Introduction & Variety
Here are two quotes about the craft of writing — One quote is about “introductions” — beginning the story, and the other is about variety.
“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say:
Come in here.
You want to know about this.”
“How many times in your life have you eaten eggs — but there’s always a new way to fix eggs.”
There are typical patterns of introducing or setting up a speech or message which speakers and preachers fall into because we are comfortable with the known. However, those well-worn roads create a lack of variety and even the potential of enriching one’s speaking abilities.
If after listening to another speaker or preacher, you were tempted to “steal” the message because you knew that he just nailed the passage and drove it home, then you understand that there are different ways to set up a message and/or frame a biblical concept outside of how you would have handled the passage and laid out the message.
Good-to-great speakers keep working with different ways . . . .
- to begin a message
- layout the topic
- frame an idea
- structure the flow
- punch key truths
- include needed contextual material
- state the Big Idea
Here is a message by DeForest Soaries (from Mark 9) which illustrates another pattern for beginning a message. It is not being highlighted because it is unique — although it may be to those who travel down the same rhetorical roads time and time again. It is worthy of note because it has “prompting value” — it prompts a speaker to think about yet another way of setting up the case which you are about to address.
After a statement about meeting men and wanting to know whether a man believes in God ( by which Soaries introduces the general subject or topic of his message) . . . .
→ “What I want to know either directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly — do you believe in God. What I want to know as quickly as possible is this — Do you believe in God . . . .”
(Pastor DeForest Soaries, July 22, 2018 – Itunes, The Power To Believe — link to whole message – begins around 49-minute mark)
Whenever I meet someone new . . . . either directly or indirectly . . . either explicitly or implicitly — What I want to know as quickly as possible is this — Do you believe in God.
it’s not a matter of being judgemental
it’s not a matter of putting anyone down
it’s not that I can’t deal with people who don’t believe in God
but people who don’t believe in God require a response that’s somewhat different than people who do believe in God
For instance — if I’m in a situation and that situation is stressful or that situation he’s challenging
if I’m with someone who believes in God — I feel free and confident to say — Pray for me
but asking someone who doesn’t believe in God — to pray for you — is as absurd as asking someone broke to lend you money.
They won’t —ain’t no sense and ask him certain folk to lend you money they want you to lend them money
so I want to know — what is this person’s perspective on God
and although they may not be Baptists
and they — that — they may not even go to church
there is a qualitative difference and a predictable dynamic involve when you deal with people who don’t believe in God
Now some situations quite frankly — some situations are such that it really doesn’t matter — at least it doesn’t matter on a certain level
We had a problem in one of our buildings where – where one apartment had an air conditioning unit that refused to work at that particular apartment was occupied by staff that worked with some of their clients and some other of our apartments — and during the hottest two weeks of the year.
The air conditioner wouldn’t work. It’s ninety-nine degrees —hundred one degrees and people are complaining — my lawyer is involved — and finally, I call Lynda Bennett – she connected me with someone that she works with at our building and facilities coordinator — and I talked to that person — I said you’ve done such a fine job everywhere else and the jacklegs who seem to be working on this don’t know what they’re doing — would you mind going to assess the problem?
At that point I don’t care what you believe in
and when I get on an airplane — and fasten my seat belt I’m not as concerned about the pilot’s religious views as I am his flying record
so I’m not so deep that every single encounter and every single relationship that I’ve developed must be driven by a belief in God or – or a nonbelief in God — but there does come a point when that airconditioning HVAC person is going to bill me — or when that pilot hits turbulence.
It is still helpful to know — at that point whether or not they believe in God – Amen.
Because of the pilot of believing God when we hit turbulence I got to pray for me and for him.
And if that HVAC technician doesn’t believe in God — then I’ve got to check his bill a little differently than I would if I thought he was accountable to God
and the older I get the more I pray for discernment because when we were coming up — there was at least — a near-universal recognition that there was a God.
You know — it was embedded in the culture it was embedded in the national culture — we would pledge allegiance to the flag and we were declared to be one nation under God.
And although we didn’t take it as seriously in some places as we did in other places — we had on our money — In God We Trust.
And even in those old words embedded at the beginning of our Declaration — we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by our Creator
It was embedded in our national psyche that over our heads there there is music in the air there must be a God somewhere
and the transmission of that reality started long before we went to school.
And one of the reasons we’re finding godlessness and a lack of belief in God — growing exponentially — it’s almost becoming viral — is because of when – when you deal with something as intangible as God – when you deal with the reality of – of a person that you can see, touch, feel or hear when knowledge of God comes more by revelation than education — then – then it has to be taught and caught early in life
So one of the reasons we find ourselves in a society that is quickly moving further and further away from a real belief in God is because of the breakdown of the family.
