Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling & Sermons

I just ran across this visualization of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling and I thought I would post it because it somewhat fits in with something I have been thinking about sermons lately. During my D.Min project defense I was hit by something one of the professors said. He said he was glad that I had purposefully included application because he was amazed at how many sermons he heard and read from students recently that were just information, more like a history lesson than anything that matter to daily living. He said such sermons might have been interesting but they didn’t communicate truth to people that they could use in their daily faith. It surprised me a little because if anything I think I have a tendency to get a little fascinated with the history and the theology to the exclusion of the application.

It Takes 3 to communicate
My terrible drawing & summary of Aristotle’s model of communication

I believe the purpose of a sermon is to communicate the truth of the person of Jesus Christ into the life of His church. The fact that it involves communication means that several parties have to be considered during its development and delivery. If I have had a conversation with you sometime in the past few years there is a decent chance that I have pulled out a journal and started to draw something during the conversation to help illustrate a point of the conversation. One of the drawings that I often go to is a very basic drawing of the Aristotle’s model of communication (I say basic because Aristotle’s model involves 5 elements but my drawing summarizes them to 3). If you look through one of my journals you will find this drawing quite a few times. I use it for everything from premarital counseling to politics because communication is key to most things in life. The point I make with the drawing is that it isn’t effective communication unless essentially the same message makes it from the Sender through the medium of communication to the Receiver. If that doesn’t happen it doesn’t really matter how good your facts or illustrations are you haven’t communicated. You may say one thing but if the person doesn’t hear and understand it then you might as well have not said it or to have said it in a different language.

My friend Heather M posted a good example of effective communication on her Facebook wall today. Every flight you ever go on has the same safety regulations stated at the beginning of the flight. Most times everyone on the flights I am on simply ignore the safety speech.  To counteract this tendency Virgin America made the video below for their safety speech. I encourage you to watch it.

Now I am sure some would say, and probably have said, that the video does not have the right tone for a serious subject like airline safety regulations. After all people’s lives are at risk. Why would you make an entertaining video to convey such serious information? Well, maybe because someone might actually watch the above video rather than just keeping their nose in a book and ignoring it. I believe the above video does a much better job of effectively communicating the safety information than a bored flight attendant saying a rehearsed speech. I think churches can learn a lot from this video.

The kerygma (a fancy way of referring to the proclamation of the message of the gospel of the Kingdom) is the most important message in the world. Some people want a “pastoral tone” for such a message but what if that doesn’t communicate with the group? Why have the sermon then? The point of the sermon should be to effectively communicate the truth of Jesus into the lives of those present. Nothing else matters. Not style. Not tradition. Not anything else. Just communication of the good news of the kingdom that Jesus brings. I actually once had a father of a college student who attended a local campus ministry get mad at me because my sermon to the campus ministry the night before had been too funny. He thought that preaching had to be serious in its tone. I couldn’t seem to get him to understand how amazing it was that his student had not only remember what was said during the sermon but had also been moved by it to the point to desire to go and discuss it with him. He was just mad because “sermons aren’t meant to be funny.” Obviously he has never heard one of my jokes, otherwise he would have known that the sermon couldn’t have been that funny. Many of you can witness to this fact.

What does this have to do with Pixar’s rules? Well look through them. They pretty much all relate to the question of whether or not the artist is effectively communicating the story to the audience. If the artist doesn’t effectively communicate the story then why do it? Not all of Pixar’s points specifically cross over to sermon preparation and delivery but I think enough do that they are good reading. We should prepare our sermons with a mindset similar to Pixar’s storytelling. Therefore I believe I should constantly ask myself questions like …

  • What do I believe God is trying to communicate to His church through the passage of scripture?
  • What will help the congregation to best understand this message?
  • Am I really focused on the point or chasing lots of rabbits that don’t really communicate?
  • What’s the end of this message about? How does it shape the middle and intro?

There are lots of other questions to add but I feel like I have written enough for now. I just want to make sure that the messages I preach communicate effectively with God’s people. I don’t really care how.

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