I hope that you’ve already read the first part of this series in which we answered the question, “Who am I preaching for?” Of the three questions we will have answered, the first is by far the most important. It deals with motive. In some ways, so does the second question. But what I have found is that sometimes preachers with the very best of intentions end up striking out when they step up to communication’s plate. They need to answer carefully this question:
Who am I preaching to?
Have you noticed that most restaurants are noisy? You tend to notice it most when you first walk in. But then something subtly happens. After you’ve been seated and begin your conversation, all of the other noise begins to wash away. White noise. Blah, blah, blah. Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Sometimes preaching is white noise.
And it’s not necessarily that the sermon or the lesson is particularly bad, it’s a disconnect between speaker and listener. The onus of communication is upon the speaker. If people are not listening—or listening without understanding—the speaker must figure out why and make the necessary adjustments.
So why aren’t they listening?
Because you’re not speaking to them on their spiritual level.
Sometimes preachers view sermons like little works of art to be admired. “Look at what I know,” they seem to imply. “Be impressed with my eloquence,” becomes the dominant subtheme. Don’t misread me, I certainly think that a preacher ought to possess an intellectual handle on what he says and should communicate the message with verbal precision—I’m merely suggesting that these become superfluous without an understanding on the part of the hearers. Simply put, “If Johnny hasn’t learned, teacher hasn’t taught.”
Paul refused to speak to the Corinthians on a level they could not understand. To be sure, he wantedto speak to them as spiritual, he simply couldn’t. They weren’t. They were carnal. And the writer of Hebrews would have loved to set the sermonic table with the meat of the word. He couldn’t either. They could only handle milk.
Because you’re not speaking to them, you’re speaking at them.
When you read through the Gospels, pay attention to how Jesus connected with audience members. You’ll find that He met them right where they were, spoke to them on their spiritual level, illustrated His points using universally understood object lessons, and asked a lot of questions. His aim was their understanding. And although many stubbornly refused to hear, His questions pierced their consciences and His words made weighty impressions.
When teaching the Bible, interpretations do not change. By applying sound hermeneutic principles, the preacher of God’s Word should strive to ascertain the main idea of the given passage. Then he should endeavor to explain that idea using—if applicable—the same rationale as the biblical author. I hope we all agree on this.
But arriving at a sound understanding of the text is not the same as conveying that understanding to others. It’s really not. In order to promote understanding, he should apply the simple “E-I-A” principle to his presentation. Explain the text using audience-appropriate terminology. Illustratethe points using material that is interesting to the average audience member to whom you are speaking. Apply the teaching by thinking through the particular struggles/opportunities that your listening audience might confront. Think before you speak. Think of them. Ask God to help you. He will.
Because you’re not sufficiently connected to them.
People want information, and they want it wrapped in love. Speak the truth that way. Jesus spoke to His disciples as friends. Their spiritual growth was His design. Everything He said and did promoted it.
By his own admission, Paul wasn’t the greatest orator. But nobody loved people more than he did. Self-deprivation, prayer, tears, and many long hours of co-laboring were the companions of his messages. Preachers are a dime a dozen. Preachers that labor in love for those to whom they preach are priceless.
**Part 2 of 3**