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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Preaching Context is Everything!

There is something other than sound exegesis, solid hermeneutics, and stellar homiletics that makes good preaching good. Truth be told, sometimes the determining factor behind whether or not a preacher gets a hearing has very little to do with the craft of preaching and very much to do with how well the preacher matches the context in which he/she preaches. For example, there are many people who would say that Charles Stanley, shown on TV all over the country, is a good preacher. While I respect the man’s love for God and his conviction that the bible is God’s word, I quickly change the TV station because I’m not into his preaching. Most of the people in Stanley’s church and most of the people outside of his church who love his preaching tend to be 60 years of age or older. Charles Stanley is a good preacher in his context because he matches his context. Andy Stanley, the son of Charles, is one of my favorite preachers. Andy is about my age and most of the people who attend his church are younger than 40 years of age. Andy is a good preacher because he matches the context of people to whom he preaches. Context is everything!

Why do some preachers attract a growing number of people who come hungry to hear their preaching while other preachers face the pain of a diminishing congregation? Not always, but often, it has everything to do with whether or not the preacher fits with their preaching context. It’s not about whether or not the preacher has a good or bad style but whether or not the style of the preacher is contextualized. The Apostle Paul recognized this which is why he preached differently to Greek Athenians in the town square than he did to Diaspora Jews in the synagogue. Paul realized that our preaching gets heard most when our preaching content and style match the people to whom we preach.

The further I go in ministry the more I realize who I am as a preacher. The more I realize who I am as a preacher the more aware I become of the fact that there are more church contexts I wouldn’t match than ones I would match. When I first began my pastoral ministry 15 years ago I would have been glad to serve as pastor to any group of people any place without a thought to whether or not I was a good fit with the church context. Today, I think I’m a bit wiser (though some might disagree…lol) and I realize that there are some churches that I would not fit in terms of my preaching preferences. I do believe that if you preach the Scriptures with passion, and love God and the people you serve with passion, a pastor can probably survive in ministry anywhere. However, I am convinced that a preacher will thrive most when preaching in a context that is congruent with the preacher.

Share your thoughts on this. Would you agree or disagree?

14 comments:

esallo said...

I agree with your thoughts on context. I have been privileged to listen to preaching from some wonderful Pastors through the years and some were harder to listen to because of their delivery and context, than others. But I disagree with your take on Charles Stanley. I am no where near 60 and I love his preaching!

maria cicala said...

I do get what your saying about preaching the scriptures with passion,and loving God and the people a Pastor serves because SWC is the perfect example of this and that is what brought us to SWC Mike and I feel nothing but acceptance and love and we are spurred on each week and it helps us to grow in our spiritual walk and faith, because of your preaching,for this we are both grateful and blessed!! Keep Preaching as you do!!!! Just a side note as like Erica (although Im not quiet 60 yet! ) I do enjoy Charles Stanley and have been listening to him since I was 24 when I accepted Christ as my Savior, Ive read many of his books and find his outlines very easy to follow and still do today.

Lenny Luchetti said...

Okay, okay, I'm sorry for picking on Charles Stanley (lol). The point is, good preaching is good because it matches the context in which it is given. There may be exceptions, but preaching really is contextual. For example, I may be very effective as a preacher at SWC but if you put me in another church I may not be as effective. My homiletic skills are still there, but something is off. Usually that "something" relates to a mismatch between the preacher and the people to whom the preacher preaches.

Thanks for jumping into the conversation.

Dave Ward said...

I agree. I think it's an unusually gifted preacher who is able to transcend multiple contexts and settings. There are some however. I say to students here at seminary that "there are no hard and fast rules for preaching" because context is so determinative. That makes some of them nervous, but its true. Never shout... unless you are charismatic, or African American, or preaching without amplification outside a coal mine at 5:30 am. Always establish interest with your congregation early... unless of course you already have it and they are leaning forward for the Word before you speak. Limit your preaching to nothing more than 10 (Episcopalian), 15 (Lutheran), 20 (Presbyterian PCUSA), 25 (Presbyterian PCA), or 30 minutes (most Wesleyan churches). That's true unless you are at a holiness campground where they feel 'cheated' if you go under 40 or 45 and will tell you not to 'short them' for fear of time next time. ;)

My hunch is... you are better at connecting cross-contexts because you recognize your best context and know to adjust elsewhere. Think that's true?

Dave Ward said...

Forgot to subscribe to further comments. ;) So here is an extra so I can subscribe. Thanks Lenny!

Lenny Luchetti said...

Dave, great to have you join the discussion. I agree that excellent preachers have a way of transcending context. They are effective in just about any and every context. Thanks for also pointing out that even the "perfect" sermon length is contextually conditioned.

My response to your last comment is yes and no. I believe that the preachers who are self-aware in terms of where they feel most at home as a preacher are usually able to adapt. However, I have seen some self-aware preachers refuse to adapt because of stubborness or because they don't want to feel they are selling out who they are.

Lynda said...

I wonder if our personalities become "contextualized" in a sense. I mean, since you've been at SWC for some time, and we know what to expect from you and are used to your style, you can probably say things that you couldn't say otherwise. And the opposite is probably true, an outside speaker that doesn't have a deep connection to the people can say things that you can't. And certain things that you could say, I couldn't, because it wouldn't be congruent with my personality and what people know of me. You know what I mean? There's a level of understanding and trust that is built that makes our preaching contextual in a sense. Kind of like "you had to be there" humor--it makes sense when you know the person and the the experiences surrounding it.

Lenny Luchetti said...

Absolutely Lynda! Pastoring among people gives our preaching context. This can be a positive or a negative. People often receive our preaching not merely based upon our preaching alone but based upon our overall ministry. In other words, people perceive our preaching through the lens of our care, leadership, and administration as well. Of course, the larger the church the more people view the preaching objectively, not based upon other facets of pastoral ministry.

Anonymous said...

Good words, although I think the context has more to do with the speaker’s heart and authenticity than age or other factors. If I can see the person’s heart and they are speaking the truth with a life that matches I believe they can relate with any person.
I also believe that God can work even when or if the speaker is not the best or a bit different than his audience.
God controls the reception of his word, not us.

Lenny Luchetti said...

Thanks Anonymous. God can speak through anyone- even Balaam's donkey in the bible. You mention authenticity, but even that is contextual. For example, there are some contexts where if the pastor doesn't cry while he/she is preaching then their heart isn't in it. And, there are some contexts that perceive crying by the preacher as inauthentic. True authenticity, generally speaking, will come through. But, in many cases, even what constitutes "authenticity" is contextual. Of course, as you point out, there is a God factor in preaching that we cannot quantify or fully comprehend- though we keep trying. At the end of the sermon's day, this is what matters more than anything else.

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