It is good to remember that your church is not a unique collection of hyper-spiritual elite super saints. Nor is it the strangest and most bizarre collection of people either. You preach to ordinary people.
Ordinary people have doubts that they don’t think they’re supposed to have.
Ordinary people generally feel tired and short on motivation.
Ordinary people often have fears that may be unfounded but still feel ever so real when they lie awake at night.
Ordinary people are anxious about “little things” and distracted.
Ordinary people think they struggle, but assume that everyone else has it all together in life.
Ordinary people don’t think they are particularly significant, or influential.
Ordinary people sin.
Ordinary people are oblivious to some of their sin, but painfully burdened by other aspects of it.
Ordinary people, even after responding to the gospel of grace, still feel that their standing before God depends on their own effort and spiritual “success.”
Ordinary people already feel guilty about several things, not least their lack of proactive witnessing.
Ordinary people are very ordinary.
You preach to ordinary people. You are also one of them. It would probably be good to prayerfully consider what this might mean for how you present yourself, how you present the message, and how the message is supposed to intersect with their lives.
So far we’ve pondered a radar needed in textual study, and another needed in considering our own theological assumptions. As preachers we mustn’t go too far without thinking of the listeners, so here’s another early warning system to ask God to develop in you for your growth as a preacher:
Radar 3. Resistance Radar (in your listeners)
It is naïve to think that clearly explained and relevantly applied Bible passages will automatically result in changed lives. More mature preachers prayerfully ponder where their listeners will resist what the biblical text is presenting. This radar can only be fully developed by knowing the people you are preaching to each week. Perhaps this radar has two tones of beep.
A. The first is a human nature beep (i.e. people everywhere tend to resist in this regard). It doesn’t matter what the culture, or the education levels, or the demographics of the community, or the age of the listeners . . . some truths are universally resisted or twisted. Grace is a prime example. It is not a lack of understanding that makes us resist God’s grace, it is our fallenness. We don’t want God to be God, and we want to be God. But to receive God’s grace without some effort at payment or cooperation, that is to admit that I am not God and I need God. We must not think that this does not apply to those who have received Christ and joined God’s family . . . our flesh still rebels and seeks to corrupt God’s grace into an exercise in shared effort. It may be as illogical as a starving person turning down food, but in a post Genesis 3 world, it makes perfect sense for us to resist or twist grace.
B. The second is a specific humans beep (i.e. this congregation, or this individual, will resist this message because of such and such). When you know the people in your church, then you can better spot where the resistance will come. Maybe it is not grace, the example I gave above, that is the point of resistance for some in your church. Maybe it is the notion of close relationship with God. Perhaps the notion of a loving father is frightening to some. Maybe holiness has been perilously pickled in the perspective of some. Perhaps legalism has turned some listeners into collectors of instruction, rather than seekers of wisdom.
Grow in understanding of humans in general, and people in your church in particular, so that this radar becomes well tuned and messages can more effectively hit home.
Yesterday I suggested it is best to start with the assumption that the sermon will be shaped according to the shape of the text itself. However, there may be reasons to choose an alternate sermon shape. Why? Because there is not one factor only in this decision, but at least three. Let’s consider factor number 2:
Factor 2 – The nature of the audience. Every sermon is a unique event because while the text may remain the same (i.e. preach the same text twice), the audience changes. Different people, or the same people at a different time. Consequently, they may respond better to one sermon form over another. For example, your Psalm may be chiastic, but what if a chiastic structure is too foreign to your listeners? You can choose to educate them in Hebraic poetic form, but you can also restructure the sermon into a deductive or inductive arrangement. Or maybe the idea is threatening to your listeners, then an inductive sermon would make good sense. Since preaching is about both the text and the listeners, let both be factors in choosing your sermon form.
In my mind these two factors are critical. The shape of the text and the need of the audience. But there is a third that should be kept in mind too. You won’t be surprised by it, but it’s coming tomorrow!