I realize every time I get up in the pulpit on Sunday mornings I’m preaching between 900-1,000 different sermons. Everybody within earshot hears something a little differently. The people in our churches arrive in the assembly and bring to our sermon different experiences, different worldviews, different backgrounds. They come from different family dynamics, different geographical locations, and different economic circumstances. These different contexts shape the sermon; what they hear; how they respond.
I’m also aware that what’s happening in the room also impacts the way I preach. I feel that I’m much more bold when I’m preaching in Arkansas or California to people I’ve never met. It’s not that I don’t want to be bold at Legacy. It’s just that it’s much more difficult to say hard things to people I’ve grown to love. I love these people and I think I speak differently to them. Obviously, it’s much, much easier to preach following an uplifting service of praise in which the entire assembly has together raised the roof in joyful song than following a half-hearted robotic effort to trudge through songs nobody likes or nobody knows. The songs are intended to edify the congregation, to uplift the people of God. And they do. They uplift the preacher, too.
The great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr knew that his Sunday morning sermons were better than his Sunday evening sermons. He realized that cicumstances do affect the quality of the message. And a lot of that, according to Niebuhr in Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, has to do with how many people are in the room.
“A full church gives me a sense of fighting with a victorious host in the battles of the Lord. A half empty church immediately symbolizes the fact that Christianity is very much a minority movement in a pagan world and that it can be victorious only by snatching victory out of defeat.”
Yes, the preacher is impacted by the mood of the crowd, the lighting in the room, the events of the past week, and by the anticipated, yet strangely unexpected, moving of the Spirit. All those things, and many more, affect the sermon.
My faith is in the divine promise that God’s Word never returns to him empty. He puts his truth directly into the hearts of our hearers. Despite our shortcomings and inadequacies, despite our human tendencies to be swayed by temporal distractions, our Father uses preaching to reveal himself to the world.
That’s still pretty cool.