Community: Reaching the People who Receive the Message
All too often, churches hire talented designers, filmmakers and artists to create beautiful representations of the message of Jesus, only to experience inconsistent results, an inability to communicate, frustration, and turnover. The ability to craft messages that transform your community starts with identity and direction, not tactics. You can’t just hire a specialist and solve all your problems. To cut through the noise so your message makes the journey to its intended receiver, what’s needed is a strategic focus on transformative communication. This begins with the people you’re trying to reach. The story you tell depends on those to whom you tell it. In this session, discover your community’s story and the specific steps you can do to achieve messages that transform hearts, lives and communities.
(AROUND THE WHOLE THING) Church Like Pixar: The Joys of a World-Class Creative Team
The best creative teams aren’t mercenaries but storytellers who are wholly invested in the story of your church. In this session, discover the secrets to building and unleashing world class talent in service to your message. Includes a look at the hidden cultural issues that prevent your creative flourishing; naming a model for working together; strategy for how to develop content and how to communicate that content; a process for unleashing great talent; tips to better channels, better budgetary and technology plans, a better worship process, and – finally – a comprehensive annual messaging calendar for your church.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.