As pastors who understand the importance of faithful preaching, we spend a lot of time talking about being faithful to the biblical texts. We'll study the languages, compare this verse to that verse, read commentaries and will do it all to be sure we are as close to the original meaning of the biblical text as we can be. We can't tolerate any shortcuts in this process.
Yet in our dedication to the Scripture, we can't ignore the other text that directs our preaching—our congregation. We do not preach in a vacuum. We are called to bring the Word of God to real people in real places living real lives. They will not hear the sermon as blank slates, but will interpret our sermons through the context of their own experiences. This is why we have to know our people as well as we know Scripture.
As we study and prepare the message, we must keep in mind the kinds of questions and experiences our people will be bringing to the moment …
- Are there things in their lives that will prevent them from experiencing the full meaning of the texts?
- Have things happened in their past that would make it difficult for them to believe the truth our message is trying to bring to them in that moment? For instance, broken families have left many people with negative feelings toward their fathers. So, hearing God loves them as a father doesn't help them.
- How do we overcome that objection in the sermon? This instance—and thousands more like it—will shape our sermons so the message can be heard best by our people.
As priests, we bring the concerns of our people to the Lord. We should fulfill that role in our preaching, as well. As we engage the text, our sermon should bring the concerns of our people into the dynamic of the preaching conversation. Our people want to know we understand their struggles and that their struggles have been considered as we thought through how best to preach the sermon.
As pastors, we often feel we're caught in the middle. That's because, well, we are! Most of the time, we are caught in the middle between the truth of God's Word and the reality of the lives of our people, between hope and despair, between pain and healing. This is where we work Sunday after Sunday.
So we listen to the Word, we listen to our people, and we speak to the space in between week after week, Sunday after Sunday, planting the good seed of God's Word and prayerfully working in our fields waiting for the harvest our Lord promised.
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