Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Preaching Where They Aren’t

The goal of preaching is to be faithful to the text.  But in order to be faithful to the text do I need to communicate it in such a way that people are able to “get it”?  Would I really be faithful to the text if I stood behind the pulpit and ripped off a few Greek sentences of the original text and then sat down?  I mean how much more faithful to the text can you be than just saying the original then shutting up and sitting down?  Is it possible that being faithful to the text means preaching it the way Jesus would? 
headscratcherOne of the pitfalls of verse by verse preaching through a book of the Bible is sometimes you get to a text where your congregation is not at.  Let me give you an example.  I do verse-by-verse preaching with our teenagers.  A decent portion of our teenagers are unchurched: their parents do not attend, a fair portion does not attend on a Sunday themselves, most are just beginning to discover who Jesus is. 

I have been preaching through Ephesians.  As we have went through the first 3 chapters it has been relatively easy to preach on.  We are looking at God’s great global purpose of redeeming broken people and a broken world.  We have frequently discussed that part of this process of redemption is restoring our broken relationships with one another.  The students have a context for understanding that.  But when we get to talking about life within the body they have little context for understanding that. 

Ephesians 4-6 is all about life within the body.  So, in order to remain faithful to the text it means that I have to have ridiculously long introductions to get the students to a spot of understanding.  You may not read it in a preaching manual (and I would never pretend to be qualified to write one) but I think it is perfectly acceptable to stop “preaching” and start “teaching” if you can tell that you’re hearers are totally clueless.  Wouldn’t it be unfaithful to the text to just keep plodding along (of course spiritualizing it by saying stuff about the power of God in His Word) while your congregation is totally lost?  Didn’t Jesus stop for questions?  Didn’t he welcome interruptions? 

I am not saying that we need to always preach in a dialogue.  I am merely saying that we need to be certain to preach where our people are…if we don’t then we are only stoking our own ego’s…and not being faithful to the text or the God it proclaims.

Quite a bit of this can be done in the preparatory stage.  It might mean a longer introduction and taking a couple more weeks on the text—but so what, the goal is being faithful to the text.  So, I would encourage preachers to spend just as much time “expositing” their congregation as they do “expositing” the text.  Then put those two together into a sermon.  And if you get up there and realize you goofed and are preaching over their heads—then don’t just get through your notes…be humble enough to start asking questions or something to get back on the same page. 

So, what do you think?  Am I a heretic?


  1. Imagine Kevin stopping in the middle of the message to ask questions. Or you could be like Driscoll and have the Q & A sessions after the message...

  2. David,

    I'm not sure your point. Are you saying it would be bad for Kevin to stop in the middle and ask questions or welcome questions? Especially if the congregation seems totally lost and if only 10% afterwards could even tell you what the sermon was about.

    I do like the Driscoll Q & A session. And perhaps those might be more effective. I just question whether or not we should just keep plodding along when we know it's not reaching them. (I guess the question could be asked--how do you KNOW that they aren't being reached. And we could really spiritualize that one too and say that God moves in mysterious ways).

  3. Also,

    The type of questions I am talking about are not so much Q & A type of questions...but more so directed questions to get everyone on the same page.

  4. Illustrations that get at the heart of the principle seem to work better than questions in my experience. In American culture (and I'm speaking as a Middle-school culture here with college experience), you are likely to get some questions if you open it up to a Q&A, but rarely will people use the time to dive into heart-level questions. If we want to go deeper into the mind and into the heart, we must utilize our hearer's experiences by using illustrations of principles.
    How do we know when our audience is understanding what we're saying? I don't know, but you can generally tell when they're tracking with you...they'll laugh during the humorous parts of the stories and get really quiet and grave as we discuss sin. My theory is that the Lord will drive His truth into the hearts of those whom He pleases; my job in that is to make the meaning of the text clear and simple to my hearers. That might help with your questions about exegeting the text and your audience, too.
    Love you, brother.

  5. Will,

    Glad to hear from you again! Hope all is well. I agree that illlustrations work better, and I try to have plenty in my sermons to move the abstract into the concrete. However, have you ever just ridiculously blown an illustration? I mean it seemed good on paper...but when you preach it, everyone looks confused.

    My point is not to stop the sermon and start fielding Questions. My point is to switch gears and start asking some questions to get everyone on the same page. As you said, "my job in that is to make the meaning of the text clear and simple to my hearers". When you see that they aren't getting it you wouldn't be doing your job to just keep plodding along b/c that is what is in your sermon notes.



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