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Show, don't tell | W. David Phillips

Show, don’t tell

Preachers, we need to show, not tell. What this means is that it is crucial to address the senses. We need to spice up our language so that people can get a clear picture in their minds about what we are describing.

Generalization is the death of sermons. Specific, significant, concrete details create movement in people’s lives. 

Concrete means that there is an image, something that can be see, heard, smelled, tasted or touched.

Detail means that there is a degree of focus and specificity. Detailed is important to the image because it moves away from the generalized and toward the particular. For example, creature is a generalized notion and hard to see. Dog narrows the field. A mixed-breed Shepherd we can see. Old Sammy asleep on the red rug, his haunches twitching in his dream brings the dog into sharp focus in our minds.

Significant means that the specific image also suggests an abstraction, generalization or judgment.

That last line about Sammy asleep on the red rug suggests something about the dog, that he may be old and have trouble sleeping. If I replaced that last line with his teeth bared and gnashing in his dream, I would be suggesting that either Sammy is having a nightmare or that he is prone to meanness. These are specific and significant details that create meaning and help people make judgments about Sammy without them having to be explicitly told. We see them in our mind’s eye, and understand them.

So Sunday when you are standing before your congregation, give them specific, significant, concrete details through image, or in a story. They will understand you better and easier. And you will keep them engaged and nudge them deeper into a relationship with God.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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