When Do Listeners Switch On?

You know what I mean.  People are sitting and listening, sort of, until you say a key phrase, then suddenly everyone is really listening carefully.  Let’s make the assumption that having people really listen is a positive thing.  Now let’s consider some examples of “switch on” phrases and consider the implications for our preaching:

“How does this apply to us?” – People do tend to listen more when the message is about them, their lives, their needs, etc.  We could critique that theologically and point to the self-obsession of humanity.  Or we could be thankful that all Scripture is both God-breathed and “useful” – i.e. life changing.  And then we could stop leaving application to the last three minutes of a message and look for ways to include it throughout.  Compare and contrast an introduction infused with relevance and applicational preparation for the message to follow, with the standard switch off phrase “Last week we were deep in 2Chronicles 17, please turn with me to 2Chronicles 18 . . .”

“Let me tell you a story . . .” – People of all ages love a good story.  “Once upon a time” does wonders for children of all ages.  This kind of phrase is much more of a switch on than “let’s talk about the story.”  I’ve said it before, when the passage is a narrative, tell the story!  Even when it is not, how can the message be engaging and interesting, rather than mere lecturing and information transfer?

“Here’s how I struggle with this . . .” – People are always interested in appropriate vulnerability from the preacher.  Haddon Robinson urges preacher to neither be the hero, nor the jerk, in the stories they tell by way of illustration.  He is right, but he is not saying be absent from your illustrations.  People are far more interested in you as a real person, than they are in Napoleon or Lenin.  It is good to personalize aspects of the message, as long as it doesn’t make you look too good, or too much of an idiot.  Credibility and interest can increase or crash with personal stories.  Choose wisely, but choose some.

Some things switch on listeners, but integrity demands that we don’t use them.  Over-promising and then under-delivering, offering success guarantees in a messy world, promising healing or wealth when the text doesn’t support that application.  We must have integrity so that we’re not mere pragmatists.  However, it is easy to go to the other extreme and fail to learn from the reactions of listeners.  What other phrases switch on the listener?  What might be the implications for our preaching?

3 thoughts on “When Do Listeners Switch On?

  1. Peter,

    I just wanted to encourage you by telling you how much I enjoy your posts. As a young man seeking to become a more faithful preacher, I benefit greatly from your thoughts. I will be praying that your desire to publish a book will become a reality. I would certainly buy it. Thank you for serving me and my church through this blog.

  2. Nice list Peter. Another one may be to raise an objection that the listener may be thinking and then answering that objection. “Now some of you might be thinking, ‘yeah but…'” After stating the point, looking at the text, and possibly illustrating, I’ve found this to be helpful.
    -Greg T.

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