As part of my doctoral studies, my cohort and I visited Seoul Korea. We were hosted by the Kwanglim United Methodist Church, one of the largest churches in the world. The church had 50,000 members at the time. How can church leaders care for and disciple 50,000 people?
The Korean pastors had a unique way of accomplishing this. The church employed approximately 30 pastors whose primary ministry was to visit the homes of all church members annually. Every one of the 50,000 members received a visit each year! I had the privilege of observing one of these visits. Shortly after arriving in the member’s home, the pastor would sit on the floor, a Korean custom, across from the church member. The pastor invited the member to detail what was going on in her life, including any prayer requests. The pastor listened intently. Then, when the member was finished sharing the good, bad, and ugly in her life, the pastor preached a 10 minute mini-sermon that was geared specifically to the needs of this member. In other words, the pastor first listened with his heart, mind, soul, and strength and then spoke with the same.
The best preachers seem to be the best listeners. The preacher who lives among the people, listening to their dreams, disappointments, and delights, will be able to preach with profound insight and relevance. There are several ways that a pastor can “listen” to the congregation at a profound level that is sure to foster profound preaching.
“Listen” to your congregation before, during, and after you preach. If you aren’t speaking next Sunday, do this while another pastor preaches. Look around the room and observe the moods of the people. Do people seem anxious, bored, tired, energized, or open? What were their reactions to different parts of the sermon? What parts of the sermon seemed to connect with them most? What parts of the sermon seemed to flop? Perhaps you can videotape the congregation during the service so you can review it after the event.
Interview five members per one hundred people in the church you serve who are diverse in terms of age, spiritual maturity, gender, ethnicity, and class. Ask each of them to list three characteristics of good preaching and three that describe bad preaching. If possible, follow up with clarifying questions regarding any ambiguous statements. You can do these interviews via email, phone call, or in person. Perhaps you will want to use a combination of these interview formats.
If you are going to distribute an open-ended survey to your entire congregation during a worship service it has to be clear and brief. Try limiting the survey to only 3-5 questions. What open-ended questions can you ask the entire congregation in a survey that will accurately reveal the preaching needs and preferences of your congregants? Here are a few questions to consider including in your survey to the congregation: Why do you attend church? What three things do you need most right now? How would you describe your relationship with God? What do you hope for from the weekly sermon? How would you describe the preaching in the church? When you receive all of the data from the survey perhaps you can take a retreat to reflect on and listen to the hearts of your people. If you have some researchers in your church, maybe they can analyze and categorize the content from the survey.
Listening long and hard to the needs of people in your congregation will enable you to speak into their lives with refreshing depth. The best listeners are the best preachers because they scratch where their people itch most.
1. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and reflect upon how the sermon confirms that Jesus was insightfully aware of peoples’ deepest needs.
2. Upon completing the observation, interviews, and survey, respond to the following two questions: How must my preaching change? How must my preaching not change?