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Are You Sitting Comfortably?

The United Kingdom is in the midst of both a general election and another visit by England and Scotland to the Euros.

England, one of the two home nations at the tournament, always raise the hopes of its supporters. This year they are favourites to win, yet since 1966 they have consistently fluffed their lines at the key moment.

It is a common story. We have a big build up, the England flags are put up and a nation waits. Maybe this is the year that football is coming home?

Talking about raising expectations, I have been listening to the leaders’ interviews and debates and read details of each party’s manifesto during the election campaign.

One of the things that has struck me is that, with all of the time the parties have had to put together a manifesto, there seems to be a lack of clarity concerning what exactly it means, whether it matters, and how it is going to be implemented.

It can seem at times that despite the big fanfare and sense of anticipation nothing of significance is being said.

This got me thinking about preaching.

Sometimes preachers will give their sermons a catchy attention-grabbing title, but it can end up being like the smiling cat with the vanishing body!

Some preachers work up a dynamic introduction to their sermons that is designed to metaphorically grab people by the scruff of the neck and not let go until the sermon is over.

My friend Tom Long writes about what preachers are trying to do in the introductions to their sermons. Tom suggests that the introduction is not designed to gain people’s attention but to make sure that the preacher does not lose it.

Congregations are usually generous to preachers for the first 30–60 seconds. This could be the best sermon they have every heard, or it could be the opposite. In the opening moments the preacher is given the benefit of the doubt.

What questions are going through the minds of the hearers?

Is this a sermon that is worth hearing?

In what way is this preacher qualified to speak on this subject?

Does the preacher preach as if they believe what they are saying?

Does the preacher communicate in a way that makes me want to listen?

This week I am teaching at a training day on the tiny letter of Titus. It is one of the shorter New Testament letters, but it has one of the longest introductions. Titus 1: 1–4 contains 65 words compared to 94 in the introduction of Romans and 76 in Galatians.

Ben Witherington suggests that:

“It frontloads an enormous amount of information not only about Paul, but also about God’s salvation plan in Jesus, for us to come to faith and live faithfully and fruitfully.”

The introduction is saying:

I am qualified to speak to you.

I am speaking about something of fundamental importance.

This is something that can change the way you think and live.

Introductions need to assure the hearers that they are in safe hands and are listening to something significant that is life-transforming.

Picture Public domain

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