Saturday, 19 October 2013

Relevant preaching

I saw this blurb for a book:
"What we hear in church on Sunday morning sometimes seems worlds away from the challenges we face on Monday morning. With lively Bible teaching and drawing on a wealth of real-life stories, (the author) shows how work was part of God's good plan for men and women - given to us so we can make a creative contribution in his world."
What this means is that the author of the book is making up for something wrong with the preaching. That's a good thing for authors to do. But what about the preaching itself? If you are a preacher or teacher in some capacity, then are your hearers in danger of coming away with this lack of understanding of what the gospel actually means for their lives?

Pondering about this whilst in Kenya led me to formulate the following 'rule of thumb'. Imagine a long-term hearer of someone's preaching. However, he is not physically present; he is listening via tapes (MP3s, etc.). He does not know ahead of time where the preacher is, or what the preacher and congregation's situation is. He does not know what the congregation's challenges are, in their cultural setting. If the preacher is a good preacher, then he should be able to work it out from listening to the preacher. i.e. It should be possible to reconstruct the daily challenges faced in the social context of the preacher's congregation, by listening to the preaching. By considering the applications, he should be able to 'reverse-engineer' the situations that they are being made to.

All this is simply to say that good preaching is applied. Actually applied; not solely in generalities which could be proclaimed equally to all listeners everywhere; but in specifics that enable people to recognise the relevancy of the message for them, today, where they are. The clothes must fit. This is a shepherd's duty; a shepherd must know his flock - not just vaguely, but closely. Of course, some applications are universal; believe God's promises, turn away from sin, etc. But what promises and what sins are particularly pressing for your time and situation? Can it be right to rarely hear anything about that, so that you come away not knowing (except in the vaguest terms) how Sunday and Monday are related?

This is part of the reason why knowing your people (for a pastor, through pastoral visiting) is important, so that you can get a much closer, less vague, understanding of the shape of their challenges. But that's another subject. My point is this: the fact that such books as the above require to be written is an indictment of our preaching. We should not fail to heed the message in between the lines.

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