In a recent discussion, my colleague made a passing remark that is well worth pondering for us preachers.
When the message ends, where are people focused?
Traditional preaching tends to leave listeners focused on themselves. After an introduction, compelling and gripping or otherwise, then comes the body of the message, followed by an applicational conclusion. So where are people looking as they leave? If we are not careful, they will walk out with gaze firmly fixed on self.
1. Is there a problem with fixing the gaze on self? After all, isn’t our goal to have people working harder to be good Christians? I hope we have a more gospel-oriented goal than that! The turn toward self was the fruit of the fruit tasting back in Genesis 3 (take a look at the passage and trace the “nakedness” theme starting in 2:25, for example). The turn toward self is the constant tendency of our flesh in its autonomous rebellion. The teaching of the Bible should not be throttled down to a set of to-do items that leave us self-oriented and self-concerned. To get to that we have to evaporate the very life from the Bible!
2. So where could or should listeners be looking? The Bible is God-centered, and Christ-targeted. A healthy message will surely leave people more God aware and more Christ focused.
3. But what about getting better behaved believers? If all we have ever witnessed is pressured people striving to live up to the pressure of applications, perhaps it is time for an experiment ... try getting some folks to gaze on Christ and watch the transformation that will come. The gospel really is not about work, at least not our work. It is about Christ and His work for us. And I am convinced that while shortcuts to conformity are tempting, the harvest will be meager. Try working messages to the point that the end stress is on God and not on the listener to perform. The results may be significant in behavioral terms, and so much more.