Andy Stanley asks: “What’s your burden?”

Of the books on preaching/communicating that I read in Seminary the one that stuck with me the most was Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change. I just finished re-reading, both for my own benefit, and in the hopes of leading others in discussing its big ideas.

Stanley’s main point is that messages should have one point, one Big Idea, and that everything else in the message should illustrate and reinforce that one point. This is something I’ve tried to do throughout my (limited) years teaching, though I’m sure with varied success[1]. As part of my sermon prep (or prep for almost every other kind of teaching) I always write out the “Big Idea.”

At one point in the book Stanley gives this “one point” a more pastoral name. He calls it a burden. Here’s what he means:

“As we [Andy and his dad] continued our conversation, it became apparent that when he talked about a preacher’s burden, he was referring to the one thing. That one message, idea, principle, or truth that had to be delivered at all cost. The one thing isn’t just information. It is not just a carefully crafted phrase. It is literally a burden. It is a burden that weighs so heavily on the heart of the communicator that he or she must deliver it.” (Stanley, Communication for a Change, 11)

When I was young I hated the idea of public speaking. Those who know me know that I’m actually pretty shy. But what finally convinced me to pursue a career in pastoral ministry, and thus public speaking, was the burden. I didn’t get over my fear until I knew I had something that needed to be said.

Our church recently had a guest speaker at a youth event. He had never given a message in front of an audience before and I had never pictured him as someone who would even want to give such a message. And yet, he approached us and asked us if he could give a message. When I asked him why he wanted to do it, he said it was because he had learned a lot in life and from a recent series his pastor had given and wanted to share that same truth with others. He had a burden and that burden was what compelled him to speak. He did a great job.

If you’re a communicator, or if you’re an aspiring communicator, ask yourself, what is my burden? What is the one point people need to understand? What do I need to deliver at all cost? That’s what you need to build your message around.

[1] My two biggest blunders: First, including two much material. Second, allowing the big idea (the burden) to be not much more than information.