Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting "Fed" by Your Preacher

People often talk about the need to feel "fed" by their preachers. Secretly a lot us preacher-types cringe at those conversations, probably for a lot of different reasons.

Sometimes listeners can be "picky eaters" and so no matter what you put on their plates they're going to have low blood sugar by the time they turn on the Sunday afternoon sports on TV. Sometimes we cringe because we wish we had more to offer them--pastors with overflowing to-do lists have to deal with the reality that there simply isn't as much time as there should be to create a truly substantial meal. But sometimes we cringe because those kind of conversations can end up being vague, unhelpful volleys of cliches. What do people really NEED from a sermon?

Obviously, people need the Bible. Without that a preacher is merely slinging anecdotes and illustrations. But just because a preacher refers to a lot of Bible verses or really takes apart all the words in one passage doesn't mean people will walk out feeling fed. The reality is that there are different "food groups" listeners need from scripture, and heaping a congregation's plate full of an unneeded food group can still leave them strangely unsatisfied, even if bloated.

Here are three major food groups people need from sermons:
* Biblical information. What does the Bible say? People need to become familiar with what's in their Bibles. They need to learn important people and events recorded there, they need foundational doctrines presented in it, and most of all they need the simple, over-arching story of a perfect world, ruined by sin that's being reclaimed by Christ in anticipation of the day when all things are made new. If people don't know their Bibles nothing else will make sense.
* Biblical application. What does this mean I should do? Knowing scripture without knowing how to apply it can sometimes result in disappointingly little life-change. All the bible knowledge in the world will make very little difference if listeners never discover what it will look like for those teachings to be applied to their lives. What do they need to do differently because of what the Bible says to them?
* Biblical self-knowledge. Why do I often resist this? Biblical information and practical application alone won't necessarily bring change to someone's life if their heart isn't open to that transformation. The fact is that as fallen people our hearts instinctively resist receiving God's grace and sharing it with others. Our hearts can unexpectedly spasm, leaving them hardened against God's transformation. Preachers need to help listeners discover some of the more common ways in which the Enemy tricks us into turning our backs on the new life God offers.

These are three of the more common food groups needed in a sermon diet. One of the challenges facing preachers is that no two congregations have the same dietary needs, and and in fact no two listeners in any one church family need exactly the same thing. A preacher offering solid Biblical information may leave people starving for application, or sermons that are rich with application may ring flat if people aren't helped to open their hearts to receive what scripture offers.

Pray for your preacher as he or she plans your congregation's menu.

And then clean your plate when the meal is served.

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