How to preach to a specific community of people, not disconnected individuals.
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I have a whole library of sermons downloaded onto the podcast app on my smart phone. My sermon library features preachers from around the globe—New York, New South Wales, Nottingham, Seattle, Sydney, and Singapore. So now, no matter where I am; I can listen to some of the world's well known and effective preachers. I have never set foot in some of the cities or churches where these preachers live and minister. I know nothing about their context or congregations. As I zip around the UK on trains, planes, and automobiles, in one sense this rootless, context-less sermon appreciation doesn't matter. Podcasted sermons are good news for me as I get to listen to some great Bible preaching.
But at the same time I also wonder if this is bad news for preaching. At times I feel like I'm listening to only half a telephone conversation. Listening to these globally podcasted sermons makes me ask some hard questions about the nature of preaching—and the nature of my own preaching ministry: Does it matter to whom we preach? Are we just preaching into unnamed cyberspace, at an anonymous crowd or to our own congregations? Does it matter who our individual listeners are, or whether we have any relationship with or pastoral responsibility for the people with whom we dare to speak?
It could be argued that the recordings I listen to through my headphones are missing a crucial ingredient of authentic preaching. Specifically, they make little if any reference or impact to my church community and our cultural context. If so many of our preaching heroes speak to general audiences it's perhaps, no wonder, then, that many of us find it normal to preach to the generic individual "out there" rather than to the real people right in front of us. But, just like a tailor-made suit is going to fit so much better than an off-the-shelf suit, so preaching contextualized to the life situation of the congregation in front of us should be better able to equip listeners to face the challenges and opportunities in their daily lives. It would be like an Albanian driving instructor who knows nothing of your local traffic laws teaching you generic driving skills. They are useful to a certain point but could no way replace the know-how of a local instructor.
How can we learn how to preach into the specific needs of our church community? Notice, I said church not just local individual Christians. We need to learn again how to preach not just to local people but to our local churches. How can we preach not just to individuals but to the corporate body of Christ that God has placed in our care? And what can we do to get back to a more biblical approach to what I would call "church-based preaching"?
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