Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener

When we want to illustrate causation or chronology, we usually motion from left to right: that’s the way we do math, that’s the way we write. Preachers sometimes do so, but most will begin at their left and move or gesture toward their right. That is, what seems the natural order to the speaker is backwards to the audience, who see movement as from right to left, that is, like Hebrew or Chinese or maybe some new math.

It’s a detail, and only we fussy ones who notice things like this will see the difference. A student in preaching class wouldn’t even lose a fraction of a point over it.

But it illustrates a larger truth: when preachers want to communicate clearly, they must go beyond, “Does this seem clear to me?” They must put themselves in the place of the listeners and ask, “But will it be clear to them?”

For related articles, search for PREACHING in the right-hand column. Your right, not mine.

“Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Biblical Preaching -Haddon RobinsonThis approach has rlacidaly transformed how I preach and my effectiveness. The greatest help for me has been the notion that every sermon should have ONLY ONE Big Idea anchored in the text. It should be clear, concise, and 15 word or less. The sermon should seek to either explain it, prove it, or apply it. Anything that doesn’t move the sermon farther along to explain, prove, or apply the Big Idea must be saved for another day. (just because it’s a powerful truth, funny story, or amazing illustration, if it doesn’t drive toward the Big Idea it will only distract from the Big Idea )

    • Hi, blessings!

      I read Robinson’s book years ago, when it first came out, and profited much from it. He emphasizes the role of mental discipline, so that we’re not hearing the same irrelevant stories, week after week. Did I get this illustration from him, maybe? that producing a sermon is like sculpting: you take away whatever is not your statue. One of my last stages in sermon prep is to ride quickly through the text and say, “Quick, does this advance the message or not?” If not, it goes in the pile for next time.

      Say I have 200 people in the audience, and I preach for 30 minutes. If 5 minutes of this is, pardon the expression, sermonic fooling around, then I have wasted 16 man-hours. The Lord deserves our best, and in my opinion so does the audience.

      When I’m preaching a series – and I haven’t for a while – I follow his general plan.

      I would add a caveat, and that is, expository preaching through books of the Bible, while an excellent plan, is hardly the only biblical approach; nor does it seem to be anything like a prominent method. The synagogue had a sort of running Bible exposition, centered around a liturgical calendar. But as far as I can tell, neither Jesus nor the apostles are on record as preaching an expository sermon.

  2. Gary, this is the question I ask when I look at biblical texts and try to understand them as the original reading/listening audience would have. Would the interpretation I come up with have been clear to them? If not, then it’s back to the first century I go!

    • Carrie, great to hear from you! Thanks for the observation.


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