I’m currently blogging about what I’ve learned about teaching over the last few years. My last post was all about engaging the internal conversation of your audience. Today, I want to share a little more about tension. You should probably know that these ideas are stolen from my senior teaching pastor, Jeff Manion.
As we teach, it’s crucially important that we answer the question every listener is asking, “Why should I listen to you” by creating tension in our introductions. But, that initial burst of tension only buys us 5-7 minutes of attention. In other words, your introduction, even an amazing introduction will only buy you, at the max, 7 minutes until your audience will start asking, “Why should I continue listening to you?” If we fail to answer this question, our audience will begin daydreaming and in the case of middle schoolers, probably throwing something.. Opportunity lost.
Movies utilize tension in the way I’m describing. There is an initial burst of tension and then tension is reintroduced every few minutes. For example, Star Wars…
- Initial Tension: Darth Vader captures Princess Leia
- New Tension: Luke can’t go to the Toshe Station (what a whiner!)
- New Tension: Luke gets attacked by the Sand People
- New Tension: Luke’s struggles with whether to become a Jedi
- New Tension: Stormtroopers attack Luke’s family
- New Tension: Han shoots first…
- New Tension: You get the idea.
A great movie reintroduces tension every few minutes, and while preaching or teaching is considerably different than Star Wars, the same principle applies. If you want to capture and keep your audience’s attention, you must reintroduce tension every few minutes. So, how do we do it?
One of the easiest ways to do this is through transitions. There is a way to use transitions in a way that reengages the minds of the audience and points back to your central question. If you’re unfamiliar with this idea, it might sound like crazy talk. Let me explain. I’ll use the example of John 11:1-7, and the transition between Jesus’ apparent lack of concern for Lazarus and then his emotional response and the resurrection of his friend.
First, a typical transition that does nothing to help reintroduce tension and reengage the mind of the audience:
“Jesus gets word that His close friend is desperately sick. Surprisingly,he waits for two days. But then Jesus goes to his friend. Let’s read what happens.”
Here’s an example of a tension loaded transition using the tool of a question:
I just have to ask a question here. Is this how Jesus responds to his friend when they are desperate? Is this how Jesus will respond to me when I’m desperate? What’s going on here?
The imagination of the listener is drawn into the drama of the story and they put themselves in the story. The purpose of a question transition is to ask a real or imaginary question that the audience is or could be asking. When you use this technique, tension is reintroduced to the communication.
Here’s an example of a transition statement that raises an objection:
As we read this story, I know that some of you are thinking, “This is exactly why I walked away from the church. This story about Jesus confirms my experience with God. When I needed Him, He was silent. When things fell apart in my life, He went missing.”
The idea behind an objection transition is to raise a real or imaginary objection that members of the audience are or could be asking. Even if the listener hasn’t personally experienced the objection, their mind will be reengaged in addressing the objection. And, if you address a real objection that your audience is actually asking, the impact is tremendous.
A reverse is when you draw a contrast between what is expected and what actually happens. Think football. Here’s an example of a reverse from John 11:
Lazarus’s sisters send word that Lazarus is dangerously sick. Everything we’ve read about Jesus to this point would lead us to believe that he’ll drop everything and run to save Lazarus but, if you’re familiar with the story, you know that’s not what happens. What in the world is happening here?
A reverse can be effective when you’re sure the audience is expecting something other than where the text or a story you are telling is going. You’ve nailed it if the internal conversation of the audience says, “Wait, what?!?”
These examples may sound too simple or perhaps even silly but I am telling you they work. And, think of what’s at stake here. So many sermons and teachings start out strong with a good introduction, plenty of tension and then gradually run out of steam as tension evaporates and the audience engagement wanes. One way or another, if you’re going to teach effectively you must reintroduce tension and one easy and effective way to do this is through transitions.
There is another way that communications run out of steam and that is when the audience gets confused. In my next post, I’ll share some ideas on teaching with clarity.