Presentation Case Study: Pastor John Ortberg

Pastor John Ortberg

Storytelling creates the emotional glue that connects an audience to your idea. Creating unique, inspirational messages every week is demanding, and Pastor John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian relies heavily on his own life stories to illustrate his messages.

Ortberg’s skill at using stories to communicate his messages is a hallmark of his unique style and appeal.

He takes whatever amount of time he needs to word-craft and story-craft his messages into a tapestry. He begins with a master theme from scripture, and then interlaces it with personal stories. It’s likened to the woof and warp of a loom. The latitudinal warp consists of the master theme and scriptural support, while the horizontal woof is the stories, which are like the yarn that shuttles back and forth to produce the patterns of the fabric.

The sermon analyzed on the next page was the first I heard Ortberg deliver. I was intrigued by its structure and its ability to move me. The master theme was “people can bring the Kingdom of Heaven to this Earth by showing love.” He sprinkled several stories through the sermon, but there was one master story that was referenced and carefully woven throughout: that of his sister’s rag doll, Pandy.

After telling the rag doll story at the beginning, he continued to use it like glue with references to raggedness throughout the sermon.

The master story conveyed that people want to be loved in spite of their ragged condition.

Ortberg limits his sermons to 20 minutes or so. Each sermon has an overarching theme, stories and contrast between what is and what could be.

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