“Sum up four years of your life in a 60-second video.”
That’s the challenge Huntington Willard, director of Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, has set his doctoral students. In addition to their dissertation, they are to submit a “snapshot dissertation,” 30-60 second video summing up the hundreds of pages and thousands of hours they’ve poured into it.
You can hear the squeals already, can’t you? I have two friends who completed scientific doctorates, and over the years I must have asked them a dozen times each to explain their work to me. Despite many glassy-eyed hours, I’m still none the wiser.
“I’ve always been convinced of the need for scholars to be able to speak ‘in plain English’ to people outside of the academy,” said Willard. “I teach [students] to imagine explaining what they’re learning to their parents or grandparents.” It’s all part of Duke’s Scholars and Public initiative to forge greater connections between the academy and the community.
For the same reason, no matter how much it makes us squeal, preachers (and teachers) should be “forced” (or should force themselves) to sum up their sermon (or lesson) in one sentence. For example, here’s a “Snapshot Sermon” on Psalm 2:
As God offers peace to his enemies before He defeats them, embrace His Son of Peace before He becomes your Judge.
The main points of the sermon were:
- The Lord has multiple enemies (1-3)
- The Lord will defeat His enemies (4-9)
- The Lord offers peace to His enemies (10-12)
We want to compare the snapshot sermon with the main points and ask:
- Is it comprehensive? Does the summary cover all the main points of the sermon?
- Is it unified? Do the different parts make up one whole or just lots of disconnected parts?
- Is it simple? Remove passive voice, complex clauses, technical language, etc?
- Is it short? Can I say this in fewer words without sacrificing the meaning?
- Is it purposeful? Does it explain the point, the end, the aim of the sermon?
- Is it worth it? Sometimes this exercise reveals that for all the good things in the sermon, there’s actually no real substance in it or no great point to it.
Apart from preventing some sermons being preached that should never be preached, this exercise also reveals if we’ve really mastered our subject. It also helps the preacher hone his material, cutting out anything that doesn’t connect with and support the snapshot. In the act of preaching the snapshot helps the preacher to achieve disciplined focus, forward momentum, and fitting climax.
Why not try it…and listen for the squeals.