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    When Preaching, Don’t Assume People Care What You’re Saying

    When Preaching, Don’t Assume People Care What You’re Saying

    My friend Rod Casey recently wrote an article for Preaching Magazine that I thought was really good.  It's all about considering your audience when you preach.  Rod starts out: 

    Too many preachers fail to ask themselves what every successful fisherman asks. They fail to ask what bait will hook their listeners. Preachers may think that because their seminary training only needed an open Bible and syllabus notes to learn effectively that the same should be true for their learners, as well.

    This line of thinking assumes that what was good enough for the preacher's training in discipleship should be sufficient for everyone else. "My Bible teachers didn't cater to me, and I learned the material presented just fine," the preacher may think. This thinking assumes more motivation than is typically true for many who are listening to a sermon.

    The learner is more motivated to engage the sermon's subject when it addresses life crises the learner is experiencing. These crises may be obvious, such as an impending divorce or the death of a friend. Other life crises are less dramatic to the outside observer but equally intense for the person experiencing them. Examples include relational conflict with an employee, worry about a child's schooling or the security of the world post-September 11. The learner is highly motivated to engage the proposition proposed when the preacher speaks to the concerns that are on the hearts of the hearers and does so from a theological perspective. These same preachers actively look for opportunities to address problems as they surface in the text...

    I've heard many a preacher that automatically thought that everyone in the room was interested in what they were saying when looking around the room anyone could tell that nothing could be further from the truth.

    Do you automatically take for granted that people will love your topic, your theme, your illustrations, your 45 minutes of babbling?  If so, maybe you should read more of Rod's article and think things through again.

    Don't get me wrong, I've also heard many great sermons... engaging, inspiring, even entertaining.

    All I'm saying is that we all like to hear ourselves talk.  Especially preachers (I've found).  Let's make sure that we think through our audience, their needs, and how to best present our story (the Gospel).  If and when we do, it is only GOOD for the outcome.

    What do you think?  How often do you think of your intended audience as you're preparing your weekly message?

    I'd love to hear your comments...



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    1. Peter Hamm on Thu, August 05, 2010

      I preached this last weekend and it went well.

      Part of the reason was I tried very hard to talk to, not at, my congregation.

      Another part is that it was under 35 minutes.

      Another part is that I only made one point.

      A big mistake preachers make is thinking that their words are all remembered and make any difference. If you can inspire them and lift them and encourage them to take a next step on their own, isn’t that better than merely informing them to the point that they don’t even remember what you said without checking your notes?

    2. Christopher Fontenot on Thu, August 05, 2010

      Yes!....cater your sermon to the listener….Does that include God?

    3. Peter Hamm on Thu, August 05, 2010

      Christopher, are you preaching to God? Praying, sure, but are you really preaching to God?

    4. Leonard Lee on Thu, August 05, 2010

      Before I preach any message I ask the question: 

      What is it like to be…  and then I insert the names of people in my church.  For example.  what is it like to be a single mom… what is it like to be a person who lost their job… what is it like to be a dad struggling to connect to his kids… what is it like to be someone overridden by guilt… what is it like to be riffled with cancer… 

      I then pray for these people in my church. 

      Once I feel like I have gotten the answer to the question… I then ask another. 

      What would Jesus want me to do for them?  Based upon my gifts, talents and calling… what do you Jesus want me to do for them. 

      It is from this base, I prepare and preach my sermons.

    5. Peter Hamm on Thu, August 05, 2010

      Leonard, that’s really good! I like to ask the two questions Andy Stanley poses.

      “What do I want them to think?”

      “What do I want them to do?”

    6. Fred on Thu, August 05, 2010

      And even if they are interested at first, they no longer are after 30 minutes. Don’t be an inane drone.

    7. Christopher Fontenot on Thu, August 05, 2010


      I never said or suggested that anyone should preach to God.  He, however, is listening.  When you cater your sermon to the listeners, is God included in those who will be listening? Because if God doesn’t like it then it doesn’t matter who likes it and if God likes it then it doesn’t matter who doesn’t.

    8. paul on Fri, August 06, 2010

      Similar to Leonard, I have what I call, the “list of 8.” It’s a physical list I keep of 8 names of people in my congregation who represent different demographics and stages in their walk with God. Just a reminder to me to ask the questions of relevance. Christopher, I AM aware that God is listening, but you know… I think I’m going to at God to the top of my list. Great reminder.  smile

    9. Leonard Lee on Fri, August 06, 2010

      One very important piece of the preaching equation is growth.  If the preacher is not growing, the messages will eventually lack. 