And it’s not — I’m not just talking about single parenthood — even though I am talking about men — especially who get amnesia between conception and birth.
And men who are raised in a culture that says it’s all right to seek the thrill of making babies without having the will to raise those babies — I am talking about that
— I am talking about the fact that a woman with three children and no -no one to support her can always be too busy or too tired to – to pause at the end of the day and get on her knees and do as my wife did with my sons and that is — teach them how to pray.
My son learn how to pray before they learned how to play basketball — which is why even now with their college degrees and their full time jobs and their health benefits when when life begins to throw a curve to them they call them although prayed with them every morning before they went to school — and said mom pray for me
when they’re broke visit Dad paid for me
when they’re down —mom pray for me as called the division of labor.
But I saw my father pray
I heard my father pray
And if young boys are going to grow up into being men that believing God — We need more men to teach boys to pray.
and so the breakdown of the family – the breakdown of family dynamics – the breakdown of families praying together — we have a lot of single mothers we have husbands at home.
That’s why I know I don’t get as – as hyped over the language around family— because — because there are a lot of single mothers that do a better job raising children than Mom and Daddy at home
because the Mom and Daddy are preoccupied with their own careers and their 401k’s and their own networking — sometimes neither mother nor father together put in the kind of time raising children as a single mother does.
Then the media — the media over our lifetimes the media has changed such that — such that the messages that come from the media also antithetical to biblical principles.
And then — if you if you grew up during this season of watching H.B.O. and Hulu and Netflix.
And all – and all of all of what cable has to offer — FX and TNT… After about twenty-five years of digesting the media as we’ve seen, it could cause one to conclude — there is no God
there is no God
much as I liked the Cosbys — the imagery African-American education – prosperity.
And all those years I think I only saw him say “Grace” — one time.
Anybody who grew up watching the Huxtable’s never saw him go to church
and there would have been a Huxtable had there not been a grandma Huxtable that prayed them through. — so the media
And then technology I spent some time in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago and I’m telling you — I’m telling you that most of what our grandparents thought — they needed God to do — machines can do now.
We have to change the whole focus of our prayers.
I met a guy who is developing what they call “a virtual assistant” and it’s more than technology — it is technology that can think
I can tell an app on my phone I want to take my wife a dinner tonight somewhere near Princeton at six o’clock and – and the app will search all the restaurants near Princeton and send me the email— and say — which one you want?
Where a machine can out think a human
It makes you wonder — why – why not why do we need God.
So technology has emerged in a way to – to cause us to believe that it is – it is high tech that has all power
and so I’m always curious to know which side of this equation are you on because depending on — depending on what you believe — it will it will determine the outcome of how you behave.
And so this – this man saw his child – the way many of us see our children – in desperate need for help — this — this child was acting in a manner that was injurious to his own health.
This child was afflicted did with forces that limited his potential.
This child was engaging in behavior that obviously was caused by some outside force
Don’t you ever think that a child at six years old will curse you out — because he was born cussing?
We had a child around here the other day. We have a little daycare going on in the summertime and – and a little six-year-old was obviously withdrawn from the group — you can tell when a child has either been rejected or has – has withdrawn from a group and the child was – was obviously a little down — and the child was – the child —the child was disconnected and so one of our staff members just walking through —didn’t work for the campus — saw the child and greeted the child in an effort to make sure the child was alright
Six years old
That six-year-old responded with language that – that almost caused the church to be shut down
Six years old.
But that – that child at six was obviously the victim of an environment that had taught that child how taught that child how to cuss.
But this man saw that his child — his child was acting in a manner that that was significantly out of character and – and clearly impacted by an outside force and so he decided that not only was he going to get help for his child — he was going to get spiritual help because help because he realized — that if you have a problem caused by spirits you need a solution that comes from a Spirit
A lot of us make that mistake
A lot of us make the mistake of really believing that we can solve the problem with money.
or that we can rescue our children with education — and I’m not against either I believe in education which is why I spent so much time and money getting an education I believe in money which I spend so much time teaching people how to handle money
but I’m promising you that neither money nor education can get to the core of the human condition.
So this man came — this man came to church
and when he came to church he resisted all of conventional wisdom
conventional wisdom says — just read a motivational book
or or go to our doctor
or get on of diet
he resisted all of the solutions that many people assume to be normal
he said — I’m taking my child to church.
He had heard that there was a man named Jesus.
By Mark chapter 9 —Jesus had established himself as being able to do what no one else could do.
