Speaking to People Who Aren’t There

One key step to great preaching is knowing your audience. I can’t tell you how many times my Bieber jokes have fallen flat or my application steps were off base, simply because I didn’t think through who my audience was. A few months ago, I filled in on a Sunday morning for our senior pastor. One of our morning services is predominently older church members. My Lord of the Rings illustration, predictably, bombed. Bad idea.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to speak not just to my audience, but to the audience I want to have. In other words, speak to people who aren’t actually present in the room. I know, weird, right? But here is why, as a student pastor, I think this is extremely important.
I want to set an environment that is conducive to my students bringing friends. I want my students to leave thinking, “I need to get my lost friend here, because that message would have been perfect for him.” But if my students don’t think that my messages will apply to their friends who don’t know Jesus, then they won’t have much incentive to bring them. They’ll leave thinking, “My friend wouldn’t get this at all… it must not be for her.”
Here is the thing, often the environment will trump the message. I could speak every week about my students bringing other students, but if my students think their friend will be embarrassed by what I talk about then they aren’t going to bring them.  If they think that their friend won’t connect with the message, they won’t bring them. Or worse, they might never even think about bringing their friends simply because the environment doesn’t facilitate it. Think about taking a vegetarian on a date to Outback. Who would bring a vegetarian to Outback? Exactly, why? Because the those two things don’t fit together.
Listen, I’m not saying drop the Jesus message and talk about One Direction for 25 minutes. I am saying that we need to think through who could be in the room and make sure our messages connect with them. We need to make sure we clearly present the Gospel and not assume people know it. We need to address real problems that real students have.
So I have to preach to people that aren’t in the room yet. The last thing I want is for my students to leave thinking, “Boy, am I glad I didn’t bring my friend who needed to hear about Jesus today.” I want them to trust that when they take a risk to invite their friends, that I will do my very best to make sure I teach the Bible so that their friend can connect with it.

Beyond Biblical Exposition

Jacob, my intern, and I are currently reading through The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer together. I originally read The Pursuit of God back in college well before many of the defining moments in my life. It has been amazing to read back through the book from a completely different perspective now as a husband, father, and pastor. The book has truly impacted Jacob and I both, so this past week we decided to blog weekly about it, picking out particular sections along the way that spoke to us personally.

Immediately, a couple of paragraphs in the preface regarding preaching and teaching God’s Word jumped out at me. Of course, when I previously read the book I wasn’t preaching or teaching, so I’m sure I missed these ideas the first time around. But, after spending a considerable amount of time thinking about how we teach the Bible, these thoughts challenged me. Tozer writes, “There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. They ministry constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy” (8).

Wow! My first thought was I definitely don’t want to be that guy. But then, I had to be honest and admit that I am often that guy. I am guilty of teaching relying only on my knowledge of the Scripture or on my skill set. Or perhaps even worse, I teach parroting or simply repeating what I’ve heard some one else do. While understanding, skill, and resources are all good things, they are not the main thing. In the middle of all the hows of teaching, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that biblical knowledge is not the goal, but knowing God is the goal.

Tozer says it this way, “But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not better for having heard the truth” (9). He is communicating two crucial ideas. First, good biblical exposition does not necessarily produce good preaching. It is an important component that does not need to be overlooked, but it is not the only component and perhaps not even the most important. Second, the purpose of the Bible “is not an end in itself” (9). Knowing the Bible is helpful, but its not the point. The purpose of the Scripture is knowing God, and the purpose of great preaching is not just communicating the truth, but communicating the truth so that it helps hearers know God.

I had to ask myself the question, “Do my students feel God’s Presence when I teach?” Its a tough question. Tozer reminds me that no matter how much I study, no matter how funny my jokes are, and no matter how slick my presentation is, only God’s Spirit can do the real work of transformation. If I want to nourish my students spiritually (which I do), then I must rely on God in my preaching and teaching. This is a humbling, but much needed truth for me. I hope it encourages you, also.