Preaching is not just about communicating the message of the Bible; it is about communicating that message to people. Specifically, certain people. Today I’d like to share some thoughts on preaching to those who are present, then we can move on to those who aren’t!
1. Know your listeners as much as possible. Seems almost too obvious to state, but it is important. We have to know who is listening when we preach. If we are a visiting speaker, we need to go into overdrive before the meeting to find out what we can. If it is our home church, we should be engaged in the lives of those who are listening. It will influence how we pitch the message, the vocabulary used, the applications chosen, the background information given, etc. Not to mention the difference it will make if you love the people to whom you preach!
2. Be as relevant as possible. This is true on so many levels. We need to be relevant in our vocabulary, in our illustrative material, in our applications of biblical truth, etc. Relevance is the natural next step on from knowing the listeners. Our task is not to make the Bible relevant, but to show how relevant it is to these specific people.
3. But beware of unhelpful target practice. There is a danger that the first two points can lead to an unhealthy third one—target practice. That is, you know your listeners, including the issues, including the tensions, including the squabbles and the politics and so on. And then you want to be relevant. And without thinking you can find yourself preaching a sermon to a congregation that is pointed right at one person, or one situation, or one clique, or one faction, or whatever. It is so easy to either bare someone’s dirty laundry or to take political potshots. You can do it in your vocabulary, in your illustrations, in your applications, etc. This is both an abuse of the preaching privilege and a flawed approach to addressing issues. Whether it is a situation you are seeking to help or a skirmish you’ve been dragged into, the pulpit is not the place to address it directly. Certainly the Word will speak to life’s real issues, but don’t be the filter through which the Bible gets redirected.
Tomorrow we’ll ponder the audience issue some more, specifically in reference to people who are not present.