Here is the template, or the pattern of DeForest Soaries’ introduction to his message . . . .
#1) Introduction of the General Subject→ Believing God: DeForest begins by making a statement that when he meets a person, he wants to know whether a man believes in God. That sets up the general subject — believing in God and God who is able.
“Whenever I meet someone new . . . . either directly or indirectly . . . either explicitly or implicitly — What I want to know as quickly as possible is this — Do you believe in God.”
#2) Why? – Not Because: Soaries then goes to the “not” (which is a topoi) . . . .
“it’s not a matter of being judgemental
it’s not a matter of putting anyone down
it’s not that I can’t deal with people who don’t believe in God”
#3) Why? – Because: Then the cause, reason, “the because” is stated.
it makes a difference in how one relates to him/her
it requires a different response when dealing with this-or-that individual
#4) Support/Argue That Point: The fact that it makes a difference in how one relates to or deals with someone is supported or argued by a comparative example . . . .
“but asking someone who doesn’t believe in God — to pray for you — is as absurd as asking someone broke to lend you money.
They won’t —ain’t no sense and ask him certain folk to lend you money they want you to lend them money.”
#5) Clarify & Limit That Point: Soaries limits and clarifies that he is not speaking about every situation — in some situations, it really doesn’t matter — followed by an example — AC man and airline pilot. Not every situation or encounter does it matter that you know whether he/she believes in God.
#6) Lay Out / Set Up – Where we are Today: DeForest Soaries lays out the case of what is happening in our culture. Here is the situation we are — God’s people are — living in today — a world which no longer promotes a belief in God.
#7) Restates, Connects & Moves: Soaries then restate the point which harkens back to that beginning question, connects it with the passage — Mark 9, and moves the message towards the audience . . . . .
“and so I’m always curious to know which side of this equation are you on because depending on — depending on what you believe — it will it will determine the outcome of how you behave.”
“And so this – this man saw his child – the way many of us see our children – in desperate need for help — this — this child was acting in a manner that was injurious to his own health . . . .But this man saw that his child — his child was acting in a manner that that was significantly out of character . . . . and he was going to get spiritual help . . . . to the ‘deacons’ . . . .”
Then, around the 17-minute mark, Soaries moves away from what is happening in culture and society and focuses in on the message for his audience.
“[In Mark 6] The man brings his son to Jesus and the fact that he hung in there — describes the reality of his belief.
What is it we really believe?
Do we really believe that God is able?
I mean — Do we really believe that our greatest burdens, and our greatest concerns, and our greatest fears, and our greatest challenges, and our deepest problems and our most severe pain — do we really believe.”
You can take that template and use it, truncate it, modify it, or rearrange it as you will, but there is a pattern which is worth identifying and delineating to get a preacher thinking about a different way to begin a message.
Rather than beginning with . . . .
“Turn in your Bible to . . . . ” — or
“This morning we are going to be looking at. . . . .” — or
“As we continue in our series on . . . .” — or
“Let me review where what we have said last week . . . . “
Start with a statement which is not only different, but which engages the mind of those listening and then build on and develop that.
Stephen King: “There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. It’s tricky thing, and tough to talk about because I don’t think conceptually while I work on a first draft — I just write. To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar.
But there’s one thing I’m sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.
How can a writer extend an appealing invitation — one that’s difficult, even, to refuse?
We’ve all heard the advice writing teachers give: Open a book in the middle of a dramatic or compelling situation, because right away you engage the reader’s interest. This is what we call a “hook,” and it’s true, to a point. This sentence from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice certainly plunges you into a specific time and place, just as something is happening:
They threw me off the hay truck about noon.
Suddenly, you’re right inside the story — the speaker takes a lift on a hay truck and gets found out. But Cain pulls off so much more than a loaded setting — and the best writers do. This sentence tells you more than you think it tells you. Nobody’s riding on the hay truck because they bought a ticket. He’s a basically a drifter, someone on the outskirts, someone who’s going to steal and filch to get by. So you know a lot about him from the beginning, more than maybe registers in your conscious mind, and you start to get curious.
This opening accomplishes something else: It’s a quick introduction to the writer’s style, another thing good first sentences tend to do. In “They threw me off the hay truck about noon,” we can see right away that we’re not going to indulge in a lot of foofaraw. There’s not going to be much floridity in the language, no persiflage. The narrative vehicle is simple, lean (not to mention that the book you’re holding is just 128 pages long). What a beautiful thing — fast, clean, and deadly, like a bullet. We’re intrigued by the promise that we’re just going to zoom.”