Rhetoric & Homiletics: Connectivity Rather Than Curiosity

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Clarity Then Replaces 

The goal of any and all public speakers is to move the audience to the planned destination — but the speaker-preacher can easily “lose some listeners” along the way.  Today, a commonly used phrase is . .  .

“Are you tracking?
Are you tracking with me?”

Part of the responsibility of any and all speakers — including preachers — is to keep people moving along with you for the whole 30-40 minute trip.

Don’t buy into the idea that you just lay out the truth, and if people don’t get it, it is their fault or problem.  Individuals and families load up their cars on Sunday morning and choose to listen to you — not the other options — because  they believe they will receive a worthwhile spiritual meal.  Engaging them verbally is your responsibility.

If that were not true, there would not be so many different “restaurants,” and some of them with people “lined up out the door.”  There is a reason that preachers like Tony Evans, Andy Stanley, Alistair Begg, Dr. Steven Smith, Tim Keller, Charles Stanley, etc. . . .  appeal to so many listeners!

Let me push that a little further — people are willing to set aside other church concerns and issues if there is good-to-great preaching.  The musical “taste-opinions-beliefs” may well come in second to a good-to-great “steak dinner.”  Or the inverse — If the meal is mediocre-to-lousy, the musical ambiance won’t get me back to the restaurant.   God’s people are coming for a needed meal that keeps them and their families on track for another week, and sometimes — for another day.

Listeners may “drop out” because they feel lost — not spiritually but rhetorically.

  • “I’m LOST! — Where is he going with all this?”
  • “It sounds like a hodgepodge of religious ideas, verses, comments, stories — but I can’t put it together!”
  • “I don’t know if we are going anywhere.”
  • “At the end of the whole hour, I’m not sure I will have anything that has helped me to make it another week.”

When there is “poor-to-no” flow of the content, or the flow is “stop-n’-go,” the speaker is creating a lot of “rhetorical static”.  While the flow may be present in the speaker’s thinking, the listeners are having difficulty following it — He/she can’t track it.

A listener’s mind is looking for structure, a pattern, a movement of thought, roads signs, or clues as to where we are headed or why what was said or dropped in at this point.

Yesterday I went to a doctor, and as I was seated in the waiting room, I noticed that there were at least four other individuals who seemed to be experiencing what some would think was . . .

I just concocted that — to illustrate that your mind is already thinking about how this will connect with what I have been saying up to and/or immediately before this.  If it were actually connected (and not a fictitious, off the cuff,  beginning of a story) you would be listening for something that related to what was said, or related to the ideas of “structure,” “a pattern,” or “clues.”

Many of us have experienced that sense of “lostness” as we listened to someone tell a seemingly pointless story.  You expect the story to be going somewhere — headed to a point that will be made at the end.  But it seems to be rambling. The longer you listen, you are not sure that the parts and pieces are connected, or that there is a destination, or that the destination is worth much more of your time.

Keeping connectivity plays a valuable part in speaking (or in writing — i.e. the purpose of paragraphs — visual clues that you are making a move).  The aim is to connect content, not produce unnecessary curiosity as to where all this is going.

Connectivity relies on grammatical transitions (wherefore, therefore, however, nevertheless, since, but, and, then again, in contrast, etc.) AND connecting narrative content — statements which tell an audience why you are saying and including the following content.

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When a speaker brings in content without connectivity, it creates “rhetorical static.”  A typical approach in preaching is to abruptly interject content without using “grammatically understood transitions” OR without a narrative statement which provides or points to the reason for its inclusion.

Typical Example:
While preaching a salvation message from the account of Cain & Abel, it would be easy to inject . . . .

Romans 3:23-24 tells us . . . .” For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.  Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Titus 2:11 says this . . . . “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,”

Or look at Ephesians 2:8 and 9 — which states . . . . “For by grace are you saved, through faith, not of works. . . . “

Then let’s  go to Titus 3:5 says . . . .”Not by works of righteousness which we have done . . . .”

We have all sung the song, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . . .”

Turn to Titus 3:5 — It states . . . . “Not by works of righteousness . . . . ”

For many in a Bible-believing ministry, there is a level of connectivity, BUT the connectivity is created by the audience, not the speaker.  A “biblically seasoned” audience is able to make the connections in their minds, without the speaker’s effort.

However, it is like the freshman college student, in Speech-101, who creates connectivity by stating . . . .

“Let me begin by saying . . . .
My first point is . . . .
Now my second point is . . . .
My last point is  . . . .
In conclusion . . . .”

The transitions work.  The audience gets it.  But it is a rather abrupt and inartful way to transition the audience to the next “chunk” of content.

It is “a transition” in that you have indicated to your audience that you are moving to a new point or section.  It flags the audience that what you, as the speaker, are about to say is not necessarily related to what you have been saying.

Likewise, speakers-preachers can strain connectivity when . . . .

  • they abruptly and/or inartfully bring in content
  • there is minimal effort to make a clear connection between what has been said or what is about to be said
  • it is the audience which must make the connection, not the speaker
  • they are speaking to an audience unfamiliar with the subject matter

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Smoother & Artful Options:

There are ways to bring in content that helps the audience know why you are bringing it in and/or how it relates to what you have been saying.

