How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

As I teach younger men and women how to relay biblical messages one of the key things we focus on is building a bridge between the text and context. By that I mean we hold in tension the Truth of the scripture along with a keen awareness of the people in the audience. The natural tendency is to default to one or the other. You will either be so immersed in the text that you ignore the people you are presenting to or you will be so immersed in cultural context that you will ignore the depth of biblical truth in front of you. The two must relate because at the end of the day you are hoping to impress the truth of scripture into the lives of individuals and groups in modern context. Make no mistake, the scripture is the source of Truth and the audience is in need of Truth.

How to Build a Bridge Between the Text and Context

In the preparation process, after I have done some study and feel like I have the basic understanding of the text, I like to build the bridge by asking myself a simple question: “What is the problem to solve?” 

When my son was going to preschool we used to tell each other stories on the way to school. I’ll be honest, his stories stunk. Mostly because there wasn’t anything WRONG. The whole story was a happily ever after kind of deal. So I started coaching him on how to tell a story. I told him that every good story has a “problem to solve.It could be a relationship to heal, an enemy to fight, a fear to overcome, etc… but there needed to be a problem otherwise there was NO story, just information. 

I think some people sit bored in their chairs because the speaker hasn’t presented them with a problem. I know that if you are speaking out of the Bible that there will always be a problem to solve, if not immediately in the context of a story (such as getting God’s people out of bondage in Egypt), it will be in the overarching theological theme of a passage (Your sin separates you from God, you can’t overcome that on your own, you need a mediator… I can’t leave this hanging, his name is JESUS).

I know it sounds simplistic right? But it really does help me to set up how I will bridge between the text and the culture or the culture and the text. When coming from the text, “Sin” will always seem to be that problem to solve. But sin looks like a lot of different things and each text will highlight a different aspect of sin, or how it causes a separation from God, or how we are incapable of dealing with it on our own, or how people have tried to deal with sin and failed, etc. So while it may be simplistic to answer, “sin,” it is helpful to explore that element a moments and use it to build tension at the beginning of your message.

Sometimes I will begin with a personal story, “there was a time in my life that I couldn’t forgive this guy…” and let it go from there into the text, “But listen to what Jesus says about forgiveness

Sometimes I will share a more general statement like, “What do you do when everyone around you is screaming at you to do something like, ‘fight! fight! fight!’? You know that if you fight, you have given into the crowd and if you don’t, everyone is going to call you a ‘chicken’ and laugh at you.” Then I move into the text from there: “Today I want to look at a similar situation in the scripture where Jesus encountered a crowd who was pressing in and trying to trick him, instead of saying ‘fight! fight! fight!, they threw a woman out into the way and said they had caught her in the very act of…

By putting the problem to solve at the forefront of your presentation you are showing the audience right off the bat that what you have to say matters to them, it applies to their life, they are a part of this now and in the end when you call for some sort of response to the preaching or teaching of God’s Word… It will make sense to either accept or reject what you have said. There is a huge difference between sharing information and showing a man his problem and providing the solution.

 

3 Tips for Using Smart Phones in Corporate Worship

First off you have to know that I’m perhaps the worst person in the world to write a blog post about smart-phone etiquette in church. Simply put, I’ve broken all the rules. I’m the pastor who heard a phone go off while he was speaking, eyeballed the crowd in a judgmental manner, only to realize that it was MY phone going off, and sheepishly reminded everyone to turn their phones to “off” or “silent”… I’m that guy! I was once caught using Instagram FROM the baptismal pool… ok, I was just kidding on that one, but you get the picture… I’m bad. On the other hand, I am a pastor and I care about people. I care about you.  I want you to experience and enjoy a real and meaningful relationship with God. That’s not just my job, it’s my calling. So while etiquette usually takes into account the feelings and perceptions of those around us the aim of this post is to help us think deeply about our use of, or abstinence from, smart phones in worship. Rather than listing out a series of “best practices” I thought it most practical to lay our some basic guidelines that keep loving God and loving our neighbor at the center of our thoughts on the issue.

3 tips for using Smart Phones in Corporate Worship

Phones are just tools and as tools they can either help us or hurt us, but it really depends on how we use them. To ban phones all together might be oversimplifying the issue and cause us to miss a few real blessings along the way, however to use them incessantly to record events or interact with others who are not in the room may cause us to miss everything entirely.

Be Fully Present. However you use your phone, when it comes to worship, be fully there. If you find that you are distracted by your phone turn it off, on silent, or leave it in the car. However, if the bible app helps you fully engage or if your pastor posts interactive notes on line or even if you take notes with an app that allows you to write notes and record audio to be played back later… use it. The key is how you use your phone. If it takes you to another place mentally, then leave it behind.

Be Respectful of Others. You’re not the only one there. If you choose to use the technology on your phone in a way that helps you be fully present, make sure your presence doesn’t become a distraction to others. If at all possible turn your phone to off or silent. Ask the people sitting beside you if they mind if you take notes on your smart phone or tablet. If someone tells you that they are distracted by your device or you notice the children in your section are peering over trying to see what you are doing, you will want to accommodate others and put up your device or move to a less kid friendly section. If you need to use your phone to call a friend who was supposed to meet you at the service, step out into the foyer or perhaps even outside so as not to be a distraction to others.

Don’t Judge How Other People Use Their Phone. It’s easy to judge others for how they use their phones. We tend to be harsher on others for their bad manners than we are on ourselves. The truth is we seldom have the whole story. Unless you know for a fact that someone is playing a game on their phone, assume they have a legitimate reason for having their phone out, such as taking notes, reading a bible app, looking up words they don’t understand, etc.. If you are distracted by someone’s use of a phone, either politely ask them to refrain from using it or to use it elsewhere, “Excuse me sir, I can’t hear the pastor while you are talking on your phone, can you take your call in the foyer or outside please?” (Wish I was kidding).  Or perhaps you could change sections. Obviously if it’s your kids who are using the phone in church you have a lot more leeway in sequestering phone use and dictating what is acceptable and what isn’t.

A few books that have helped my thinking on this issue are Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online and Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning which is a book geared towards educators but has significant crossover into the ministry world and of course The Bible which should be our ultimate guide when understanding how to approach God and encourage one another. I’m also greatly indebted to about a dozen folks who took time to comment on  Facebook post in which I asked the question “What about smartphone use at church? Can I check in on FB? Tweet? Use my Bible App? Etc. what’s acceptable and what’s not?” As I glanced back over this article I couldn’t help but notice how several of their comments had slipped into my own thought process on this issue and made their way into this post.

What did I miss? What are some of the apps or practices you use to help engage in the worship service? What are some of the biggest distractions and pitfalls with using smart phones in church? Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: “Made to Stick,” By Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Have you ever struggled to make a presentation?  Do you preach, teach or present on a regular basis and wonder how long what you are saying is being retained by your audience?  Have you ever wondered why some things are easier to learn than others?  Question no longer, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by By Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a book of answers.  The authors skillfully guide the readers through urban legands, successful marketing campaigns, and teaching styles that have found the secret of stickyness.  

I picked up the book to improve my communication style when I preach and teach and I am glad that I did. This book is easy to read, easy to remember, and easy to impliment in everyday conversation as well as important communication like preaching and teaching. I was blessed beyond measure through reading it and highly reccomend it to anyone intent on becoming a more effective communicator.

This is the best book on speaking or communicating that I have on my shelf.   Made to Stick is a agreat read with an easy to read, easy to access, and easy to remember organizational style. The retail price is $26.00 (hardcover), and is available at places like Amazon.com for $17.16. I gave it five stars.