Beginning With A Question . . . .

handshake introduction  Introductions:

Stock Questions OR Thoughtful?

A very common way of beginning a speech or a message is with a question.  I would suggest that the method is all too common because it takes little mental effort, just as “We are in the book of __?__.” kind of introductions.

Here are some exemplary opening questions which one might hear when a speaker or preacher begins his message . . . .

  • What lies do we believe?
  • Who are we trying to be?
  • What were your motives?
  • What can you learn?
  • Where is your heart still holding onto grudges?
  • Do you still have habits you have not defeated? Are there patterns that are still getting the best of you?
  • What can you do differently in the days ahead to not wake up one year from today?
  • What is it that gets you out of bed on the days you don’t want to?
  • What do you love and what brings you to tears?
  • Which strengths do you have and what are your weaknesses?
  • When you come alive, what makes you come alive?
  • How many of you have ever ___?___ (famous in Speech 101 class)

 

 

Beginning with speech or message with a question is typically not an effective way to begin a speech or message.  It is hackneyed!  The audience has heard these kinds of beginnings so often that they are not really engaged.  They are passively listening.  They are still in “neutral.”  Such questions generally and only indicate to them that the message has begun and the general subject is __?__.  They are not sure they need to listen or to listen closely.  Some may be transacting a business deal or thinking about what still has to be done when the service is over because there is no real relevance to them YET.  Maybe that will come as they half-way listen, as they straddle both sides of the road – your message and the other distractions of life!

 

 

There is a reason that the three parts of a speech are classical, historically, and consistently identified as the . . . .

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion

It is because all three parts play a meaningful part in the effectiveness of the speech.  The introduction and conclusion are given enough weight that they are included in this “trinity of rhetorical parts.”

“The most important part of the sermon is the introduction. You have 3-5 minutes to win their attention or lose their interest More sermons fail here than probably anywhere else.” -Daniel L. Akin

I am not persuaded that the most important of the sermon is the introduction.  A speaker can start out in the most ineffective and elementary way — i.e., “Let’s look at Matthew 19 and 20 this morning – Matthew 19:16 — This is the account of the rich young ruler . . . .” — and still have content (the Body of the speech) which is insightful, driving a Big Idea, and well applied.   Nevertheless, such is the most basic and elementary way to begin and as a speaker you . . . .

have lost ground unnecessarily!

have not grabbed the interest and attention of the listeners.

will have to work harder to get the attention and interest of the audience

have non-verbally demonstrated that introductions mean little to you.

missed an opportunity to reflect your thoughtfulness as a speaker.

have ignored the natural disposition of most all listeners, to listen for a reason – whether that be ego-centric or spiritually minded.

 

 

While the introduction and conclusion* may not have the same weight as the body, they both have an important role in speaking.  Some of the most effective speakers and preachers know the importance of an introduction and are able to use an introduction to bring the audience into the speech – are able to get them to move to their side of the road, into their lane.

 

As I was listening to Erwin Lutzer, I was again reminded of the method of beginning with a question.  However, while listening, I also thought that he had done it more effectively than most  – Huh – What was different?  “Why did I move into his lane?”

 

Of course, that “why” causes one goes analytical, so that one can see what a speaker has done.  It is by going analytical that one grasps the elements, dynamics, steps, parts, or methodology which makes a speaker effective.  “Why” had NOT his introduction, which began with a question, shifted me into that “mental neutral gear?”  In fact, just the very first words are so shopworn – “So let me begin by asking . . . .”

“So let me begin by asking –  “What if God wanted to take us where we have never been before?”

 

However, it only took another second or two and I no longer straddled the road but moved over to his lane – but why?

Here is his introduction (and link) of that message . . .

We Have No Map for this Territory; By Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer 

Well, today I begin a series of messages – entitled – Famines, Deserts, And Other Hard Places.

