In my experience there is a clear division among sermons preached. Two categories, and almost every sermon falls cleanly into one or the other. There are sermons preached to the people listening, and there are sermons preached to some other group.
Here are some of the indicators:
1. People in the crosshairs. Sometimes the preacher seems to be focused very fully on me, the listener. He seems to know about my circumstances, my life, my local culture, etc. The preacher seems to care – it comes through demeanor, content, warmth, smile, etc. It is great feedback when people say, “it felt like that was just for me!” Some of that is definitely a God-thing, but don’t miss the difference your love makes! Other times the preacher seems to have the target fixed on some other people – those who don’t go to church, or the New Atheists, or the gang culture, or media moguls, or some high profile Christian leaders, or another denomination. That can be hard to take for listeners when they get the sense we are preaching to someone else.
2. Purpose of message. It may be that the preacher feels we need to be equipped to understand and handle the arguments of New Atheists. That could be very helpful. But sometimes it can feel like the preacher is having a go at certain people in their absence. It’s like when a preacher looks up from their notes and only looks over your head at the clock or the door. After a while you start to wonder why you are there.
3. Content of message. It seems so obvious that we should target our communication at those people we want to understand what we are saying. I wouldn’t preach in English without translation while visiting Japan (unless, of course, it were an English speaking gathering). So why offer content that is inaccessible to your listeners? Good communicators always make their listeners feel connected and focused on. It is true in conversation. It is true in preaching.
It is such a simple question, but so important. Am I preaching specifically to these listeners?