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Sacred Agents #115
Within two seconds of starting to speak, our hearers have figured out a lot of our message. They’ve identified the genre. If I showed you one second of a video clip, you’d instantly know whether it was an advert, TED-talk, news item, stand-up comedy, public-service announcement, influencer plug, propaganda piece or ransom demand. Then, having categorised the message, you listen in a particular way. If it’s propaganda, with eyes ready to roll. If it’s comedy, anticipating a punchline.
So how do people hear us talk about Jesus? What are they already thinking when we’ve barely started? Here are some common forms:
We can talk about Jesus in TED-talk form, preachers and devotion-givers often do. This format packs in plenty of information, which is a plus. On the other hand, listeners are directing it straight to the ‘Interesting-to-know’ part of their brain for trivia and the trivial. Effective preaching needs to be more and go further than the back of people’s minds.
We can talk about Jesus like a sales pitch. When the hearer picks up (instantly) that we’re saying rehearsed lines, what we say goes straight to the ‘Highly Doubtful’ section of their brains and their ‘How-soon-can-this-be-over’ part is activated. In our minds, we have a very important message and don’t want to get it wrong. But in their minds, truth-tellers don’t worry about their lines, only liars and actors do.
We can talk about Jesus like a public service announcement: Please mind the gap between heaven and hell. If this is heard at all, beyond being background noise, it is usually thought of as health and safety overkill. Yeah, yeah, be kind to others, love God, don’t go to hell, yeah, yeah.
We can talk about Jesus like a ransom demand: Accept the wonderful love of God, or else. Demands are heard and received in a particular way too.
Even not talking at all about Jesus is saying something about him – that he’s unimportant, exclusive or shameful. Our non-hearers interpret this too – that he is outdated and irrelevant.
So what are some good ways of talking about Jesus? What genres will help us be heard well, and what do they look like? That’s a great discussion question for your home-group. Here’s a couple worth considering:
Recommendation – how do we talk when we’ve come across a brilliant TV show or book or activity that we love and want to share with others?
Invitation – there is so much for us to gain by considering the invitational nature of the gospel (and indeed of God). Invitations are announcements with a personal aspect, and they respect the invitee’s freedom and agency. On the last and greatest day of the feast,Jn7 when Jesus stands up and speaks out, he chose this genre. It could have been pronouncement: ‘You’ve all got this all wrong!’ Instead, he cried out If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me and drink.
Recommendation and Invitation come together in John 1 –
Philip: We’ve found the one Moses and the prophets wrote about – Jesus of Nazareth!
Nathanael: Nazareth, can anything good come from there?
Philip: Come and see!
So, sacred agent, when you started to read this – back in the very first line – how were you categorising it? What signals gave away its genre? In the same way, how do people read your signals and hear what you have to share?
Andrew Turner is the Director of Crossover for ABM and author of Fruitful Church and Taking the Plunge
Photo by Parabol on Unsplash