So let me begin by asking –  “What if God wanted to take us where we have

never been before? – a whole new level of devastation and suffering – that most of us have never experienced?”
Some of you are already there individually – but I mean what ifwhat if this was true of
all of us – What then?
What if the promises of God are still true — and we believe that they are thankfully indeed they are – but let us suppose that we have to apply those promises in ways that we’ve never had to apply them before.
What if we as a nation end up with the same kind of poverty that we see on television in other parts of the world and – join the world in its poverty and devastation and even natural disasters — What then?
What if God in heaven simply says – enough already.  I’ve been judging you?  I’ve been sending you remedial judgments, and those remedial judgments were intended to warn you to repent, and you didn’t — so enough already — you’re going to now experience the kind of judgments that were found even in the Old Testament — what then?
Michael Craven — who is the president of the Center for Christ in Culture wrote . . .
“I do not think it is too strong or sensational to say that we are witnessing the collapse of Western civilization across the Western world. The fruits of apostasy and secularism are manifesting themselves in overwhelmingly destructive ways.   In my lifetime I’ve seen the rapid demise of the family.  For the first time in American history.  Non-married households now outnumbered married households  – 52 percent versus 48 – Only one-fifth of American households represent traditional families.
This is – these statistics are from the New York Times.
Out of wedlock birth rates in the US have reached 40 percent following a similar trend throughout Western Europe countries. Some of which are as high as 66 percent.  And then he says – While out of wedlock births continue to rise more and more people are simply not having children at all leading to a depopulation of the West on an unprecedented scale.   Add to this the radical redefinition of marriage and family to include same-sex couples, and the future of the natural family and . . . .
(6:17m)
So my question to you today is  — What happens when the sock comes unraveled? What happens when the difficulties really come and when the fruits of secularism begin to have their full impact.  What then?
I can imagine somebody saying – Pastor Lutzer you shouldn’t preach about this because people are gonna panic and fear well just to be clear my purpose is actually the direct opposite . . . . .
Rather “lackluster initial introductory words” by which to begin a message – No?
“Well, today I am going to begin.”
Which is then followed by that standard bland type of question
“What if God wanted to . . . .”
However, Lutzer moved quickly to pull the listeners into what he was saying.  With that kind of introduction, he has to and he does.
Whether or not there is a better way to do this – and there is – is not my point.
Rather —  How did his using of a bland beginning and question NOT leave the audience straddling the yellow line.  How was he able to pull the listener over into his lane — (assuming that I am a “typical listener” and/or that he was able to still get your interest and attention as well)?
There are some reasons which account for his “beginningly bland start”  – RECOVERING.
√ #1) After stating that introductory question . . . .
“So let me begin by asking –  “What if God wanted to take us where we have never been before?”
. . . . Lutzer quickly expands on the question –  on the “where”
a whole new level of devastation and suffering”
“where we have never been before
He stays with that question and/or expands on it.  He does not ask another question which is parallel or similar but stays with the original question.  That step is important!  Say with the original question and descriptively expand on it!  Don’t move all over and around the general question.
The contrast is generally like this (taking the first one from my original list). . . .
“What lies do we believe?  What have you been told which is just not true?  What has this world peddled as true, but is not? What have you been brought up believing?  Your educational experiences may have taught you this-or-that.  Books on this-or-that subject may have said that when you raise children, enter marriage, look for a job . . . .
√ #2) Early on, he also selects words that are not the general or commonplace words that are so representative of those “stock kind of questions” thrown out there.  In fact, the words he uses are “strong words” – “a whole new level of devastation and suffering
√ #3) He not only repeatedly uses  — “us” “we” “us” “you” — but Lutzer gets more personal when he states . . . .
Some of you are already there  – individually”
but I mean what if – what if this was true of all of us – What then?
we’ve never had to apply them before”
√ #4) He pictures what that might look like in our lives.
What if we as a nation end up with
– the same kind of poverty that we see on television in other parts of the world and
– join the world in its poverty and devastation
– and even natural disasters
What then?
– you’re going to now experience the kind of judgments that were found even in the Old Testament
What then?
√ #5) Lutzer characterizes the original question two different ways . . . .
Metaphorically: “So my question to you today is  — What happens when the sock comes unraveled?”
Actuality: “What happens when the difficulties really come and when the fruits of secularism begin to have their full impact.”
Primarily, Lutzer is doing this . . . .
He is NOT going down the easy and commonplace road of just calling up a question or a common sphere of questions, by which to begin a message.
Rather, he is demonstrating that his initial question is not just a way to start the message, but that it is a thoughtful and thought out question which he desires his audience consider.
His approach may begin with a question, but it moves in a way that it takes on the tone of a philosophical question.  It takes on the tone of a question which one would hear asked in the Philosophy classroom.
His expansion, word choice, pictures, and framing all speak of having thought through the asking of this question, of it being a meaningful question.**



*Likewise: “The purpose of your conclusion is to conclude—not merely stop.…Your congregation should see your idea entire and complete, and they should know and feel what God’s truth demands of them.”  — Haddon Robinson

Unfortunately, some use these same or such questions as listed above as their method of concluding.  They close with, “Where is your heart still holding onto grudges? — Let’s close in prayer.”

 

**The quoting from Craven also supports the fact that this is a question which has had some real mental consideration by Lutzer (even though I think his reading of it is longer than needed or helpful).

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