5 Writing Steps From Boring to Breathtaking
Many Christian topics can be complex. Complexity is often perceived as boring by readers.
Christian writers can build skills to transform content from boring to breathtaking, and these 5 tips will help you do that.
Sermons: A Cautionary Tale
One of the most boring kinds of Christian writing is sermonic material. Preachers often think their congregation is duty-bound to listen to them. However, people are exiting churches at high rates because the sermon, or the music and light show that accompanies it in some churches, does not satisfy their spiritual needs.
Preachers were warned about boring their congregation in seminary, but few listened. Most were told that a sermon should be constructed like this for maximum interest:
- A joke
- Three points
- A poem
This is not a bad pattern, but the Devil, literally, is in the details.
If the joke is bad, the three individual points go over the heads of the congregation, or the poem is maudlin, then the Devil gets the win.
5 Steps From Boring to Breathtaking
How do writers move from boring to breathtaking? These five steps offer help to Christian writers of all kinds, whether you’re writing a sermon, blog post or book.
1. Engage instantaneously
You may not tell a joke, but you need to say something unusual at the start to grab reader (or listener) attention.
Your goal is to change the state of mind of people. They come to your book or sermon with a million things on their mind. You must immediately say something to change their state of mind from whatever it may be to whatever it is you have to say.
Think of them as if they were watching different TV channels in their minds. Your first task is to get them all to switch to your channel and read or listen to what you have to say.
2. Be practical
There is no question that many Christian writers are sharing deep, complicated spiritual truths. That’s okay. But it must be done correctly. Paul understood the concept perfectly when he said, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Christian writers need to understand that most Christians are “still not ready” for the meat and potatoes of spiritual teaching. We need to spoon-feed them.
One of the best ways to do that is to be practical. You want to offer the Bible teaching, but you must also offer helpful, practical applications for the theology. Connect the dots for people.
For example, you may be telling others that Transubstantiation is not a Bible doctrine. That’s fairly abstract and will move the needle on the Boring Meter.
So, what is the practical truth people can implement in their life? You must tell them. You can turn that somewhat boring topic into the breathtaking topic like Paul did in Colossians 1:27. He was able to explain the deepest mysteries of God in seven words: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Then, you must tell people a story or two about people who lived changed lives after they experienced the indwelling of Christ. That cements anything you have to say about Transubstantiation into something practical and useful.
This applies to all biblical concepts you write about, of course, not just something like Transubstantiation.
3. Simplify, simplify
Am I suggesting that Christian writers and speakers “dumb down” their content. Yes, I am. But I suggest you do it with some class.
Remember, your goal as any kind of Christian writer is to convey spiritual truth. You may do that in a sermon, script, blog post or a book (fiction or nonfiction), and you always want to be as effective as possible.
You become effective when you stop trying to be clever as you transmit your message. Start being clever by thinking about how your readers or listeners receive what you transmit.
Can you get inside the minds of others to understand how they are receiving your message? Yes. One way is to poll people and ask them for a rating. Ask them to tell you want they thought was confusing in book or sermon.
Lacking that, use a “never-fail cure-all.” What is that? Simplify what you have written. When you have written what you have to say, stop and let it rest for a day. Come back to it and break the ideas down into even simpler forms. Add another two or three little stories to illustrate the ideas.
You can almost never over-simplify. No, there is no problem with “going deep,” but there is no point in doing that if people are fighting for their lives on the surface. They drown because you are intent on being writer-centric rather than reader-centric.
4. Be Disruptive
In the tech world, disruptive technology is defined as something that “displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry.”
That needs to happen in Christian writing in all its forms. That how you get from from boring to breathtaking. Most Christian books and sermons are as predictable as those Hardy Boys Mysteries I read as a youngster.
I devoured so many of the books in this series (there are now 190 of them), it got so that I could view the image in the front of the book, scan chapter headings, and then impart the entire plot to anyone who would listen. Friends who had read the book were amazed by my clairvoyance. But it wasn’t that— the book series broke the cardinal rule of writing—they became predictable.
That’s why you, as a Christian writer, need to be disruptive. It takes hard work to be interesting. There is always risk in doing that, but it pays huge dividends.
Don’t be predictable. Approach your topic in ways that disrupt the thought patterns of your readers or listeners.
5. Be Brief
You can take away the breath of people by being brief. In Hamlet, Shakespeare says, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Brevity is also an entrance to the soul.
If you want to reach people with the Christian message, and be less boring and more breathtaking in the process, keep it short.
That may mean that your hour sermon should be cut to 30 minutes, or that your 100,000 word novel needs to be reduced to 50,000 words. But not necessarily so. For example, most movies run about 1.5 hours and people stay seated because they stay interested.
So, overall length is not the key issue as long as you keep people interested in what you have to say. Remember, you sermon or book may hold your attention, but that counts for little. It must hold the attention of others.
Even if you go long, you must keep the various parts of your written material brief.
For example, contemporary films have about 60 different scenes. Each scene makes a statement and moves on quickly to develop the overall plot.
You can, and should, employ that technique in your writing. This does not mean you are doing a survey–jumping from one topic to another. It means you are building layer by layer.
You are developing a thought in each layer, but you are not staying too long on any one layer.
Public speakers talk about 150 words a minute. You should be able to make your point in 750 words or less before you move on to the next layer.
The same applies to nonfiction writers. Use sub-headings as signposts for readers.
Fiction writers can double that word count for each scene if the characters and conflict are compelling.
If you think you need more words to make your point, stop and rethink what you are doing. You don’t need more words to express that thought. You need to reduce the complexity of your idea and express it in more, but briefer, segments.
God Did Not Call You to Be Boring
It’s a good thing God did not ask Christian writers and preachers to create the animals.
We would have created the giraffe and said, “Hmmm, that’s interesting,” and continued to create all the other animals to look the same. Sure, we would give them different names and make them different colors, but they would all look like giraffes.
That would be boring.
As Christian writers we need to tear a page from God’s book and produce unique breathtaking creations that draw people to Christ.