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.
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.