When we preach, we seek to bring the message of the text to the listeners. This involves being at home in the world of the Bible and in the world of our listeners. The latter part of this process does involve knowing the people to whom you preach. Know their culture, know their life experience, know their struggles, know their vocabulary, know them. However, don’t fall into the mistake of preaching as them if that is not you. Where might this occur?
Preaching to youth. If you are preaching to the younger generation, great, preach to them. Be aware of their subculture, their life issues, their needs. They will appreciate it if you know what they are talking about, what films they are watching, what issues they are facing. However, don’t try to be 18 if you are 48. Be yourself, dude. Oops.
Preaching across cultures. If you are preaching in another culture, great, preach the Word! Know as much as you can about that culture, their language, their life experiences. They will appreciate you not coming in as a foreigner who thinks you know better. But, don’t overdo the incarnational approaches in your preaching. Over time you may become more “that culture” than your own. But don’t pretend. Don’t preach in their accent when you normally speak in yours (in fact, they will probably listen better if you speak in your own!) This is not just true in foreign lands, it is true in different church cultures too. Don’t try to “speak common” if you are from a “linguistically refined” background, and vice versa – make sure you are communicating, but be you.
Preaching across personality types. Huh? Well, if your personality is gentle and tender, and you are preaching to a church that has a loud and boisterous personality, be you. Just because someone else can bounce all over the platform and burn 100 calories per minute in their preaching, it doesn’t mean you have to. And vice versa. A preacher who is very different from the gathered group of listeners can communicate incredibly effectively – but it takes wisdom to know in what ways to adapt to them, and in what ways to simply be different.
Whenever we preach we need to be as aware of our listeners as possible. Whenever we preach we need to connect with our listeners. Yet that does not mean simply pretending to be the same as the listeners when we are not. Connect. But be you.