What Malcolm Gladwell Taught me About Preaching, Candy & Meals

Malcolm Gladwell is this wiry guy who always looks like he needs a haircut and has a knack for making everything, even the most boring subjects in the world, fascinating.  He is one of my favourite authors.  He has a knack for taking data and information and turning into a story that you have to hear the end of.

I am back to MasterClass.com and am dipping into different courses.  One of which is Gladwell.  If you have not read Gladwell or heard an interview, I recommend reading Outliers or Blink.  If you are more of a listener, here is an example from This American Life of his work.

In his Master Class, while talking about how to make writing interesting, he makes the distinction between “candy” and the “meal” of the idea you are trying to present:

“It’s important to balance the intellectually rigorous or complex parts of your story with “candy,” which are digressions or diversions that give the reader a break from the “meal” of your story. The candy is the stuff your readers are going to use to tell their colleagues and friends about the story. They’re the parts of your story that are easiest to talk about casually and remember. The meal is the stuff they dwell on and take home with them to process.”

It’s important to see this distinction.  The “meal” is an idea that is complex and will take a while to digest i.e. process, understand and apply.  “Candy” is a simple idea that someone can share with someone else immediately.  It might be an interesting statistic or anecdote.  You can talk about “candy” immediately but it might take some time before you are ready to talk about the “meal”.  When you read through Gladwell’s stuff you can see both the meal and the candy strewn through the meal which makes you want to read on if the meal is not inspiring you at the time.  This is part of what makes him a great author.

What has this got to do with preaching?  Actually, that’s not quite the right question, the real question is what has this got to do with morning tea or supper or that time after the formal service?

I want the ministry of the Word to continue at that time, for people to talk about the Bible passage and the sermon.  But I find people rarely do.  (Hey, I struggle with it!)  But what Gladwell has pointed out to me is that I have been wanting them to talk about the “meal” which they have not yet digested.  Which is why the conversations have been hard difficult.  I have the wrong expectations.

As a preacher, it has occurred to me that I need to give them and expect them to talk about the candy to help that process.  This means that the conversations might not be as deep I might like, but they will facilitate the ministry of the Word and help people expect that that is what we talk about as Christians.


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