      Personal spiritual growth is essential.  Not just what did you learn when you studied for the message but how is your life continuing to be transformed?  How is the life of Christ being produced in you by the Spirit of God?  This is essential. 

      Professional growth is essential.  Most pastors believe they are good communicators.  But many I know do not hone their communication skills.  I recommend that pastors read several books a year on communication.  I recommend pastors give copies of their sermons to wise and honest evaluators.  I recommend pastors attend a communication seminar or class every couple years.

      I do these things every year.  In addition I choose one aspect of my preaching I want to develop and each year I focus on growing this piece.  I also choose 3 communicators I think are brilliant and listen to their messages for the purpose of learning. 

      Paul told Timothy to fan to full flame the gifts he had.  Using them helps but more than just using them, develop them, study them and set goals for their improvement. 

      Every week there are people who will say… “great message today pastor” and I say thank you.  But if I really want to get better, I need people who will honestly evaluate me.  Pastors who seek feedback from a variety of honest evaluators are rare.  Many will receive feedback, some will not… most never seek feedback.

    10. Rod Casey on Fri, August 06, 2010

      Less assumptive preaching is rooted in contextualization that does not seek to make the message more “palatable” (cater to the culture), but to make the message “understandable.” I offer that this kind of missiological contextualization is rooted in the hermeneutic of progressive revelation. God “preached” in less assumptive ways with a heart motivated by love.

    11. Leonard on Sat, August 07, 2010

      Rod, can you site an example of progressive revelation so I can contextualize your hermeneutic?

    12. Rod Casey on Sat, August 07, 2010

      smile  nicely done, bro… Sure, Peter said of Paul that “his writings contain some things that are hard to understand.” II Peter 3:16)  Moses’ understanding of revelation was greater than Noah, David’s more than Moses’, Peter more than David, Paul more than Peter. Jesus modeled an appropriate message for an appropriate audience.
      Does that help?

    13. Leonard on Sat, August 07, 2010

      Excellent!  thanks very much.

    14. Dirk on Thu, September 02, 2010

      Thanks to the advances of modern science, we now know that there are three primary learning styles; auditory, visual, and tactile/kinetic.  We also know that the brain is laterilized into two hemispheres; left-brain and right-brain.

      Left-brain dominant folks are generally more fact-oriented, they use logic, they are more precise.  Right-brain folks are generally more creative, more about “feeling” and images, they are big-picture oriented.

      Indulge my theory for a moment…

      I contend that historically more of our preachers and teachers have been left-brained, auditory style folks. Our churches used to be more that way as well.

      However, there is a shift taking place in society.  The right-brained, visual and tactile folks are increasing in number.  This is one reason that our traditional education system is in such crisis. 

      A preacher’s art is… words.  But not everybody connects with words. I think fewer and fewer folks actually connect with words.  Our society is driven by images(visual)  and feelings(tactile). 

      Of course, we know that God chose WORDS to reveal himself to man, so it would be horribly irresponsible to minimize the importance of words.  However, even a cursory glance across the scriptures reveals that God used many other ways to reveal Himself.  Many that were visual and/or tactile,ie; the tree of life, the coat of skins, the burning bush, the rod of Moses, the pillar of fire, the pillar of cloud, the ark of the covenant, the tablets of stone, the tabernacle, etc.  What about the New Testament? There was the Star, the manger, the dove descending on the Christ, etc.  Think of all the things Jesus Himself used to teach lessons; birds, babies, fig trees, donkeys, seeds, mountains, etc.  He seems to have had an affinity for those who wanted to “see” Him and those who wanted to “touch” him. Not just for those who came to “hear” Him.

      The Cross itself is both visual and tactile. When one sees a bloody cross, no words are necessary to understand its impact.

      The two ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are both quintessential examples of how God made SURE that us visual and tactile folks would be able to see and feel Him through this age.  There is nothing more tactile than placing the bread and the wine in one’s mouth and crushing His body.

      So, preachers, be true to your art, but don’t neglect those who may learn in other ways.  And please, oh please, don’t malign them. They (we) are God’s children, too.

    15. Rod Casey on Sat, September 04, 2010

      Well said…

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