I’ve had the pleasure of preaching in a church for little over twenty years. I consider it to be one of the most difficult tasks of a pastor, while at the same time one of the most rewarding.
I’ve stood before small groups and large crowds, but regardless of size I’ve noticed some common threads that exist in every audience, whether they’re seasoned believers or all-out skeptics.
There are many good resources on how to give a dynamic talk and hold an audience captive, but to acknowledge the potential life issues that are already consuming the thoughts of your audience can become a touchpoint for your message.
Regardless of the topic, shaping your message acknowledging where people are will give your presentation an added sense of value for those who hear it. Given the diversity and size of congregations I’ve preached to, I’ve found they’ve all shared in one way or another, these common struggles.
1. People living with suffering
In every audience is someone who is grieving. Loss and suffering come in many different guises and no one is impervious to its reach. The need for people to feel a sense of normalcy in their situation or even to be comforted during a difficult season is balm to their soul. Scripture is replete with affirmations of comfort during the most difficult moments of life.
2. People living with a lie
Many live with a distorted sense of who they are. Their identity has either been influenced by their past or by struggles in the present. They need to be reminded of their intrinsic value to God and that he has a plan and purpose for them far beyond what others say. In a culture of labels and stereotypes, God’s message is a refreshing reminder of being created for a greater purpose.
3. People living with doubt
Regardless of how strong our faith appears, we all have moments of doubt. Especially in a culture that not only devalues faith, but ridicules it. The encouragement that comes when we can communicate a confidence in what we believe regardless of our doubts, helps to temper the onslaught of negativity we are awash in. As Christians we hold the most defensible, and objectively verifiable faith, period.
4. People living with stress
Stress seems to now be a by-product of simply breathing. Can’t think of many people who aren’t living with some measure of stress. We are being pulled in every direction imaginable while at the same time connected twenty-four seven. We are always on without any real time to pause. The next comment may seem trite, but I feel its valid.
The thirty or so minutes people spend listening to your message may be the most concentrated down time they’ve had all week. Why not deliver a message that feeds their soul while at the same time allows them to forget whatever stress holds them captive.
5. People living with hopelessness
I’m troubled by the number of people for whom life is nothing more than a daily treadmill. Lots of activity but no progress. Nothing really changes and nothing ever gets better. They see little prospect of a better present let alone a better future. In fact, as time progresses things deteriorate, making the treadmill more difficult to manage. Is it any wonder many have lost their sense of hope?
Couple this with the perception of a culture that has really nothing to offer and is it any wonder the dark clouds appear to never part. Jesus presented an abundant life that not only dissipates the clouds but destroys them altogether.
6. People living with no sense of purpose
How many are living for the weekend or the next paycheque? For some, their greatest sense of purpose is counting the days between iPhone releases. There is so many pursuits vying for our time it is little wonder that many struggle with a sense of higher calling. Some diversions are okay, some even necessary, but when entire lives are adrift, people miss God’s deeper intention for life.
As preachers, we have an amazing opportunity to speak the life-giving words of Scripture. Words filled with hope, comfort, forgiveness, love, and redemption. I personally feel that there is no other institution on the planet that can speak transformational truth to the common issues many people are facing today.