I Preach for Me
I preach for a target audience, and I hit it every time. My secret? I use a focus group, and it consists of one person—me.
Yes, I preach for me.
I can hear your objections, your accusations of self-centeredness. But let me explain.
To "preach for me" means to speak on what I want to hear and to deliver it in a way that I would find compelling. If I think I would enjoy it and be transformed by it, I preach it. If I would be bored or not benefited, I toss it into the proverbial wastebasket.
That means I prepare my sermons based on my interests and needs. It isn't selfish. It is a tool to better serve others. Of course, when God needs me to speak to an audience much different than me, I have to place myself in their shoes. When I need to talk on a topic that isn't immediately relevant to me, it takes a bit more imagination. But if I'm able to make the topic come alive for me, I trust my preaching will be interesting to them, too. I can't know what others really need or feel, but I know precisely what works for me. In On Writing Well, William Zinnser advises writers to "Write for yourself." I think that's equally sound advice for preachers.
Here are three benefits to this method:
1. It removes the pressure of pleasing people.
In a recent discussion with some church members, several people expressed their musical tastes. One lady "loves it" when we sing hymns. Another was intrigued by how we "redeemed a secular song" to make a point. A whole family talked about how they like the electric guitars screeching and the volume cranked. And another person waxed eloquent about the power of quiet, reflective worship, especially when a violin is played.
If we tried to accommodate all these people's preferences every Sunday, it would be a disaster.
The same is true about teaching. People have opinions. And the variety is beautiful. It just isn't particularly helpful. In fact, it can produce overwhelming pressure if you have the unrealistic goal of pleasing them all. That pressure crushes creativity and imagination and the freedom to speak from your understanding of God's Word. That's why I preach to please one person—me.
2. It revitalizes joy in my job.
My daughter, Abby, is a Baylor student, and it's been a great sports year for the Bears. I texted her about about the outstanding character of one of the basketball players, Brady Heslip. She texted back, "I know. Love him!" I instinctually replied, "I think I love him too."
As soon as I typed it, I laughed. So, I hit send. It made her laugh (LOL, as they say) and she replied, "That could be the best text ever."
It was spontaneous and energizing, and that is how I try to preach. When I do, it revitalizes joy in my job.
I pray and write and study and plan based on what's good for me. It's enjoyable that way. If it helps me, it will probably help them. If I think it is funny, a few others will too. I preach for me, and I let the crowd listen in.
3. It keeps my messages fresh.
I marvel at Jesus' ability, not just to speak ...