“You must love the people you’re speaking to.”
Print that out and tape it to your desk. Nothing, literally nothing, will have a greater impact on the power of your preaching than that.
Time after time I’ve listened to pastors who preach like they hate their people. They scold and berate them as if they’re seeking revenge for all the hurt they’ve caused them. Seeing themselves as an agent of God’s wrath they use the Word of God as a weapon against their enemies in the pews.
But to quote Ed Stetzer, “You can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.” -possibly the most important leadership quote of our age.
You can’t be their preacher without being their pastor.
As pastors we need to follow Paul’s example:
For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
Encouraging. Comforting. Urging to live worthy lives. Gentlemen, this is what we do.
Too often we make the same mistake the Corinthian church made who had “many teachers, but not many fathers”. We need to love these people as a father loves his child, and this needs to be at the very heart of our preaching.
“But what if they’re literally my enemies?”
Fair question, because sometimes they are. However, we know well the answer Jesus gave on how we treat our enemies. We love them.
1. Your Preaching will be more Relevant
When you start your sermon prep with the question of how you can love your people the Lord will automatically guide your mind to preaching to benefit the people you’re trying to reach. Personal interests and hobby-horses start to fade when our heart is set in doing what is best for them.
The crazy thing is, that when you’re truly speaking to bless someone you will naturally speak on the topics most relevant to them. Sometimes this will be on their most acutely felt needs, and other times it will be on vital unfelt needs, but at all times it will be preaching based on what is in their best interests.
2. Your Preaching will be more Confident
The greatest cause of nervousness and a weak presence in the pulpit is self-consciousness. You wonder if you’re going to make a mistake, or that you’ll forget something important, or that you’ll sound like an idiot, or that people won’t like you, or laugh at you, or, or, or. The prison of self-absorbed thinking will rob your preaching of all its power.
Stop thinking about yourself entirely and focus all your heart on reaching them. If you’ve bathed your sermon prep in love, you already have something extremely important for them to know. You have healing for their wounds, purpose to illuminate, and boldness to impart. You have something they absolutely need to know!
When you are consumed by the importance of your message and your love for your people, you literally don’t have any room to spare for thoughts about yourself – and this will turn a lamb into a lion!
You will be more engaging than ever before.
3. Your Preaching will be better Received
We’ve all heard “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This truth is more profound than we realize. After all, how likely are you going to take advice from someone who doesn’t like you and doesn’t have your best interests at heart? Unless we’re completely stupid, we won’t.
Well our people weren’t born yesterday. They do not, and they should not listen to someone who seeks to hurt them. Folded arms and stern looks are entirely appropriate in situations like these.
On the other hand how do we naturally respond when a wise friend who truly cares for us gives us some guidance or a word of encouragement? We treasure those words like rain in the desert.
You want your words to be treasured? Speak them from a heart filled with love.
How do we Love Them?
Let’s face it. The good Lord’s precious little lambs aren’t always so lovely. Sometimes they bite – hard! How do we love people who aren’t always very lovable?
If by “love” we mean warm and fuzzy feelings, then trying to manufacture such emotions isn’t likely to succeed. But if by “love” we mean making a conscious decision to pray for them, bless them, and act in their best interests then that is completely doable. After all, true love shows its strength not when we’re loving because of the way we feel, but when we’re loving in spite of the way we feel. Strange as it may sound, when we love this way, our feelings eventually catch up with our actions.
“Do you love me, Peter?”
“You know that I do.”
“Then feed my sheep.”