How often can it be said that our “doctrinal” preaching is so objective and scriptural that it seeks to correct our own shortcomings—as well as those of the few outsiders who may be at our services? As a preacher, I confess that too long have I overlooked a basic point in sermon preparation in failing to “consider the audience.” Will it be made up of church members or will there be a sufficient number of non-Christians to justify a first principle sermon?

Many times our sermon preparation is immature. We read the sermons of pioneer preachers and imagine that our audiences are the same complexion, religiously, as were those. (For years I exposed the fallacy of the mourner’s bench type of religion, before I realized that few in my audience had ever heard the expression.) These pioneer preachers were paving the way and thus an entire book of sermons is addressed to an outsider in trying to lead him to the truth. Armed with such an example, we often do not deal realistically with the problems of the churches.

Particularly is this true in my own preaching in some meetings. In looking over the sermon subjects of a recent meeting I find that I preached on a “Case of Conversion from Acts” when no outsider was present. Nothing can be more scriptural or pertinent to an audience of non-Christians or misguided denominationalists, but our own people need something that will stir them up to an awareness of their own shortcomings.

As for the church, they never tire of first principles if presented in a vivid way. Such a sermon does not trouble our members or upset their equilibrium. They have obeyed the gospel. They may praise the preacher for having preached some of the finest lessons ever heard. But let him preach to the church and the number of compliments drops considerably. We preachers need to decide which is more important: to be God’s preacher or the congregation’s. If I seek to please men, I am not a servant of God (Gal. 1:10).

How often is our preaching in evangelistic meetings so slanted or top-heavy with things the brethren agree with us on so that they are complacent in feeling that they have already performed the commandment of the Lord. The measure of our success then is whether we are invited back next year to hold another meeting.

With 90-95% (sometimes 100%) of those present already members of the church, we leave the members more self-satisfied with themselves than ever, saying, “Oh how I wish so and so had been here,” or loftily patronizing toward our friends in other churches and wondering why “they can’t see the truth”? Maybe we are just as slow to see the truth of our own lack of fruit-bearing in the Lord’s vineyard. How many of our elders and deacons are like “Little Jack Horner” who “sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie; he put in his thumb and pulled out a plum, and said, ‘What a good boy am I.’” The trouble is that we preachers are too eager to serve up Christmas pie when we ought to be serving turnip greens. Is the compliment we seek and have come to expect a real evaluation of the good the sermon is doing or is it merely, “Thanks, preacher, for making me feel ‘What a good boy am I.’”?

The writer is not suggesting that there be any less preaching on fundamentals of apostolic Christianity. Too many members of the church are woefully ignorant on what it stood for. We should make it apply to our own members, however, and not merely to outsiders. We, as preachers, should get out of the rut of preaching 90% of our sermons during a revival meeting designed to revive those who are not there to hear it. We are urging that we restudy some of our first principles and some of the teaching of the Bible, which have been neglected, as being directly applicable to the church. What about an old-fashioned prayer meeting and teaching our members to pray and more fervent public prayers? Why not preach more on the evangelistic zeal of the New Testament church to electrify our leadership into the need of doubling their mission budgets? Why not emphasize the benevolent program of the church as rich avenues of Christian service to forestall the drain of the better talent of Christians into lodges, civic organizations, community chests, etc. Surely, preaching that counts will be that which is aimed to make the audience at hand better and help it walk more according to the truth as revealed in God’s word.

Fred B. Walker
Living Oracles Volume 1, No. 2 
February, 1988