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Speakers: Where Do I Start?

Lunchbar speakerYou can imagine the slightly condescending tone: “God gave you two ears and one mouth, so use them in that proportion“. But it’s the best advice I know for starting to write a Lunchbar talk. Our two greatest needs are to know what we’re talking about, and who we’re talking to. Therefore, before speaking we start by listening.

1. Double Listening

“The phrase “double listening” has always been significant for me. And it means that we’re called to listen both to the Word of God, and to today’s world, in order to relate the one to the other.” Rev Dr John Stott.

Whatever our talk title, we start by prayerfully listening to the Word & the world, seeking to hear what both have to say on the issue. But how do we do this in practice? Pretty obvious really.

The Word. Read through our entire Bibles regularly so we instinctively know how it speaks to our issue. Ask the Christians we trust know their Bibles (and such issues) better than we do and see what books they  recommend.

The World. Read the newspapers and surf the blogosphere regularly so we instinctively know what people are saying about our issue. Ask our non-Christian friends what they think and (as importantly) how they feel about the issue and get what films and books they refer to

But after a period of ‘double-listening’, what do we do next?

2. Persuade me to move house

Becoming a Christian is stressful. It involves change, especially if you haven’t been brought up in a Christian family. As you move allegiance to Jesus, from whatever you previously built your life upon, you’ll find you have a new worldview, a new community, and a whole new life.

Moving house is also stressful. It involves change, a new view, community and life. Trying to persuade someone to become a Christian is like trying to persuade them to move house. Leaving an old familiar home is hard, and moving into a new neighbourhood can be strange and disorientating. So how does this analogy help Lunchbar speakers trying to start a talk? In three ways.

Do you really want to stay there?

As we sympathetically listen to the world, keep you ears open for discomfort. What is it about the atheist understanding of human suffering that doesn’t quite fit our experience? What is it about the hedonist experience of freedom that isn’t quite satisfying? If you can listen and ‘inhabit’ your audiences’ homes for a while you should detect the ways in which people are uncomfortable in their ‘current home’. How do they experience fear, dissatisfaction, loneliness, disappointment etc? Can you sympathise? Can you gently bring these things to your audiences mind in your talk? Can they really perfectly make sense of things? Does their thinking fit their experience? Does their view engender human flourishing?

To put it bluntly, your sceptical audience aren’t likely to move to ‘your house’ (embrace your answer) if they feel comfortable at home. Your first task then is to introduce the issue in a way that asks ‘do you really want to stay there?’

Wouldn’t you prefer to live here?

Persuade, don’t assert. Show, don’t just tell. Show us how Jesus makes much more sense of the issue, more sense of our experience, and can uniquely offer us total salvation. Whether from the starting point of science, freedom or whatever, you’ll need to persuade your audience that they would prefer to live here, as Christians, trusting Jesus.

But having highlighted the tension in the old home, and shown the attraction of moving to this new home, what is left to do?

What do you need to do to move? Good question.

Is there a prayer to pray, a book to read, a group to join, a question to consider? What is the next step for people at different stages on the route? What do you need to do to move? The best way to show the route is to describe the decisions and stories of those who have gone on ahead.

So you’ve got your lunchbar title…

Enjoy double-listening, and try and persuade people to move house.

Given all that, what actually makes a good talk?