Preaching to the Whole Person and the Whole Congregation

In his chapter entitled “Powerful Preaching,” in The Preacher and Preaching, Geoff Thomas writes:

“One of the great perils that face preachers…is the problem of hyper-intellectualism, that is, the constant danger of lapsing into a purely cerebral form of proclamation, which falls exclusively upon the intellect.  Men become obsessed with doctrine and end up as brain-oriented preachers.  There is consequently a fearful impoverishment in their hearers emotionally, devotionally, and practically.  Such pastors are men of books and not men of people; they know the doctrines, but they know nothing of the emotional side of religion.  They set little store upon experience or upon constant fellowship and interaction with almighty God.  It is one thing to explain the truth of Christianity to men and women; it is another thing to feel the overwhelming power of the sheer loveliness and enthrallment of Jesus Christ and to communicate that dynamically to the whole person who listens so that there is a change of such dimensions that he loves Him with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.”

Not only do we need to address the whole person before us, but also all the persons before us.  Ramesh Richard lists three attitudes that will be listening during a message:

1. The I Don’t Cares! These are not hostile, they just don’t feel they should be there. They are there out of a sense of duty to friends or family, or habitual routine. For this attitude the need raised at the beginning of the message is critical. Without it, they are free to continue their inner stance of not caring.

2. The I Don’t Knows! They lack the background awareness that others may have regarding God, the Bible, Christianity and church life. These people need good biblical content clearly explained.

3. The I Don’t Believes! These people are doubtful about the truth of what is said, or the applicability of it to real life. They are likely to test what is said with questions such as, “Is this truth coherent?” or “Is the sermon consistent?” or “Is this truth practical?” and especially, “Will this work?” For this attitude you must demonstrate a coherent consistency as well as practical relevance.

Before preaching it is worth prayerfully considering whether the sermon is merely cerebral or emotional, and whether it will engage these three attitudes.  Is a clear and valuable need raised? Is there sufficient accessible explanation? Is the message relevant and life engaging? We preach not to get our study into the public domain, but to see the lives, the hearts, the attitudes of our listeners changed by exposure to God’s Word.

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