In this series we aren’t looking to tweak at the fringes of preaching, but rather to get a big wrench to the major parts of the ministry. We’ve thought about “harvesting imperatives” and “not preaching the passage.” Here’s another:
Mistake 3 – Not Preaching to the People Present
Preaching is a pastoral role. We are not being called to perform, but to shepherd. We can, and must, do the role of a shepherd as we preach. A shepherd feeds, leads, cares and protects his sheep. In order to pastor through preaching, we need to know and love the people we are preaching to each Sunday.
Obviously if you are visiting a church, or speaking at a special event, then you may only have half an hour to get to know the specific group of people present. Do what you can. It is also important to know people in general, so that you can preach to people in particular, but always seek to preach to those who are present.
Here are some alternative listener profiles to root out of our preaching.
Don’t preach to people who are missing. Some preachers seem to have allowed the richness of the gospel to evaporate into a duty of church attendance. These preachers are then liable to preach frustration toward those who “should” be present, but aren’t.
Don’t preach to an audience your favourite preacher attracts. You might have a favourite preacher who preaches to a cool crowd in some other city in America or somewhere, but if your listeners are from rural Somerset, they aren’t a “Seattle” crowd.
Don’t preach to a culture that isn’t in your church. The culture may be increasingly postmodern, but lots of church congregations aren’t. Don’t seek to overcome issues that your listeners aren’t facing in any meaningful way.
Don’t preach to land another job. I hate to say it, but there are some preachers who are preaching so that their sermon is attractive to a “better” church they’d like to get a call from. Be faithful to your congregation and God will help you adapt if you need to move church for some reason.
Don’t preach to spar with foes. It is very possible to preach targeted comments toward people acting likes foes in your congregation, so technically they are present, but still this isn’t wise. But don’t waste energy preaching to foes not present. Having a go at a high profile atheist doesn’t achieve much. By all means equip your listeners to handle what they are hearing in the media, but that would mean preaching to them. Taking pot shots at people not present isn’t impressive.
Get to know and pray for the people you are preaching to each Sunday. Then your preaching can pastor their souls. If you don’t care about them, don’t preach to them.