We live in a world constantly competing for our attention. Businesses spend millions of dollars attempting to catch our eye. As a result we’ve become a people who are accustomed to being catered to. If something doesn’t capture our interest right away we simply move on to the next thing—after all, we have options.
In this consumer-minded culture pastors can easily succumb to the temptation to “market” the gospel in a way that appeals to the masses but compromises its truth. I confess that I have been guilty at times of acting more like a marketing strategist than an expository preacher—trying to engage as many as possible instead of faithfully discipling those in front of me. I suspect other pastors have fallen prey to this temptation as well. The pressure to compete with the cultural noise can drive faithful preachers to lose sight of what’s important. Thus I would like to offer four areas of focus that can help pastors connect with their congregation without compromising biblical truth or the integrity of the pulpit.
1. Love the People
When you stand before the congregation each week, what motivates you? Acceptance? Anger? Positive feedback? A desire for recognition? It’s important to ask this question because the answer reveals whether our preaching is for our own benefit or the edification of the body. In order to connect with the congregation we must begin with a love for them over self—a genuine desire to see spiritual transformation in their hearts and lives.
In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul equates the lack of love with a clanging cymbal. To say it another way, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. A congregation can sense whether you are preaching at them or preaching to equip them. Connection happens when they know they are loved. Before you step into the pulpit each week ask God to give you a love for the people you’re preaching to.
A congregation can sense whether you are preaching at them or preaching to equip them.
2. Authentic Delivery
In a culture full of gimmicks, pastors have an opportunity to be refreshingly authentic. Connecting with a congregation doesn’t happen merely by being right, but also by being real. People are tired of trying to discern whether their being lied to, tricked, or manipulated. Through authentic preaching we can build trust and thus more effectively connect with the church.
What do I mean by “authentic preaching”?
- Allow your personality and style to come through (as opposed to the preacher you often listen to).
- Be appropriately vulnerable. People connect with leaders who are willing to voice their struggles.
- Use personal experiences as illustrations — both of your successes and your failures.
- Be the same person in the pulpit and out of the pulpit.
- Believe what you’re preaching. Plenty of preachers are simply regurgitating things they have read or heard. The message you preach mush convict you before it will convict others.
Reject the temptation to compete with the gimmicks of our culture and preach in the authenticity of a redeemed sinner.
3. Relate Without Ranting
Connecting with a congregation always involves an element of relatability. The Apostle Paul engaged his listeners in Athens by acknowledging their context and using it as a bridge to lead to the gospel (Acts 17:23). He related for the purpose of connecting. This is an effective way to communicate from the pulpit.
However, it becomes ineffective (and dangerous) when relating to our congregation turns into ranting to our congregation. While our personal opinions might connect with some—even the majority—they can also cause unnecessary division. The world doesn’t need our rants; it needs our King.
By all means, we should use modern illustrations and current cultural events to connect with our people. We simply need to make sure we are using them as a bridge to connect the gospel rather than a roadblock that hinders the gospel.
The world doesn’t need our rants; it needs our King.
4. Gospel Clarity
My preaching professor would always tell us the congregation should leave saying, “what a great Savior,” not “what a great sermon.” We should aim to preach in such a way that causes people lose themselves in the beauty of the gospel. The ultimate way of connecting a sermon to the people is for them to lose sight of themselves in light of the glory of God.
This means we make clear the reality of sin, preach repentance, proclaim forgiveness in Christ, and give people hope that new life is now possible. Gospel connection leads to gospel conviction. This is what our people need. This is what we need.
Do not submit to the idea that you have to compete with culture to communicate the gospel. We are not called to market the gospel like it’s a product to consume. We are called to proclaim it in the power of the Spirit for all to hear. I pray you will stand in the pulpit this weekend and connect with your people in the truth of scripture for the glory of God.
For more helpful resources on pastoral ministry, check out our sister center, The Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership.
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