The very beginning point of teaching must grab the attention of people. It draws them into what they are about to experience in the Word. The introductory teaching persuades people to pay attention. It convinces them they need to become engaged in the discussion rather than check the weather on their cell phones. One way to do this is in the form of a promise:
- If you will give me attention today, I will show you how to forgive when forgiving is hard.
- Thirty minutes from now, you will be able to enjoy an absolute assurance of your salvation.
- I want to teach you today how you can worry substantially less than you do.
- I want to talk to you today about how you can break destructive habits in your life.
Notice a couple of things about these statements:
- They are application oriented. We are not out to make smarter sinners. We are out to change behavior.
- They have a “what’s in it for me” orientation. This is based on a premise that is at the core of my theology: it is always in our best interest to live the Christian life. It is always good for us to follow God. God is a rewarder. We don’t choose between God and the good life. Following God is the good life. (For more on this, see my book, Obedience.)
The worst kind of introduction
The worst kind of introduction is perhaps the most common: “Open your Bibles today to …” Most teachers who use that kind of introduction have an attendance problem.
This kind of introduction assumes people are interested. Happily, some of them are. I would be. If you used that introduction with me, I’d be fine with it. I’d gladly give you my attention to discover what the Word says in that particular passage.
But, the truth is, most people wouldn’t be that interested. Most people are not staying up nights thinking, “I wonder what John 11 is about.”
Consequently, people don’t give you their full attention. They might look like they are paying attention. They are polite. But their mind is only half there. They are giving you what Linda Stone calls Continuous Partial Attention.6
Effective Bible Teachers want more than continuous partial attention. They want full-bodied, all-out attention. They want people on the edge of their seats. They want people to be fascinated by the gospel. Fascinated. Literally, their attention fastened. A good introduction is where that starts.
Often, although not always, I use an introduction before the introduction. This is about rapport building. This is about connecting. This is about being human.
It is talking about the local high school football game. It is giving an update on the surgery. It might be talking about the weather or the latest news. It is about letting them know you are human and live in the same world as they do.
I am a big fan of video teaching. But, there are some things video can never do. Video cannot connect like a human can. Before you break open the Word, say hello.
Making the gospel attractive
Titus 2:10 says we are to make the gospel attractive. Attractive. The Greek word is kosmeo. It means to adorn. We get words like cosmetics and cosmopolitan from this word. Cosmopolitan Magazine is about being attractive. Let’s tease out this meaning further.
I would like to introduce you to two kinds of word studies. These have only been readily available to the average person in recent years. They taught us to do these studies in Greek class. I remember thinking, “Well, that is really cool, but who has time for that?” Today, there is an app for that. You can do in seconds what it used to take hours to do.
In addition to looking a word up in a dictionary, I’d invite you to look at vertical and horizontal word studies.
- A vertical word study looks at how this underlying Greek or Hebrew word is used in this translation in other places. (Stay with me; this is possible with no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew.)
- A horizontal word study is when we look at how the various translations translate this word in this verse. Often, there is not a one-to-one relationship between a word in one translation and a word in another translation. Translators speak of a pool of meaning. By looking at a number of translations, we dip into the whole pool.
So, let’s look at this word, kosmeo, as it is translated by the NIV in other places:7
We see that this word has the sense of adorning or decorating the gospel. It is like tasteful makeup on a woman’s face. It accents the beauty that is already there. This is what a good introduction does. Indeed, this is what good teaching does—it accents the full beauty of the gospel.
Let’s look at a horizontal word study of kosmeo. Here is the rendering from a few translations:
- So that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. Titus 2:10b (NIV)
- Adding luster to the teaching of our Savior God. Titus 2:10b (MSG)
- In this way, they will make people want to believe in our Savior and God. Titus 2:10b (TLB)
- So that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. Titus 2:10b (ESV)
- So that in everything they may be an ornament and do credit to the teaching [which is] from and about God our Savior. Titus 2:10b (AMP)
- Then everyone will show great respect for what is taught about God our Savior. Titus 2:10b (CEV)
- Then they will show the beauty of the teachings about God our Savior in everything they do. Titus 2:10b (GW)
A good introduction—indeed all teaching—shows the beauty of the teachings about God our Savior.
The introduction may include a number of things:
But the key part of an introduction can be reduced to a promise. It answers the questions, “What will I get if I give you my attention today?” Or, stated differently, “What do you want me to do about what you are talking about?”
Doing is the key thing. James spoke of being doers of the Word and not hearers only. Teachers need to help with that, and it needs to start in the introduction. The Great Commission is about teaching them to obey. It is not about making smarter sinners.
What’s in it for me?
Everyone is tuned in to radio station WIIFM: What’s in it for me?
If you can show people how the teaching today will benefit their life, you will have their undivided attention.
But, isn’t that appealing to selfishness?
The question reveals an underlying assumption. Allow me to reveal it in the form of several questions:
- Is it good for us to follow God?
- Is it always in our best interest to live the Christian life?
- Is God good?
- Is following God good for me?
If God is good …
If following God is good …
If obedience to God is always in my best interest …
If it is always good for me to follow God …
Then, there is no conflict. What is most glorifying to God is what is best for me. John Piper has a helpful quote from John Murray on this point:
There is no conflict between gratification of desire and the enhancement of man’s pleasure, on the one hand, and fulfillment of God’s command on the other.… The tension that often exists within us between a sense of duty and wholehearted spontaneity is a tension that arises from sin and a disobedient will. No such tension would have invaded the heart of unfallen man. And the operations of saving grace redirected to the end of removing the tension so that there may be, as there was with man at the beginning, the perfect complementation of duty and pleasure, of commandment and love.8
The introduction needs to spell this out. Reduce it to a sentence. Reduce it to a promise: if you really pay attention today, you will be one step closer to the abundant, John 10:10 life that Jesus promised.
Josh Hunt, The Effective Bible Teacher (Josh Hunt, 2013).