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The goal in preaching is not to please all of your listeners.  We know that.  But in our vulnerability, it can be very uncomfortable to hear that some are not happy with our preaching.  The challenge is to try to figure out why and then know whether to adjust or not.  Here are some possible reasons and possible responses.

Over Their Heads—Perhaps your preaching is simply not pitched effectively.  You use terminology that is unnecessarily lofty or academic and people simply struggle to understand you.  There is no virtue in this and you need to hear the feedback.  If you can’t make it understandable, it is your problem rather than theirs.  The flesh has a tendency to show-off, but there is no excuse for fleshly preaching.  Hear the feedback graciously and seek to change.

Overly Grating Their Tolerance—Perhaps your personality is simply grating and they struggle with you.  This is a hard one to quantify or change.  I suppose in an ideal world your increasing fruit of the Spirit as you mature should alleviate this problem over time (but what if they’re not growing?)  Sometimes two personalities will clash and it will always be a struggle.  Sometimes people hide behind the clash of personalities when there is an underlying sin issue that should be addressed (jealousy, bitterness, contempt, etc.).  This is a harder problem to address, but loving them is not a bad path to take.

Overly Burdening Their Lives—Perhaps your preaching is simply weighing them down with duty and burden.  This may be a misunderstanding of both the Bible and the preacher’s task on your part, or a misunderstanding of Christianity on theirs.  I would suspect the former.  Too many think that the preacher needs to “spiritually beat and berate” listeners in order to be truly preaching.  Too many have a sort of “flagellation by sermon” approach to spirituality.  Some listeners feel somehow better when they can walk out of church and say, “Mmm, I needed that!”  But this approach to Christianity will tend to break bruised reeds and snuff out smoldering wicks.

Overly Touching Their Hearts—Perhaps your preaching is simply touching too close to home.  If you are preaching in such a way as to target the hearts of your listeners, then many will resonate deeply with what you’re doing.  But in any church there will be some who are essentially hard-hearted, who want the preaching to meet certain criteria and stroke the egos of the religious and pious.  Some find it deeply convicting to “feel” as if they don’t really have a loving personal relationship with God.  They revolt at the notion that those who do not love Christ are actually “accursed.”  It’s painful, but if this is the issue, then the fact that a small minority are unhappy may be a strong affirmation of your preaching.  Would we prefer to have everyone be pleasantly untouched?

There are other reasons, and often a blend of more than one.  The challenge is to sort it through and preach for our audience of One, yet with a loving sensitivity to the many who sit and listen.  It is wrong to refuse to hear feedback, and it is wrong to try to please everyone.  Love Him, love them and respond to the feedback where appropriate.



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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Michael Morton

commented on Jun 25, 2011

Good stuff, thanks.

Sterling Franklin

commented on Jun 25, 2011

haha with the last few weeks, a big hearty Amen. These weeks have been the Parable of the Sower illustrated pretty dramatically. God gives increase as we put our hand to the plow in whatever form of gardening we are faithful to do.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jun 26, 2011

Overall, a good article. I would just like to push back, though, on one statement he mentioned: "If you can't make it understandable, it is your problem rather than theirs." I understand his point in its context, but the statement is not entirely true. Isaiah was commissioned to preach a message that God specifically said people would hear but not understand. And many of Jesus' parables went over the heads of those who were listening. So if a sermon goes over people's head, it is not necessarily the preacher's fault. After all, God desires for us to grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ, and knowledge cannot grow without being stretched. Sometimes we need to hear a sermon that is at least slightly over our heads, something that will challenge us to return to the Scripture for study and meditation. Having said that, I do appreciate Mr. Mead's warning that "[t]he flesh has a tendency to show-off, but there is no excuse for fleshly preaching." We need to spend significant time before God allowing him to search our hearts so that he can reveal to us if our preaching is motivated by a genuine desire to challenge our people to grow, or whether it is motivated by a desire simply to show off.

Mark Anthony Mansueto

commented on Jul 4, 2011

It really takes someone to be a student of the word before being the teacher of the word. The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom today as he had done in the past so I believe as we are led by His Spirit, God will do the rest.

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