The Preacher and His Audience
In the proclaiming of the Gospel, there are two parties. The preacher and his audience. Both have responsibilities defined by the Holy Spirit.
The Preacher and His Responsibilities
The word “preacher” is from the original term
kerux. The word signifies a herald, courier, messenger, or announcer.
The herald was an important person in Greek society. One of his most vital functions was to preserve the integrity of the message* he was delivering.
Some find it odd that the New Testament writers employed this word only three times. Twice the word is used to describe Paul (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). The other reference is to Noah (2 Pet. 2:5).
Perhaps this limited use was intentional to emphasize the importance of the message over the messenger (Kittel, 431).
Since all Christians fall under the obligations of the Great Commission, all Christians in some sense must preach the gospel (Mk. 16:15).
But there is a more restricted role of publicly proclaiming God’s message to gender-mixed audiences. Only males are authorized to function as preachers (1 Tim. 2:12). See our article on The Role of Woman.
What does a congregation have a right to expect from its “preacher”? Several things come to mind, from one who has studied the matter for many years.
Be Faithful in Word and Deed
First, the preacher must be faithful (see 2 Tim. 2:2). This does not suggest that he must be perfect. That creature does not exist upon this earth today. But his life must not be so marred by flagrant disobedience that he virtually has no moral or spiritual influence.
Among the many admonitions given to Timothy, Paul encouraged the young brother to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Tim. 6:11). He directed the preacher to be an example to others in both word and manner of life (1 Tim. 4:12).
In other words, the actions of the preacher must be faithful to the word he proclaims.
Know Your Craft
Second, the sound preacher must possess some degree of ability. Paul urged Timothy to commit the word received from him to faithful men who would be able to teach (2 Tim. 2:2).
There are some men with hearts of gold, who desperately want to preach, but who simply haven’t developed the skill. We applaud their attitude, but they need to find a role of service compatible with their talents. Of course, some who exhibit little initial ability develope beyond all expectations.
Be a Diligent Student
Third, preachers must be studious. If a man does not study, it quickly is apparent to the better Bible students in his audience.
The preacher whose characteristic lesson consists mostly of home-spun tales and a collection of stale preacher-jokes with a smattering of Bible sprinkled in here and there is a disgrace to his profession. There is no excuse for such malfeasance.
Fourth, a preacher should demonstrate genuine concern for the souls he is teaching. Can you see that he really cares? You may not always agree with him. He may not use the best judgment on occasions. But you know he genuinely loves you. If not, he has failed.
Fifth, a preacher must be prepared to be flexible. When a preacher enters the pulpit, he momentarily surveys his audience. And he becomes skilled at it.
A studious and experienced preacher can adapt a prepared sermon to a special audience or even to a single person in his audience. If need be, an exceptional preacher can craft an entirely new presentation to accommodate one or more visitors who enter the assembly.
Why would he do so? Because they may never again have the opportunity to hear a gospel sermon.
The man who is inflexible, with a rigid outline, cannot accommodate such occasions. But flexibility is not impossible for a teacher who studies amply and deeply.
Don’t Embarrass the Congregation
Sixth, a preacher should not be an embarrassment to the congregation. When you bring visitors, can you be proud to introduce him to a neighbor?
Is he dressed in a dignified fashion? Some preachers are so sloppy and disheveled, you might think they had slept in the clothes they are wearing and in which they are presenting the gospel of Christ.
Others are flamboyant. Ridiculously flashy attire may do well in creating a personal “brand”. But “this-world” distractions only detract from the seriousness of the gospel message.
Know Your Role
Seventh, a preacher can only do so much. He cannot do adequate study, visit people in the hospital, take care of the bulletin, hold gospel meetings, write helpful Bible literature, do personal counseling for folks with family problems, conduct funerals, handle weddings, give his family quality time, and, on top of that, make social calls to everyone in the congregation.
Visitation is the duty of every Christian, and anyone can do it. The minister should do his share, but his share is no more than anyone else’s.
