To Do Something Great

John Maxwell tells a story about Abraham Lincoln that I heard for the first time this weekend while walking the Gettysburg battlefield. Maxwell recounts this tale in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently. Although I cannot verify the original source material (I’m still searching!), I’m told this by our battlefield expert and guide:

During the Civil War, President Lincoln would attend church on Sunday and Wednesday evening and sit in the pastor’s study away from the crowds to listen to Dr. Gurley deliver his sermons. As the story goes, after one particular sermon, Lincoln’s friend asked, “What did you think of tonight’s sermon?”

“Well,” Lincoln responded, “it was brilliantly conceived, biblical, relevant, and well presented.”

“So, it was a great sermon?”

“No,” Lincoln replied. “It failed. It failed because Dr. Gurley did not ask us to do something great.”

All weekend, I think of this idea of our most vital communication failing because it doesn’t ask our listeners or readers “to do something great.” It could be brilliant, biblical, relevant, and well-presented, but not working as an invitation to move readers towards the kind of thinking and living that’s truly larger than themselves and touches eternity.

Perhaps the best kind of communication inspires others to do what they had never imagined they could do, in ways they hadn’t considered, for reasons they had not yet understood, with whom they had not yet joined, and with the kind of power they have yet to fully fathom.



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