Imagine if you could actually see your sermon as a complete picture on a single page instead of as a 7-10 page document full of so many words you could never internalize them before or recall them during the preaching event. The way forward is called mind mapping.
Basic mind mapping has been around for centuries and has progressed into some advanced forms. But the primary premise is still the same. Transforming conceptual words into a concrete visual picture, or map, can aid in communication, learning, and recall. Mind mapping is not only a great way to take notes, cram for a test, and simplify complex concepts, it has the potential to significantly enhance our preaching.
PLANTING THE TREE
There are many ways to utilize mind mapping. Some communicators will draw an actual map that employs the journey metaphor. Their map will contain a starting point and a destination, with landmarks, streets, and turns in between. I prefer another metaphor for mapping the sermon. The mind mapped tree works well for me.
Here’s how it works. After you have finished developing your detailed sermon outline or manuscript, draw a tree trunk on a piece of paper. Write the sermon focus or, if you prefer, the big idea or main point in the center of the trunk. Now, draw several branches out from the top of the trunk, moving left to right. These branches represent the flow for a narrative plot-based sermon (setting, problem, climax, resolution, response) or for a linear point-based sermon with various “moves.” On each branch you will write a short phrase that best describes how that branch reveals and/or reinforces the focus of the tree trunk. The phrase should be as imagistic as possible. You will probably not want to have more than 5-7 branches sprouting off of the trunk.
Next, draw no more than 3-4 small twigs off of each branch. On each of these twigs write a word that helps you recall what you will say about that branch. Try to come up with picturesque words for your twigs. Avoid esoteric language. The words of your twigs and branches should be more concrete than conceptual, which is why “image” is written on each twig.
When you develop a mind map, your 10 page 4000 word sermon becomes a 1 page picture consisting of approximately 20-30 words. Writing a sermon manuscript is a good practice, but the mind map allows you to boil down your multi-page document to a one page picture. A mind map not only helps the preacher with recall during delivery but can also foster sermons that are more clear and creative in development. The preacher can quickly see whether or not a branch or twig really fits with the focus of the sermonic tree and prune as necessary. Additionally, with the visual aid of a mind map the preacher can more easily discern if and where another branch or twig is needed to firmly root the sermonic tree in the lives of listeners.
PLACING THE BRANCHES AND TWIGS
Once you have all the branches and twigs drawn up, prayerfully consider the best ordering of the branches for the sermon. Since we are clock-conscious, left to right readers, it makes sense to order the branches from left to right on the tree. When placing the twigs on each branch, you will likely want to order them the same way. Take your time placing the branches and twigs on the tree. They should be placed to facilitate sermon clarity for listeners and sermon recall for the preacher.
PICTURING THE PARTS
If you want to make the mind map even more memorable, there is a way. Look at the words you have mapped on the branches and twigs. Try replacing the imagistic words with actual images you draw. If your artistic ability is limited, cut and paste pictures from the internet or magazines. If your entire sermon is conceived as images that create one primary picture on a single page, you cannot help but remember and preach the sermon with power and precision.
PRUNING AND PRODUCING
A mind map enables the sermon to become memorable, manageable, and malleable. What I mean by malleable is “adaptable.” If the service is going long because the guy doing announcements or the worship leader got a little too long-winded, you can simply cut one branch or several twigs in your mind or on the one piece of paper you bring to the platform with you. Perhaps you are the guest speaker at a conference and the organizer tells you the worship leader got sick, which means you now have 40 instead of 20 minutes to preach your sermon. Find a prayer closet and simply invite God to reveal a few more branches and twigs that may reinforce the focus of the tree.
Mind mapping requires practice before proficiency is achieved. Stick with it for a few months before you decide it may not be for you. In the beginning, you will likely want to mind map from a manuscript. But be prepared to not use everything in the manuscript, since some ideas may seem superfluous to the mind mapped tree. Have fun. Be creative. Enjoy the freedom that can result from mapping your manuscript into a picture. Maybe a picture is worth, not a thousand words, but four thousand!
1. Try mind mapping from the sermon manuscript or outline for your next preaching opportunity. Use the tree metaphor and include no more than a three-word phrase for each branch and one word for every twig.
2. Now, try to further develop the mind map by replacing the words on the tree with images you draw or find on the internet or in magazines.
3. Spend some time prayerfully viewing and internalizing your tree. If the focus of your sermonic tree trunk is clear and compelling, if the branches reinforce the trunk, and if the twigs reinforce the branches, your sermon will powerfully connect with listeners. Prune as needed.