I’ve taught my students this for years. The most important lesson the student learns, along with skills, is the understanding of the role of a preacher. I shall devote the next few weeks talking about the role. This installment deals with a most basic idea: the preacher is a shepherd. If the oldest to the youngest listener cannot understand you or get anything out of your sermons, you need to work harder to know your audience. It may sound simple, but it’s a hard task. Do we know to whom we’re preaching? The Bible often refers to the leader as a shepherd. By default, the shepherd knows his sheep, much like the pastor knows her congregation. In order to know the congregation, the pastor has to be in the life of the congregation. This may involve getting in touch through visitation, small groups, email, or other means. The problem may not be rhetorical. The problem may be pastoral. Or the problem may be a combination of both.
There’re a few preachers out there who think that a few formulaic ideas can go a long way. Some think that repentance or commitment or some other topics like God’s sovereignty can just about meet everyone’s need. They’re naïve! Try telling the mother who just had miscarriage God is sovereign. Try telling a rape victim to repent of “her” sin of bitterness against her attacker. Most are not this extreme, but can be guilty to a lesser degree. Many lack sensitivity cultivated through close contact with congregation members.
When we prepare our sermons, we need to have the divorced mother raising three kids by herself, the single who can’t seem to find a life partner, the little kid who is ADD, the women and the man who’s struggling with pornography and sexual addiction in mind. Is there a message in the text for them? I’m not saying that every text has a message for these cases, but surely, if the text has “no” message for “any” case, then the preacher has got a problem. If this problem persists, the pulpit will die a slow and painful death.