Every time I get on the internet my phone or iPad is assaulted by advertisements. Pop-up windows, stuff running across the screen, bouncing, swirling graphics and videos are all designed to get our attention to click on them. The people behind those ads have a very specific target audience but to reach specific groups they must blanket everyone with the same ads. There’s a similarity in preaching.
Preaching to a church audience treats everyone the same but they’re not the same. The typical audience varies from 5 to 85 years of age. The children present who are growing up will over a period of about 15 years need to hear everything they need for life. Some visitors present need the first principles of the gospel to be converted. New members and young Christians need to hear basic sermons on developing life skills for Christian living. Young married couples need lessons on raising children, building strong marriages and such.
At the same time, the audience is also composed of people who probably don’t need to hear certain things. Older Christians who have heard many years of preaching and many different preachers are at the point where there is very little “new” for them. Members who are widowed, or those who are too young to care, may find marriage and family topics distressing. Mature members may find pointed lessons on morality, temptations of dating, pornography, drug abuse, drinking, smoking, etc. a waste, but many in the congregation need such lessons. And one more thing, a single sermon is not enough for real learning. Repetition is absolutely essential if knowledge is to be gotten and retained.
Like the one-room school house of old, the local church has many different needs, in one room, but with only one teacher to address the needs of all. Such is a constant challenge for both the teacher and the students. So, if you find yourself thinking during some sermon, “I know all this already, move on to something else!” be assured that some in the audience are hearing it for the first time.
Preaching is part of God’s plan for the church and will continue to be needed for as long as the world stands. Paul said he preached the whole counsel of God to Ephesus (Acts 20:27), but he also asked them to pray for him to preach boldly, as he ought to (Eph. 6:19-20). Those sentiments should be the goal of every preacher and the prayer of every church. To the extent of our abilities we must continually challenge, encourage, correct, motivate, instruct and comfort the saints, while pleasing God, through preaching.
- Tim Orbison