The Preacher and His Audience
The word “preacher” is from the original term
kerux, signifying a “herald.” The herald was an important person in Greek society. One of his most vital functions was to preserve the integrity of the message he was delivering. Some find it odd that the New Testament writers employed this word only three times — twice of Paul, and once of Noah (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11; 2 Peter 2:5). This may be a purposeful “neglect” — to emphasize the importance of the message over the messenger (G. Kittel, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, 431).
Since all Christians fall under the obligations of the “Great Commission,” all, in some sense, must “preach” the gospel (Mark 16:15). In a more restricted sense, however, namely that of proclaiming God’s message to gender-mixed audiences, only males are authorized to function as preachers (1 Timothy 2:12). Elsewhere, see our article on The Role of Woman.
What does a congregation have a right to expect from its “preacher”? Several things come to mind, from one who has studied the matter for many years.
First, the preacher must be “faithful” (see 2 Timothy 2:2). This does not suggest that he must be perfect; that creature does not exist upon this earth today. But his life must not be so marred by flagrant disobedience that he virtually has no moral or spiritual influence. Among the many admonitions given to Timothy, Paul encouraged the young brother to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Timothy 6:11), being an “example” to others in both “word” and “manner of life” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Second, he must possess a moderate amount of “ability.” Paul urged Timothy to commit the word, received from him, to faithful men “who shall be able to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). There are some men with hearts of gold, who desperately want to preach, but who simply do not have that capability. We applaud their attitude, but they need to find a niche compatible with their talents. Of course one must acknowledge that some young men, who have exhibited little to no talent initially, have gone on to surpass all expectations.
Third, preachers must be studious. If a man does not study, it quickly is apparent to the better Bible students in his audience. The preacher whose characteristic lesson consists mostly of home-spun tales and a collection of stale preacher-jokes, with a minute amount of Bible sprinkled in here and there, is a disgrace to his profession. There is no excuse for such malfeasance.
Fourth, a preacher should show genuine concern for the souls he is involved in teaching. Can you see that he really cares? You may not always agree with him, he may not use the best judgment on occasions, but do you know he genuinely loves you? If not, he has failed.
Fifth, a preacher should not be an embarrassment to the congregation. When you bring visitors, can you be proud to introduce him to a neighbor? Is he dressed in a dignified fashion? Some preachers are so sloppy and disheveled, that one would think they had just returned from a trip to the city dump. Others are flamboyant. Ridiculously flashy attire detracts from the seriousness of the gospel message.
Sixth, a preacher can only do so much. He cannot do adequate study, try to call upon people in the hospital, take care of the bulletin, hold gospel meetings, write helpful Bible literature, do personal counseling for folks with family problems, conduct funerals, handle weddings, give his family some quality time, and, on top of that, make social calls to everyone in the congregation. Visitation is the duty of every Christian, and anyone can do it. The minister should do his share, but his “share” is no more than anyone else’s.
I recently read that the church is losing a significant number of preachers each year. They die, retire, or simply quit. And we are not filling the gap. And we won’t — until we recognize the value in a good preacher. We must teach our youth that there is honor in preaching the gospel, and support them if they wish to dedicate themselves to this task.
When a preacher enters the pulpit he momentarily surveys his audience. And he becomes skilled at it. A studious and experienced preacher can adapt a prepared sermon to a special audience, or even to a person in his audience. But if need be, an exceptional preacher can craft an entirely new presentation to accommodate one or more visitors who enter the assembly, and whom may never again have the opportunity to hear a gospel sermon. The man who is inflexible, with a rigid outline, cannot. Flexibility is not impossible for a teacher who studies amply and deeply.
But audiences are fascinating and variegated. There are warm, smiling faces — like flowers on a spring morning — brimming with encouragement and love. Thank God for people of a sweet and kindly disposition. They need not say a word; the countenance says it all. And such have blessed the lives of numerous men of God.
Others evidence their interest, not so much by facial expression, but by having open Bibles. This, along with a pad and pen they utilize in taking notes, speaks of interest. They take heed “what” and “how” they hear (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18). To the speaker this indicates that they value the message and feel they will have a use for the truth that is learned. There is scarcely a purpose for taking notes if one sees no need to retain any of the knowledge to which he is exposed. But obvious learners are a preacher’s dream. You may find this difficult to believe, but it only takes one or two attentive students to over-ride fifty daydreamers who probably would be elsewhere were it not for their fear of hell. Eternal punishment is a motive for spiritual interest, but it’s not the noblest.
Then there are those who obviously are in the audience at someone else’s insistence — be it a parent, grandparent, spouse, or a school chum who had nothing better to do that day. They are self-distracted. They giggle, pass notes, poke one another, make faces, read material, or flaunt ridiculous adornments. Some have no reverence for the atmosphere of worship and service. They are sloppy, disheveled and disrespectful. A focused preacher learns to “tune out” these folks, just as they do him — though their demeanor is filed away in his subconscious microchip.
But nullifying irreverent displays are the godly souls who must drag themselves to worship, even when in great distress. The exuberance may have drained from their weary faces, but they manage a smile and a word of encouragement. My memories of such friends I have observed over the years, having already gone to their reward, will never be dimmed. These have “preached” better sermons than many of us in the pulpit ever will be able to do.
One of the things that has amazed me with the passing of the years, is how some women — generally sweet Christian women, diligent in helping the needy, friendly and courteous to all they meet, indeed quite charming — have let the world set fashion standards for them. Recently I was thumbing through a garment catalog that had arrived in our mail. As I came to the section displaying women’s apparel, it was instantly apparent that most of the dresses and blouses being fashioned for women these days are intentionally designed to display a portion of the ladies’ bosom.
Why have some Christian women become so de-sensitized that they do not care that cleavage is revealed?
And O the horror that becomes apparent, with hands flung to the chest, if a man should by chance appear to glance in the direction of the unseemly display. The way one dresses is an insight into how he/she thinks. Many a preacher hesitates to mention such immodesty, lest he be “flogged” by some spirited sister who would be offended by the admonition — though she cares little about the offense she causes.
While you are watching the preacher — evaluating his suit, tie, shoes, grammar, pulpit deportment, etc., he also is watching you. And he sees far more than you imagine.
The final word is this: God is watching each of us — both externally and internally. Let us seek, above all, to please him. Speaker and audience alike stand before the Lord!
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.