Taking into account to whom you are speaking is basic to all communication. You do not speak or preach to children, teens, young people, adults, women, men, and/or seasoned saints the same way. In several ways, they are different audiences — intellectually, emotionally, in life experiences, and in their spiritual growth.
There is a brand of preaching that disregards that broad span of Christian spiritual growth. Most every speaker-preacher-teacher would quickly acknowledge that his audience includes those who may not even profess Christ, or who are new believers in Christ, or who have walked with Christ for a number of years, as well as those who are mature believers.
However, their preaching falls far short of that reality, not in content but in prospects or expectations. It is not that what is being said cannot be understood by most all the listeners. Rather, it is that their spiritual maturity — or lack of it as new believers — gives them different ears. Being told that they need to be where others are, or where the preacher believes mature believers ought to be, (or where the preacher “humbly states or implies” that he is), can easily lead to great discouragement!
One could preach about the faith of Abraham in the offering of Issac, Daniel in the lion’s den, Shadrack, Meshach, & Abednego in the fiery furnace, Samson in the final day of his life, Peter’s boldness to speak the Gospel in the book of Acts, Joseph’s response to his brother’s presence, et al. However, all of them had many chapters of life that preceded any one of those great events.
They give the impression that “this” is where one who names the name of Christ needs to be NOW. The implication is that there is no real-life progression. In fact, even more extreme tendencies imply that one may not even be truly saved if they are not there in their Christian walk.
There is little difficulty in calling up a response of struggle, difficulty, and/or failure. Any preacher knows that he can preach a message on prayer and easily challenge everyone in attendance (and if honest, it includes himself).
- There are areas of Christian life and living that all believers generally struggle with.
- There are areas of Christian life and living that some do, and some do not struggle with — some find sharing the Gospel with others easy, and others fail and fail at it!
- There are areas of the Christian life that some struggle with early in their Christian lives, and others later in their lives.
- There are areas that come with age, circumstances, finances, marriage, child-rearing, old age, etc. . . . . .
Often, I would say this . . . .
“The question is not — “Are we where we should be?” or “Are we where this passage presents?” Rather, can we be “more” or “better” in this? It is not “we are” or “we are not,” but can we be more than we are?
Do we fail, over and over, when it comes to temptation? The truth is that most of us cannot even resist that brownie; how will we ever claim consistent victory on this side of glory? But we can continually confess and repent and go at it again — and again — and again!
You preach differently when you genuinely take into account the spiritual span of those listening, the wide variety of people who are seeking to live for Christ in real life and living. God’s people are encouraged to continue the battle. There is hope (and there is – ask Peter) for those who stay in that battle.
When God’s people are told (over and over and over) that they are not where they should be, they are dispirited! The preacher-teacher confuses and stifles them because he fails to take into account that they are babes, or still children in Christ, or young men — but are not old men in the faith (I John 2).
Let me also say that there are some preachers-teachers, not all, but far more than we would like to admit, who need to get out of their ivory tower and/or lay aside their own disingenuous self-confidence. Such ministries are marked by dispirited and disheartened people who may have concluded that they never will reach this-or-that measure! They are not done a disservice at best, and great damage at worse. When God’s people could be striving and pursuing, they have lost all heart. They are not even sure they are saved.
Some will find a different ministry that again speaks to their heart’s desires. They may not be able to pinpoint the difference, but they know their hope of living for Christ in this world has been renewed. They will re-enlist and get back on the road with newfound excitement.
Sadly, some will just drop out of church, never to return. Not only because of them but also because of a pastor who made it hard to live for Christ! They put burdens on mens’ spiritual shoulders. They could never reach the standard held out as a here-and-now absolute rather than our aspiration. Like some fathers who have provoked their children and discouraged them! They do it with God’s children, over who they claim to be shepherds.
No, like in families, there is a shared responsibility between both children and fathers, between pastors and people, when we dishearten!