Whenever I have trouble getting started on a sermon, workshop, Sunday school class, or any other presentation or piece of writing, I turn to Shook-Hook-Book-Took.
I learned this four-part framework long ago at a workshop on how to lead a workshop. How I wish I had kept proper notes so I could credit my original source! But Shook-Hook-Book-Took has stayed with me, and over the years I’ve made it my own: my all-purpose sermon, Sunday school class, and workshop outline, a kickstarter and way to get unstuck when I’m preparing any kind of presentation or piece of writing.
Think of shaking hands—like we did before there was covid—as a sign of welcome, a way of connecting with one another, and a start at building rapport. How can you develop that kind of connection to help people listen to a sermon, engage in your workshop or class, or read something you’ve written?
For a sermon with little opportunity for interaction, the Shook might be a personal story to help people connect with me and with my sermon theme. For a workshop where people are meeting one another for the first time, the Shook might be introducing myself and asking everyone else for a brief introduction. For a Sunday school class or any other small group, the Shook could be a sharing question related to the topic and easy for anyone to answer. So for a session on Sabbath, I might ask, What helps you relax? or, When you hear the word “Sabbath” what is your first reaction—positive, negative, curious, neutral, or something else?
For an effective Shook, the key question is What will help people get to know you and one another?
The Hook is the attention grabber that draws people to your topic, an appetizer to whet the appetite for what follows. A personal story might do double duty as both Shook and Hook, to build rapport and also hook your listeners and readers.
The Hook might pose a problem and solution. With sermons, workshops, and written materials, that kind of Hook often appears as the title and subtitle. Like The Loneliness Epidemic by Susan Mettes. What hooked me was that title along with her subtitle: “Why So Many of Us Feel Alone, and How Leaders Can Respond.”
The Hook might be a question. So for a blog post, I asked, Is Self-Care Part of Your Paid Employment and Should It Be? That Hook worked so well that it even caught the attention of a book editor who sent me an email saying, “I loved that post, and my first thought was this should be in a book!” Out of that exchange came my book, Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.
For an effective Hook, the key question is What will catch people’s attention and draw them in?
The Book consists of the main content of your sermon, workshop, or whatever you’re planning. It’s the meat and potatoes, the rice and beans of what you have to share. After I pray through a Scripture text and do my research, I continue to mull everything over: given our time and place and the people before me, what will form the Book for this particular sermon or workshop or other presentation?
In my congregation, the Sunday liturgy conveys the theme and message in the readings, prayers, and music, with the sermon as just one element in the form of a ten-fifteen minute homily. For such a short sermon/homily, the Book is literally a focus on the Book, on a close reading of Scripture. For my hour-long adult class sessions last fall on Prayer During Challenging Times, the Book could be much broader and included both biblical teaching on prayer and examples from history and personal experience.
For an effective Book, the key question is What is most essential for people to know?
I sometimes hear speakers say, “If there’s only one thing you remember from today, then remember this. . . .” That’s often the practical takeaway, what people will carry home with them after the sermon, workshop, class, or retreat, the one thing they’ll remember after they finish reading your article or book. That’s the Took.
For a sermon, the Took might be a closing litany, prayer, or story that summarizes and highlights the main points of the sermon. For a workshop or Sunday school class, the Took might be a handout for each session with an outline, notes, and links to additional resources. In Cast Your Cares by Stephanie Reeves, each devotional starts with reflecting on Scripture as the Book, and that’s followed by a prayer practice that I think of as the Took—a time of reflection to release anxiety, release loneliness, release anger.
For an effective Took, the key question is What do you most want people to take away and put into practice?
I often use Shook-Hook-Book-Took to think through a sermon, workshop, Sunday school class, or some other presentation or piece of writing. Sometimes it’s a kickstarter for me—if I don’t have anything else, I can at least start with these four elements. Sometimes it’s a way of getting unstuck—if my preparation stalls for any reason, I think of Shook-Hook-Book-Took, ignore any kind of order, start with whatever seems easiest, and find my way out of writer’s block that way.
Shook-Hook-Book-Took has been a valuable and flexible tool for me, and I offer it as one more resource to encourage you. May it enrich your next sermon, workshop, Sunday school class, or other presentation. May God continue to guide and bless you in the work of ministry.
For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better: