Tackling The Blank Page Dilemma: Andy Stanley on Content That Matters for Deep & Wide Ministries
It’s Monday morning and if you’re the lead pastor, or anyone else in ministry, you’re enjoying the day off to rest and recuperate from a packed day of preaching and pastoring.
But then Tuesday rolls around and you’re confronted with the dreaded specter all ministry teachers face: The Blank Page.
If you’re a student pastor then you’d better get to work, because that Blank Page has to be filled pretty quickly in time for Wednesday night festivities—though I’m sure you started that last week, right? If you’re the main teaching pastor then you’ll be living with that Blank Page all week until it’s formed into something that’s punchy, provocative, and preach-worthy. Even if you’re a small group leader who’s teaching through pre-packaged small group material, you still have your own notes to make to fill in the gaps and shape the study to meet your community’s needs—so you have your own Blank Page work to do.
As a person in ministry each week you’ve got a Blank Page Dilemma. That Dilemma isn’t so much how you’re going to fill it, but what you’re going to do it. What are you going to do with that Blank Page to challenge the thinking of your people; to encourage their life through trials and pitfalls; to provoke your people toward becoming active, fully devoted followers of King Jesus?
In reading through Andy Stanley’s new book Deep & Wide, I’ve been struck and challenged by this seasoned veteran’s antidote to our Blank Page Dilemma. Stanley challenges us teachers to ask a very important question as we begin molding that Blank Page this week: “Is the content helpful?”
How often do you begin with this question? Is the content that’s filling your Blank Page helpful? This is a good, important question because as teachers, we’re in the business of content creation. That Blank Page will begin to fill with content we hope will challenge, encourage, and provoke our people, so is that content helpful?
As Stanley questions, “We assume [the content] is true. But is it helpful? By helpful we mean useful. Will the audience find it useful? Will it change the way people think? Does it offer a fresh perspective? Will the audience know what to do with what they’ve heard? Is it actionable?” He suggests there are at least three things that every Blank Page must accomplish to be helpful: It must help people think biblically, help people behave biblically, and/or help people contextualize biblical teaching. (182)
Thinking back to the times when my sermons bombed, I can usually trace it back to a lack in the helpfulness department. Sure, my intentions were good—who want’s to be unhelpful or anything but helpful when they teach? When I missed the mark, though, it was usually because I didn’t think through well enough what I wanted to do with that Blank Page to help my community in the best possible way—the content wasn’t helpful. Often I was more concerned with mining the depths of the passage and making the necessary exegetical and theological links than being helpful. Sure it was true, but as Stanley says we assume that’s the case. Last week Stanley suggested churches aren’t empty because preachers are lying. They’re empty because the preaching isn’t engaging—and he’d suggest one reason the preaching is unengaging is because it’s unhelpful.
Stanley ends with four great questions to help you tackle your own Blank Page Dilemma. Write them down on a sticky note and slap it on the corner of your monitor, I just did:
- Is the content helpful?
- Does the content offer a potentially new and helpful perspective?
- Does the content provide handles, applications, or next steps?
- Is the content age-of-life and stage-of-life specific? (191)
Tomorrow you’ll begin sitting with that pesky Blank Page. Now what are you going to do with it? How can you shape that thing into the most engaging, helpful sermon or study you can that will challenge, encourage, and provoke your people well beyond your 30 minute window?
Jeremy Bouma has spent a decade ministering among our postmodern culture, first in Washington D.C. and most recently as a pastor in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA—a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith—holds the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and writes at www.novuslumen.net.