Good preaching requires good listeners: Advice from the pew
"God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit…
Preaching has never been easy. God sent Jeremiah to deliver a hard message with little assurance: “They will not listen to you. … They will not hear you” (Jeremiah 7:27). God knew the hearts of Jeremiah’s hearers would not be open to his voice. He also knew other voices were saying other things.
Still, preaching remains a challenge. There are people who will not hear. And there remain other voices saying other things. Today’s preachers compete with podcasters, bloggers and instant fact checkers. Add to that the steady stream of moral failures by too many religious leaders, and it is easy to understand why people struggle to listen.
No matter the topic — politics, health, weather — multiple voices scream for attention. Anyone with an opinion and a computer has a right and a platform to share their perspective. In the marketplace of ideas, the shelves are overstocked, and shoppers are overwhelmed.
Even worse, people are unsure who to trust. It is a matter of credibility. Political leaders, media personalities, even religious voices regularly contradict each other. Scandal and suspicion only add to the confusion.
Before entering the pulpit, our credibility is suspect. Why should they listen? And how do we cut through the noise?
“Watch your life and doctrine closely” remains a solid starting point (1 Timothy 4:16). Imagine Paul’s words if Timothy had social media. Fair or unfair, news of any moral failing of any religious leader threatens the voice of every preacher. Listeners eagerly search for signs that the faith we preach means enough for us to follow it ourselves.
What credibility we do earn should be used wisely. The urge to comment on every news story or cultural skirmish weakens our voice. Will people listen to hear us on weightier matters if we exhaust them with our views on lesser matters?
And when the moment demands comment, our words must carry the unique voice of the Gospel. If our words are no different from those of nonbelievers, then they are simply redundant.
We should fight the temptation of speaking too much. The concern goes beyond the length of our sermons. Social media, blogs and YouTube offer endless opportunities for being heard. Each can be a blessing, but they also risk overexposure. People who talk too much are often heard too little.
The goal of preaching is not simply to speak the truth but to speak in a way to be heard. Strategic and focused use of our voice reduces the chance of getting lost in the noise of an over-messaged culture.
When we are granted an audience, we must deliver something meaningful. Life is filled with uncertainty and doubt. Honest people are looking for hope, something to hold on to, somewhere solid to stand.
Preaching should never intentionally deepen our doubts. Preaching is a time to share convictions, not questions, assurances, not assumptions.
For a short moment on Sunday, the competing voices are quieted, and the people of God await a word from the Lord.
Preachers are invited and even commanded to offer that word, a more compelling and a more certain voice. God helps us have something to say and the credibility with which to say it.
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