How Mind Mapping has Rejuvenated My Sermon Preparation
A new way to visualize and process the biblical text.
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I first heard about mind mapping from a former colleague. I had seen his visually appealing planning notes. I had even asked for a quick tour of the advanced computer program he used to generate graphical outlines. He had planted a seed, but I didn't pursue it further. A couple years later, a combination of the daily appearance of mind maps in my Twitter feed and the need to jump start my sermon outlining led me to finally give it a try.
I confess that at first I thought mind mapping was gimmicky. Some people swear by this way of collecting and organizing ideas, spatially mapping interconnections. Mind mapping proponents praise the method for its ability to help you explore conceptual connections you otherwise might miss—or to clearly see what's already in your head.
I was an unlikely candidate. I do not consider myself remotely artistic—except for my guitar playing, but that has limited exegetical value. I am not much of a visual learner. And I've actually been fairly happy with linear thinking-oriented text editors like Word or Pages or the more robust Scrivener.
But last summer when I tried mind mapping—in short, a method of spatial outlining—to make sense of David's kingship in 2 Samuel, the practice opened up new worlds of creativity to me.
How I mind map
I was looking at preaching four weeks through 2 Samuel lectionary readings. I try to preach a balanced diet of biblical genres, and had found that I was neglecting Old Testament historical narratives like Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. So I dipped into the lectionary as it covered some highlights (and the major lowlight) of David's rule.
To get some help on preaching Old Testament narrative I did what any tech-savvy preacher would do: I turned to a new app for help. (I prayed, too.) I'd heard of mind mapping before, but I had worried that the nodes and sub-nodes and visual links would cause my sermon outline to get out of control. But mapping actually freed me to see relationships between parts of the text that a single screen of Microsoft Word couldn't show.
My first mind map was of 2 Samuel 5:1-10. David was already ruling in Hebron. The passage describes his shift to reigning over all Israel from Jerusalem. I noted David's ability to lead faithfully without positional authority. As I read the text more closely, it became clear that David's ability to move up in his world was not a result of his faithfulness; it was because of God's presence with him. It says, "And he became greater and greater, because the LORD God Almighty was with him."
There it is—the key to so-called leadership success: being grounded in and surrounded by the presence of God. I had landed at my central idea for the sermon: We can live well and lead from wherever we are, not having to wait for others to confer authority on us, because being in the presence of God is what empowers us to be faithful.