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Yesterday we thought about a potential danger in getting too targeted in our preaching.  Keeping with the issue of our listeners, what about those who aren’t present?

1. It is easy to beat up an absent foe.  

I have seen this and maybe even fallen into it.  It is easy to critique someone who is not present.  They could be a liberal biblical commentator, a member of another religion, a published and vocal atheist, or a political figure.  In their absence we can act like the cartoon mouse with chest puffed out and fists swinging, bragging about all that we would do to such and such a cat ... . This kind of bravado doesn’t win friends in an age of recordings taken out of context and aired online; it doesn’t really impress the people listening.  If we are addressing an issue promoted by someone who isn’t present, then we must do our homework, know our stuff, and reflect both biblical truth and grace in how we address it.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we have to protect our people from false ideas that are out there, but we also have to be an example in the way we express ourselves.

2. It is easy to offend by association.

It is easy to communicate an “us and them” idea, and then inadvertently offend any members of the “them” who happen to be present.  For instance, as we distinguish Christians from the world, let’s be careful not to give the impression that we think we are better than outsiders.  Always assume “outsiders” might be present and speak in words and tone that fairly reflect the Lord we represent.

3. It is hard to win your congregation’s trust.

What does this have to do with people not present?  Everything.  Who will bring their friends and relatives to church next week?  Certainly not anyone who wouldn’t want their friends and relatives present for what you said this week!  It takes years to build relationships, and if the congregation is resistant to inviting their friends and colleagues to church events, it may well be because you haven’t earned their trust over years of careful and winsome preaching. Maybe I am missing something biblically, but I don’t see why I should invite a friend, and potentially lose a friend, just because an event is happening at church.  If I don’t trust the church and the speaker (and some other factors too), then I won’t bring them. Nor will they. So we have to preach as if hoped for visitors were already present.

Thoughts always welcome…



Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at BiblicalPreaching.net and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

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Chet Gladkowski

commented on Oct 19, 2012

Continually hear preaching based on an unused or unknown lexicon of words. For the most part, both people in the pew and in the park do not understand the implied meaning of Christian-speak, thus we loose people with folded arms as they tune us out.

Jb Bryant

commented on Oct 21, 2012

Both in Peter's article and Chet's comment I see the assumption of the modern "bring 'em to church evangelism." I don't believe most of our assemblies should have much relevance to the unsaved. We should be there to strengthen and build each other up, spur one another on to good works, bear each others' burdens, and praise our Lord in the unity of the Spirit. Our prayers, the words of our songs, etc. are essentially a foreign language to unbelievers because they don't connect with an unbeliever's experience. This is how it should be, I think. Jesus told the church to go into all the world. He didn't tell unbelievers to go into all the churches. Our ministry and our relevance to unbelievers should be "out there." We need the assemblies for the building p of the saints. To use them as a place for unbelievers to come is lazy of us, and to use them as a place to evangelize neglects the needs of the body.

Chet Gladkowski

commented on Oct 21, 2012

I am both honored and humbled to be associated with Peter's article. Yes, the burden is on us to go out into the world, but are we speaking a language that they understand? Whether in the street or in the church, our speech must be seasoned so they can hear and understand the good news about Jesus. We cannot assume that people inside the church are all believers either. We use words like grace, bless, gifts, etc without a proper foundation as to what they mean. To speak a foreign language in either case diminishes both Jesus, the message of the cross and resurrection.

Jb Bryant

commented on Oct 21, 2012

Chet - I absolutely agree that we must speak a language they understand. I, too, am concerned when we use theological rather than everyday common words - not only to unbelievers but also among believers. This has been an important topic to me since I first became a Christian 24 years ago. I, myself, came from the street. If it hadn't been for a loving jail minister taking special, individual interest in me, I may not be dialoging with you now. So please understand that my comments weren't about using "koine English." My comments were about us accommodating our assemblies to the unbeliever. We can rob believers of spiritual needs and stunt believers' growth by limiting the things we talk about and do in order to accommodate unbelievers.

Chet Gladkowski

commented on Oct 21, 2012

Dear JB - thanks again for your thoughtful response and desire to be obedient. I too am in debt - to a youth pastor named Howard that took me under his wing, lived and taught me Gods grace. May God use you to reach many for Christ and grow in their relationship with Him.

Chet Gladkowski

commented on Oct 25, 2012

Thought this article was relevant - http://www.outreachmagazine.com/people/4932-tim-keller-a-vision-to-reach-the-city.html

Jb Bryant

commented on Oct 25, 2012

Chet - Thanks for that link. The article is a little difficult to read because it appears to be an actual, verbal interview (so Tim Keller's words aren't massaged and stylized for reading). But that's also what makes it real. It's a good resource. When the interviewer asked "How do you go about identifying essentially what your culture is and what the best way is to interact with it," Tim's "3 Questions To Ask" reply is PRICELESS.

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