Monday, October 21, 2013

Preachers Learning from Longtime Listeners

This past month I had the great joy of going to West Texas to see my family for a week. It was a delightful trip which allowed me to spend some significant time with my Mother and Father, who I do not see nearly often enough. I also spent some time with their collection of amazing friends and family of choice - folks who play, eat, worship, travel together, and look out for each other since many of them do not have children who live in the local area.

One of the fun parts of the trip was doing some teaching for my Mom (Dad did not ask soon enough). I taught her Sunday school class and her Women's Bible Study group. The Sunday school class was part of their lives when my son, Shelby, was adopted from Russia. And when we came home with him, they threw a "Papaw Finally Has a Grandson Baby Shower” (he had 3 daughters and 4 granddaughters at that point). Up until a few years ago, my son still used the red Radio Flyer wagon to play with and to haul things around the yard. It was literally used until the wheels fell off.

The Women's Bible Study group that my Mom teaches has been meeting weekly to study together for 43 years (my Mom is the youngest one in the group). One of the original members was present for that lesson on Tuesday and she remembered Shelby running around the house when we were in Texas visiting some 13 or 14 years ago. It was all fun and I got to relive some great memories.

But one of the things I wanted to do while I was there was to talk about the task of preaching and the lessons we can learn from listeners. In the SS class, the average age is about 75. These folks have been listening to sermons for decades. Like many of us, they have heard a variety of preachers, seen several different preaching styles, and had many varying reactions to those preaching moments -- some good and some not so good. So after doing my preaching "spiel" I asked them this question:

"If you could tell new or practicing preachers one thing about preaching from a listener’s perspective, what would it be?"

I got some great answers that I want to share with you. These are the words of wisdom from folks who listen.

First, “don't talk down to us.” Just because you went to seminary does not mean you know everything. We read and study, too. Don't assume we are not as smart as you are.

Second, “use good grammar.” You did go to seminary so you should be able to speak properly. If you are using some kind of notes - make sure they are grammatically correct. If not, practice your sermon with good grammar.

Third, “if you are going to use humor - make sure it’s appropriate.” Don't make fun of people or use off color jokes. And don't tell "funny" stories if they are not appropriate to your context or very appropriate to the sermon.

Fourth, “tell us stories.” We remember them better - especially if they are tied to the text and help us connect better to God, the world, and to each other. If your story teaches us a lesson and is engaging, we will remember it even more.

Fifth, “bring us good news.” There is so much bad news right now and we need a word of grace and hope. We need to hear about love and what's possible. We need to be challenged and engaged, too. But don't be negative or judgmental every week.

Lastly, “know that we want you to do well.” We want to listen and take a lesson, image, story, phrase, etc. with us when we leave. Help us get that from your message.

Listening to these listeners was fun and exciting. Learning from them is something we can all gain much from. Are you listening to your listeners?

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