The goal in preaching is not to please all of your listeners. We know that. But in our vulnerability it can be very uncomfortable to hear that some are not happy with your preaching. The challenge is to try to figure out why and then know whether to adjust or not. Here are some possible reasons and possible responses.
Over Their Heads – Perhaps your preaching is simply not pitched effectively. You use terminology that is unnecessarily lofty or academic and people simply struggle to understand you. There is no virtue in this and you need to hear the feedback. If you can’t make it understandable, it is your problem rather than theirs. The flesh has a tendency to show-off, but there is no excuse for fleshly preaching. Hear the feedback graciously and seek to change.
Overly Grating Their Tolerance – Perhaps your personality is simply grating and they struggle with you. This is a hard one to quantify or change. I suppose in an ideal world your increasing fruit of the Spirit as you mature should alleviate this problem over time (but what if they’re not growing?) Sometimes two personalities will clash and it will always be a struggle. Sometimes people hide behind the clash of personalities when there is an underlying sin issue that should be addressed (jealousy, bitterness, contempt, etc.) This is a harder problem to address, but loving them is not a bad path to take.
Overly Burdening Their Lives – Perhaps your preaching is simply weighing them down with duty and burden. This may be a misunderstanding of both the Bible and the preacher’s task on your part, or a misunderstanding of Christianity on theirs. I would suspect the former. Too many think that the preacher needs to “spiritually beat and berate” listeners in order to be truly preaching. Too many have a sort of “flagellation by sermon” approach to spirituality. Some listeners feel somehow better when they can walk out of church and say, “mmm, I needed that!” But this approach to Christianity will tend to break bruised reeds and snuff out smoldering wicks.
Overly Touching Their Hearts – Perhaps your preaching is simply touching too close to home. If you are preaching in such a way as to target the hearts of your listeners, then many will resonate deeply with what you’re doing. But in any church there will be some who are essentially hard-hearted, who want the preaching to meet certain criteria and stroke the egos of the religious and pious. Some find it deeply convicting to “feel” as if they don’t really have a loving personal relationship with God. They revolt at the notion that those who do not love Christ are actually “accursed.” It’s painful, but if this is the issue, then the fact that a small minority are unhappy may be a strong affirmation of your preaching. Would we prefer to have everyone be pleasantly untouched?
There are other reasons, and often a blend of more than one. The challenge is to sort it through and preach for our audience of One, yet with a loving sensitivity to the many who sit and listen. It is wrong to refuse to hear feedback, and it is wrong to try to please everyone. Love Him, love them and respond to the feedback where appropriate.