What the Pastor Should Remember About His Congregation When He PreachesMarch 2, 2017
The preacher of God’s Word spends much of his time in preparation for the preaching hour. He studies, he prays, he searches, he digs out, he anticipates, he practices, he meditates, he even dreams about the moment when Sunday comes and he mounts the pulpit with the Bible in his hand. But on occasion, the preacher should walk away from the pulpit and sit on the pew. I do not mean he shouldn’t attempt to preach, I just mean that he should try listening to himself from time to time with his audience.
We, as preachers, are so engrossed with how the message is presented that we often forget the importance of how the message is received. Much of our time is appropriated to a sermon’s “take-off,” but what about the landing? What about those on the other side? It is true, most of the congregation gives little thought about what is going on with the preacher when he preaches; but it is a great error on the preacher’s part when he gives little thought about what is going on with his congregation when he stands to proclaim God’s Word.
And so, he must sit with them. He must relate to them. He must understand their perspective. This is a unique challenge for God’s man…he must be on both sides of the message. And the truth is, for the betterment of his own life, he needs to be on both sides of the message. He needs to speak God’s Word and He needs to hear God’s Word. His congregation will appreciate him more if he hears it with them.
So, what should the pastor remember about his congregation when he preaches?
They Made an Effort
Whenever a preacher looks across his congregation he should remember what it took for those parishioners to be in their place. Traffic was fought, schedules were changed, meals were prolonged, preparation was made. People do not just accidentally show up; it takes intentional, and sometimes sacrificial effort to be present in the house of God. I’m not saying that people go above and beyond their call of duty by being present, but I am saying the pastor should remember what it takes to get from one place to another in these crazy, busy days.
Early on in my ministry I grew discouraged by those who did not attend our mid-week service. Oftentimes, my frustration would show during the preaching and teaching hour. One week a kind, gracious, seasoned saint reminded me that I should minister to the ones who made an effort instead of being disgruntled at the ones who didn’t. “We are the ones who showed up.” Those words changed my life and ministry. Preachers should not take for granted those people who willfully and deliberately show up each week for the worship service.
They Need Encouragement
Every week I minister to people who are facing all kinds of trouble. Cancer, divorce, depression, deaths, loss of job, and the like infiltrate their lives at an accelerated rate. They need help. They need strength. They need grace. They need the preacher of God’s Word to offer consolation, hope, and spiritual answers.
The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). The careful and considerate pastor must live and minister with discerning balance. As Paul instructed, there are times to reprove and rebuke; there are times we must, with spiritual resolve, reprimand sin, dispel iniquity, and admonish our people to holy living. Equally, there are times when exhortation is the suitable approach. Some pastors excel at pulling apart, ripping up, and beating down their sheep. Beloved, even a wolf can do that. An under-shepherd who longs to be like the Great Shepherd knows how and when to encourage those entrusted to his care.
They Want Exposition
The intimation of modern Christianity is that most parishioners want to be entertained. I will admit, there is some truth in that notion; however, I also find in my ministry that, by in large, many people want to know what God has said. Those who are genuinely saved, those who live in the “marvelous light,” want to know more and more about the light.
Preachers waste the congregation’s time when his sermon is littered with opinions, preferences, and personal thoughts. He dims the light with that approach. Such sermons are the result of lazy, apathetic, and non-productive study habits of the man of God. At the end of the day, and the sermon, what the preacher thinks does not matter. All that matters is what God has already said in His Word. Most people I have encountered in my ministry do not want the smoke and mirrors of circus theology. They want truth…deep, heart-changing, life-altering, joy-producing truth. The preacher, if he is truly called, should give it to them every time. Exegesis, word study, historical context, and practical application are vital elements of preaching God’s Word; simultaneously they are the vital elements of successful Christian living.
They are Ensnared
The supernatural opposition that fills the worship hour is inconceivable to most Christians. We may see the people, we may hear the choir, we may feel the emotions of worship, but rarely do we sense the oppression and opposition that comes against the people of God during the preaching hour. If distractions can take place, they will take place during the proclamation of God’s Word. This is the intention of Satan.
Preachers must remember that his congregation is being pursued. Demonic and spiritual predators are doing all they can to entice, entrap, and entangle the flock of God. If you are earnestly sowing the seed of Scripture, be certain, there are some wicked vultures waiting in the shadows to devour it before it penetrates the soil of your people’s hearts. They are being fought on every hand. They are being tempted on every side. They are being distracted at every point and illustration. Remember this preacher: There’s not only a battle raging in the pulpit there is also a battle raging in the pew.
They Face Eternity
Perhaps the greatest thing the pastor should remember about his congregation when he preaches is that he is preaching to souls that will live forever. Eternity is at stake. Heaven and hell should be spelled out of the faces of every individual who sits under the sound of the preacher’s voice.
The preaching hour is but for a moment. All the elements of your message is but a swift reminder of eternity. May the preacher of God’s word remember these words by John Tillotson, “He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment, but a fool forever.” Pastor, you are not just preaching to your people this Sunday, you are preaching to people who are facing eternity.
Preachers should not be so consumed with what is going on behind the pulpit that they forget to consider what is going on behind the pew. Step back on occasion and consider what is taking place while you preach, not just from your perspective, but from theirs as well.