Let’s use the same Ephesians 2:8-9 example and be a little more artful  . . . .

While Genesis 4 exemplifies sin and the need for an acceptable sacrifice, it is spread throughout the pages of Scripture — in both the Old and New Testament books.

Paul has made that truth clear from the earliest days of his ministry. He stated that truth when he wrote to the believers in Rome — Romans 3:23-24.

Paul made that same point — called up that same truth  — when he writes his letter to the Ephesian church . . . . “For by grace are you saved, through faith, not of works. . . . “

When Paul writes to Titus, he can’t but help restate that Gospel truth again.  “Titus — it is” . . . .”Not by works of righteousness which we have done . . . .”

Centuries later, an old slave trader would put this same truth to words, and it became a song which we still sing today.  John Newton understood what Saul, who later became Paul, experienced . . . . “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost . . . “

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Educational Additions: You can even introduce some additional and worthwhile educational biblical content in the transitional statement, as you create connectivity . . . .

That is why Paul can say when he writes his letter to the Ephesian church, which he personally pastored for years . . . . “For by grace are you saved, through faith, not of works. . . . . . . One of Paul’s most reliable friends in ministry was Titus.  Titus knows this, but Paul is going to rejoice in this truth again . . . . “Not by works of righteousness which . . . . .”

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Some Other Needed Templates:  Here are some mind-generating ways to usher in more challenging content, in a cautious and artful way . . . .

Connectivity With A Secular Song:  Bringing in content from secular songs can be dicey!  Alistair Begg is known for the use of secular songs to illustrate the thinking of those who know not Christ.  Take the time to establish why you are using that song as an example!

Even secular song writers, who do not personally know the love of God and His forgiveness in Christ, who have never experienced the grace of God, feel the reality of this biblical truth . . . . It is their lostness which causes feel it and then to write about it when they say . . . .
(i.e. — “Anyway” by Martina McBride) [1]

Connectivity With A Movie:  I “never” use movies or fictional stories for content or illustration.  I believe that it is precarious to use historical and fictional movies to illustrate a biblical truth.  If you do, you might find it helpful to establish why you are using that “film” and set a proper stage for its inclusion.

When Mel Gibson — also writer and director of “Passion of the Christ” — produce “Braveheart” — he was attempting to capture an actual historical figure — “William Wallace.”  It is the story of a Scottish hero who rallies the Scottish against the English monarch, Edward I.

While much of what Mel Gibson portrays in word and deed is unknowable, William Wallace is a historical hero.  Gibson put to film a hero of Scottish history and has made “William Wallace” a household name.

William Wallace was captured on August 5, 1305 , tried for treason, and hung — His last words are recorded to be —  “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.”

Gibson, in seeking to portray Wallace puts these words into the mouth of William Wallace, as Wallace faces the English forces on the battlefield.  Mel Gibson reveals how masterful he is in capturing a spirit which years for freedom.

It is not that we know that these were the words spoken by Wallace, but that Gibson attempts to capture the spirit of William Wallace with such an outstanding portrayal.  Gibson understands and is, therefore, able to capture the spirit of all those who are courageous heroes against wrong — with these words.

Wallace: Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.

Young soldier: William Wallace is 7 feet tall.

Wallace: Yes, I’ve heard. Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse. I AM William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do with that freedom? Will you fight?

Veteran soldier: Fight? Against that? No, we will run; and we will live.

Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!!!

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Connectivity With A Well-Known Poem: 

Sometimes a simple poem that we learned from childhood can capture an actual biblical truth.  The poem was probably written because it is such a common human experience, which therefore the Bible also addresses!  Did you learn it as a child — “Humpty Dumpty . . . . great fall . . . . couldn’t put him back together again.”  that’s not just a children’s poem, that is.a poem about people who make tragic mistakes — mistakes in life and in death


A poem which I was taught as a child and probably known and repeated by you as well . . . I am not sure we actually believe it, but we were taught to recite it when we have been hurt — “Sticks and stones . . . ”  You can finish it — can’t you?  But it’s not true.  That is what we were taught as children, but we learn . . . .

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Connectivity With A Secular Poem:

The world around us wants to portray a resolute spirit in the face of the many frightening events of life.  They say boldly that they are not frightened by anything in life. Maybe in their saying that, they show that they actually are.

One of the contemporary authors-poets of our day is Maya Angelou.  She writes that life doesn’t frighten her at all.  This is how those in the world depict their fearlessness.

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
By Maya Angelou

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don’t frighten me at all

Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
With their hair in curls)
They don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

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Connectivity With A Hymn: 

While it is not the Christmas seasons, During the Christmas season we will sing this song.  The lyrics capture this biblical truth we are looking at in Philemon — It is found in the third stanza — here is what we sing  . . .

“Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease. . . .

1. God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway

This world’s gone crazy and it’s hard to believe
That tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway
You can love someone with all your heart
For all the right reasons
And in a moment they can choose to walk away
love ’em anyway

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Did you do the “dot-to-dot?”
Clarity Then Replaces 

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