How should I begin this post? Should I ask a question? Tell a story about the last time I tried to create a clever introduction? Perhaps I must always make a broad and over-generalized but intriguing suggestion. Or maybe ultra-vivid, razor-sharp imagery will slice your jugular and capture your attention while your lifeblood slips through my fingers.
I have many options, but each promotes the same goal: hooking you early and giving you reason to read on.
Perhaps such a communication technique is a place where “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). The secular world runneth over with advice on presentations, public speaking, dynamic teamship, and interpersonal communication; but many Bible studies are boring. And the boredom wastes no time to settle in. The first 5 minutes often signify what is yet to come.
In his excellent Growth Groups training manual, Colin Marshall recommends introducing Bible studies with a “launching question.”
A launching question should be:
• Purposeful—introducing the main ideas or applications that will be addressed.
• Interesting—engaging the group’s attention and arousing their minds.
• Easy—making them the experts so all can contribute early in the discussion.
• Open—with many possible answers.
There are two general types of launching questions:
• Topical—to raise the issues related to the goals of the study, by posing a dilemma or asking opinions.
• Textual—to raise an issue in the text being studied which will help to unravel the whole passage. (p.39)
While we don’t have examples in Scripture of Bible study discussions, we have plenty of examples of good introductions. They’ll mold our thinking as long as we don’t train ourselves to ignore them and move quickly to the “body” of the text. Here’s a sampling:
- In Galatians 1:1-5, Paul introduces his key themes of apostolic authority and true gospel.
- Matthew 1:1 insinuates that this Gospel will focus on Jesus’ Jewishness and kingship.
- Daniel 1:1-2 exposes the book’s main idea early: Though there are earthly kings who wield power according to their own pleasure, there is a heavenly King of kings who decides what finally happens and what gets given into whose hands.
- Psalms 1 and 2 provide context for the collection by bracketing a double blessing (Psalm 1:1, 2:12) around those who 1) delight in God’s law and 2) submit to God’s king.
What other biblical introductions motivate you to read on?
By beginning a Bible study well, we do the same thing: We give people reason to listen and take part. “But the Bible itself is reason enough to listen and take part. We shouldn’t have to try to make the Bible exciting,” you say.
And I say, “Right on. We don’t have to make the Bible exciting. But if we’re not careful, we’ll lead people to think it’s boring and irrelevant.”
That’s why the launching question is usually the last thing I do when I prepare to lead a Bible study. (See the 5th of the 5 practices for preparing effective Bible studies.) The goal of the launching question is not merely to capture attention; you could do that by stripping to your skivvies and dancing in Gangnam style. The goal is to unleash the text and win people early to the main idea.
Therefore, before I can start the trip, I must know where I’d like to go.