Most pastors rightly focus on three things related to the weekend’s worship gatherings: prayer, preparing the sermon, and preparing themselves. These things are absolutely necessary for the preacher. Other things can be delegated; these cannot.
When it comes to preaching the sermon, we think about the text, do the exegesis, do as much language study as we can, think about the introduction, conclusion, and application. We pray for “thus saith the Lord.” For the preacher, the 30-45 minutes of sermon time are the most valuable of the week for instructing the congregation.
We cannot afford to be haphazard in our preparation. There is a quite literal target audience: the people to whom we will preach. We do not preach in a vacuum, so let us not approach the weekend as if it is a moonscape. Everything we do to prepare should be done with the following in mind:
1. Everyone in your audience is dealing with a life problem.
Nothing about preaching is theory. People hearing our preaching are looking for something that draws them closer to God, helps them overcome sin, or simply helps them get out of bed the next morning.
No one attends our services from Utopia—everyone is dealing with something:
- trouble with children
- trouble with parents
- trouble at work
- trouble in their marriage
- financial trouble
- mental illness
- domestic abuse
- physical illness
- feelings of insufficiency
- bondage to sin
2. Many people listening have not thought about the things of God since last weekend’s services.
How amazing it would be if one hundred percent of our people remembered our preaching from week-to-week. But, let’s not flatter (or deceive) ourselves—that isn’t remotely close to reality. Many people who listen to us preach this weekend will not think about the things of God until next weekend.
3. For many, church attendance is a duty and not related to worship in any way.
Americans who attend church often attend out of a sense of duty, not because of a love for Christ. Their presence is not related to loving obedience, but to legalistic obligation. It is as routine as going to the gas station when the tank is low, and just as heartfelt.
The challenge when preaching to these attenders is to focus their attention on the God who calls us together, and who is worthy of our worship.
4. You are preaching to sheep and goats.
While hard data on this is not available, anecdotal evidence is as common as the pastorate: we preach to sheep and goats every week. Many unbelievers know they need Christ. Others are thoroughly drunk on their own works. The “way that seems right” is surely leading them to death, but they do not know it. Yet.
Whatever the overall theme of a particular passage, repentance and faith must be enjoined for those who are not believers.
5. There are people in attendance who are hungry for a word from God.
In virtually every congregation—no matter the size—there is a remnant. There are those whose hearts beat for God, whose souls cry out to him, who thirst for him as a winded deer thirsts for water. We dare not overlook these faithful saints who hunger and thirst after righteousness by addressing only the young, or spiritually immature.
Taking spiritually deep people deeper in Jesus means we who preach must mine the riches of the Word. Sermon prep cannot be the equivalent of “treasure hunting” for lost pocket-change six-inches-deep in the beach sand. We cannot treat the weekend sermon like the first-grade VBS assembly time.
Preparing to preach with these different kinds of people in mind will make us better communicators and better shepherds. Jesus instructed Peter to feed his sheep and we should have the same goal in view. Keeping in mind the different pastures in which the sheep and goats live will help us better teach and apply the eternal word of God in the time we have each week.