Eighth, a preacher should understand his role is not to be a brotherhood celebrity. While some preach for personal glory (cf. Phil. 1:15), every faithful gospel preacher must discipline himself to hide behind the cross of the one who paid the price for our sins. As preachers, our body of work should call attention to Christ more than ourselves.
It’s been said that the church is losing a significant number of preachers each year. They die, retire, or simply quit. It seems in many places we are not filling the gap with qualified men.
And we won’t fill the gap if we fail to recognize and support good preachers who are trained in the responsibilities of that role. Far too often, it seems as though some congregations settle for any volunteer rather than truly valuing the role of the pulpit.
We must teach our youth that there is good sound preaching is honorable work. Let us support them well if they dedicate themselves to this task.
The Responsibilities of the Audience
While most people recognize to some degree that the preacher is expected to do his job effectively, perhaps fewer have contemplated that the audience also has several responsibilities.
Encourage the Preacher and the Audience
Audiences are fascinating and variegated. There are warm, smiling faces like flowers on a spring morning. They are brimming with encouragement and love. Thank God for people of a sweet and kindly disposition. They needn’t say a word, because their countenance says it all. These bless the lives of numerous men of God. An audience should be encouraging toward the preacher.
Be a Studious Listener
Others evidence their interest, not so much by facial expression, but by having open Bibles. With a pad and pen, they take notes, demonstrating a keen interest. They take heed what and how they hear (Mk. 4:24; Lk. 8:18).
To the speaker, this indicates that they value the message and plan to use what is learned. There is no reason to take notes for a person who sees no need to retain the knowledge to which he is exposed. But obvious learners are a preacher’s dream.
Develop a Love for Good Preaching
You may find this difficult to believe, but it only takes one or two attentive students to override fifty daydreamers, who probably would rather be elsewhere if it not for their fear of hell. Eternal punishment is a motive for spiritual interest, but it’s not the noblest. The regular attending audience should learn to love sound preaching.
Then there are those who have been compelled to be present at someone else’s insistence — a parent, grandparent, or spouse. They are self-distracted. In times past, they giggled, passed notes, poked their friends, made faces, or read whatever they could find to distract from the moment. More often today, they just check out electronically. The audience listening to God’s Word has an obligation to be attentive.
Some have no reverence for the atmosphere of worship and service. Many are sloppy, disheveled and disrespectful. A focused preacher learns to “tune out” these folks, just as they do him. Reverence does not mean somber, but it does mean that we should have a degree of respect for God’s message.
Demonstrate Faithfulness in Many Trials
Then, we note with great honor the godly souls who must struggle to worship in great distress. The exuberance may have drained from their weary faces, but they manage a smile and a word of encouragement. Their very presence is an exhibition of selflessness.
My memories of such friends I have observed over the years, having already gone to their reward, will never be dimmed. These have preached better sermons than many of us in the pulpit ever will be able to do. What an example are these faithful souls.
Do Not Distract Others With Immodest Clothing or Other Inappropriate Behaviors
One amazing thing I have observed with the passing of the years is how some Christian women have let the world set fashion standards for them.
Clothing catalogs delivered by mail make it instantly apparent that many dresses and blouses being fashioned for women these days are intentionally designed to display significant portions of the ladies’ bosom. Why have some Christian women become so desensitized that they do not care that their cleavage is revealed? And O the horror that comes to the surface, with hands flung to the chest, if a man should by chance glance in the direction of the unseemly display.
How we dress can be an indicator of the heart. Many preachers hesitate to mention such immodesty, lest he is flogged by a spirited sister who would be offended by the admonition — though she seems to care little about the offense she causes.
And we ought not to engage in any other activity (i.e., clipping fingernails, cell phone, etc.) that distracts others from concentrating on the message. A faithful audience demonstrates concern for others by not disturbing them in such careless displays.
While you are watching the preacher — evaluating his suit, tie, shoes, grammar, pulpit deportment, doctrinal soundness, he also is watching you. And he sees far more than you imagine.
The final word is this. God is watching each of us, both externally and internally. Let us seek to please him above all. Speaker and audience alike stand before the Lord!
- Kittel, Gerhard. 1965. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.