All of us have our particular preaching preferences; so do the people who listen to our sermons. On any given Sunday, we preach to a diversity of people including seasoned saints, new believers, and spiritual seekers. Seasoned saints have followed Christ for more than a few years with a deep level of commitment. New believers have recently crossed the line of faith in Christ and are beginning to learn what following Christ entails. Spiritual seekers show up from time to time in worship services, exploring Christ and deliberating about whether or not to follow Him.
I asked one person from each of these points in the pilgrimage toward Christ a few questions about their preaching preferences. In order to compare apples to apples, all three interviewees are men between the ages of 36-40. Their responses are grouped together under the heading of each question. I realize that interviewing a larger and more diverse population within each category would allow for greater depth and insightful analysis, but this limited exploration will get us started.
Does listening to sermons help you experience God?
Spiritual Seeker: Yes, the more I hear of and experience trials and tribulations, I often feel closer to God while hearing sermons.
New Believer: Yes it does. I feel like I have a better connection with God while I’m listening to sermons. I also feel the right person has to be giving the sermon for me to feel a connection.
Seasoned Saint: Absolutely! Listening to sermons has helped me the most in experiencing God in worship gatherings. Before going into a service, prayers go up to help me to hear from Him during my time with the body of Christ. Romans 10:17 says “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” His Word is what is quick, powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12). My ears perk up when it comes time for a pastor giving a sermon mainly because I trust that the pastor has gone before the Lord giving himself or herself up to God to be used for the body of Christ to receive what His desires are for the church.
Describe the kind of preaching that has the greatest potential to move you closer to God?
Spiritual Seeker: I appreciate an enthusiastic, down to earth preacher. I want to listen to someone who is like a regular guy, but one that has experienced God.
New Believer: I like for the pastor to speak in stories. The Bible and Christianity are pretty new for me. I don’t always know what the pastor is talking unless the preacher preachers with stories, which I find much easier to understand.
Seasoned Saint: The kind of preaching that has the greatest potential to move me closer to God is the kind that has first done some “damage” or changing in the one bringing the message. It has to first be real and relevant in the pastor for it to then come out real and relevant to me.
What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to preachers and sermons?
Spiritual Seeker: I don’t like it when the preacher is too aggressive or is overacting and dramatic.
New Believer: My biggest pet peeve is when a preacher just reads from the Bible without unpacking its meaning. It’s very boring and I don’t understand it as well. I don’t feel a connection with God when I don’t understand what the pastor is saying.
Seasoned Saint: I don’t connect with preachers who are into phony crying or changing pitch of voice to appear like they are emotionally charged by what they speak about but really are not. I’m not into the preacher praying with background music, trying to draw up emotion in those listening. I disconnect when the preacher uses too much historical information, which should be reserved for a Bible study. Finally, one of my pet peeves is when a preacher takes 1 hour for a sermon, even though most adults have a 15-25 minute attention span.
What advice would you give to preachers who want to connect with you through the sermon?
Spiritual Seeker: Be humble and down to earth.
New Believer: My advice would be to explain things very clearly. Don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing. Speak in stories so people understand you better.
Seasoned Saint: Be who God has called you to be and no more than that. What I mean is, don’t try to be a pastor when you really have the gift of teaching. You will only burn out because the flock will not get it. They will say, “oh, he’s pretty good and knows his Bible but he preaches over my head.”
• Spiritual seekers, new believers, and seasoned saints are hungry to experience God through the sermon.
• All three people interviewed want the preacher to be authentically “real” and to avoid dramatic, over-emotional manipulation.
• The seeker seems most concerned with the person of the preacher (the who), the new believer is wanting a story-telling style (the how), and the seasoned saint seems to be most concerned with sermon content (the what).
• My final conclusion: A humble and anointed preacher with a narrative style who preaches theologically faithful but relevant sermons will connect with seekers, newbies, and saints alike.
Dr. Lenny Luchetti presently serves as Assistant Professor of Proclamation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University. He began his 15 years of pastoral ministry when he was 23 years old. During that time he has served as the Pastor of a small rural church, the Assistant Pastor of a large church, and as the Lead Pastor of a congregation that grew from a small to a large missional and multi-ethnic church during his tenure. Lenny has taught preaching courses for ministers since 2003. He has preached at churches, camps, and colleges in the United States and around the world. His passion these days is to invest in those who are investing in local churches.
Dr. Luchetti blogs at lennyluchetti.blogspot.com