Loretta and I were walking last Saturday after coming back from a long day filled with weddings and dinners with our boys and their friends (and attendant girlfriends/wives) back in town for the weddings. And as we walked, Loretta was talking about her women’s Bible study. They are doing Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life the long way…they are taking a day a week and so 40-days becomes a 40-week study. (The subject of why I have never preached on Purpose Driven Life is saved for another time and place). They are on the section on spiritual gifts. And Loretta became excited as she described the women’s reaction to the study. These are all women who have been believers many years. And yet she described how this teaching was fresh to them. (Not NEW, but FRESH—big distinction). Their leader, Janice is brilliant at doing that.
Because I am Listening to Fred Craddock’s tape series Preaching as Storytelling, something he had said immediately came to mind:
“A highly prized form of learning is to understand what you know. As Luke says to Theophilus: ‘that you may understand those things in which you have been instructed.’ (Luke 1:4 paraphrased)
“By the way, In preaching, that is very important. It is very important that people have the experience of what they already know.
“At least 90% of every sermon should be such that they can say “Amen”. They do not want to be insulted and certainly not put-down. I do not enjoy being put down. That is what the world offers me every day…a hot cup of despair and a big put-down. I think we ought to participate in the ministry of encouragement to each other.” (Tape 1, Track 2)
That ability to teach what is note new, but in a fresh way is always challenging. I have had very little negative criticism of my preaching, but every once in a while someone states that it is shallow. (Although last summer I was criticized for making it too classroom-like & too deep—oh well….)
But one of the areas that I find most difficult is preaching to a congregation of established believers. There are two types of established believers…those who are well grounded in the Word and those who are not. The second group brings all sorts of preconceptions and prejudices and misunderstandings to the sermon time. And then you have non-believers or new believers. As has been said many times, you used to be able to presume that non-believers or new believers at least knew a number of Bible stories or references because our culture referred to them and felt they were worth passing on as part of our cultural heritage. That is no longer the case and so you have people who know literally NOTHING about the Bible who are in our sanctuaries.
To preach one sermon to all three (maybe more) groups is a challenge. I guess that my approach has always been to find the middle ground. It is admittedly simple for those who are established believers. But hopefully (and here is where I tie in the above quote) I am reflect on our common experiences as established believers. I am not telling them anything (or much) new, but I am helping them see a new dimension or facet of it. And yet for the non-Christian, new believer, and established believer who is not grounded in the Word, it is important to clearly lay some of those foundations.
Have you found good ways to resolve this quandary? Share some of your ideas with the rest of us.