Almost every gathering to whom we preach is made up of a variety of people. As preachers we tend to address a smaller cross-section than are actually before us. Some of us will tend to only address the unsaved, others only the saved. Some will inadvertently target men, others only appeal to the ladies. Some will subconsciously try to connect with the younger generation, others will only see the aged before them.
Preaching to two peoples: There are only the saved and unsaved, technically there is no “half-saved.” Having said that, from the perspective of the listener there does seem to be a spectrum – from complete newcomer to all things Christian, to those feeling drawn, to those on the cusp of trusting, to those who are newborn, those who are in the midst of their first love, those who are growing with the usual growing pains, those established, those entrenched, those with doubts, etc. But lest we get overwhelmed, let’s remember that there are those present who don’t get the culture in which we worship, or the content of which we speak. And there are those that do. Both can and should be engaged with God’s Word.
Preaching to two genders: I remember being in a discussion where the presenter was arguing that all preaching is male oriented. Not only are most biblical characters male, but so are most characters in illustrations, and those illustrations tend to be sporting or reflective of male interests. This was a fair point and worth pondering. At the same time, one member of the group pointed out that he has no problem getting women into his church, but it is the men he struggles to keep. Statistics would back him up, too. I don’t think there’s an easy solution to this, but we certainly should prayerfully pursue a sensitivity to the congregation before us. And let’s avoid the stereotypes. Not every male is Tarzan. Not every female knits.
Preaching to multiple generations: It can feel irrelevant to sense the preacher only feels comfortable with the elderly of a certain generation. It must feel tiresome to know that the preacher thinks only of the “church of tomorrow” in an attempt to be contemporary and relevant to a certain generation. Truth is that the church is made up of more than one generation. Jesus honoured the children when his disciples would have dismissed them. The Bible repeatedly honours the widows and the vulnerable. We daren’t preach only to the twenty-somethings or the settled late-careerists.
I like the way my friend works. He puts five representative names on cards and spreads them out on the table as he formulates his message. Will this connect with him? Will she feel engaged? And them?
One thought on “Preaching to the Mixed Congregation”
Very interesting and perceptive points. However, one could ask whether every sermon needs to address every person, or can balance be achieved in the larger preaching context?
To me, what you say shows up one of the basic problems of the church’s reliance on one-person leadership. Some churches don’t have that and I think that is far better. Whether there are several “approved” preachers, or an open pulpit (watched over by “elders” of some sort), I think it is easier to avoid the problems you mention because different people will address different audiences.
Even so, it certainly does us no harm to consider everyone as you say, after all why not reach as many as you can?