When I say “hitting the target,” my mind conjures up a target of concentric circles, each in a different color, with a small circle in the center that we call the bull’s eye. And the purpose, of course, is to get as many arrows or bullet holes or darts into the bull’s eye as we can.
If only the matter of “hitting the target” were so simple for a pastor. However, the problem the pastor faces on any given Sunday is that when he stands in the pulpit he sees before him not one target but dozens of different targets. And he is expected to hit the bull’s eyes on all of the different targets with a single sermon!
Even when a church is fairly homogenous, vast differences still mark any congregation: differences in ages, differences in life experience, differences in educational levels, differences in vocation, differences in theological positions, and differences in spiritual status. Preaching a sermon that will reach all of these different people seems to be an impossible task, and it is at times. And yet, this is the challenge facing the pastor every Sunday, to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ in such a way that he hits at least close to the bull’s eye in all of the targets sitting before him. (This is metaphorical language, of course. I don’t think of a congregation as a target!)
So how can the pastor hit the targets?
RELY ON THE HOLY SPIRIT: We have to start here. No pastor can ever hope to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of hitting the targets with his sermon without relying on the power and the presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This means that we must saturate our preparation time with prayer. And this calls for sensitivity to the Spirit both as we prepare our sermon and as we present our sermon. We probably spend too much time on the “technology” of preaching and not enough time on the “pneumatology” of preaching. We must learn to be sensitive to the Spirit “who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Ro 8:26). Only he knows what the people really need to hear.
KNOW OUR PEOPLE. From the human standpoint, we need to deepen our relationships with our people. We do not get to know our people in the brief time together on Sunday morning. Besides, most of us have on our “Sunday face” at that time anyway. We get to know our people during the week. As we conduct funerals and perform weddings, as we hold the hand of a congregant in the hospital, as we council with our church members, as we celebrate the team victories under the Friday Night Lights, as we collaborate with church members in community events – that is, as we immerse ourselves completely in the lives of our people – we will begin to understand where and how the gospel connects with their lives.
VARY OUR MATERIAL: Because our people are so varied in their experiences, theological perspectives, and spiritual status, we need to use variety in our preaching. This means drawing from all the Scripture instead of just preaching from our favorite texts, our own personal canon. And this means using different styles of preaching, not just our standard deductive preaching that presents propositions to accept but also a more inductive and narrative style that presents experiences to embrace. And this means employing illustrations and metaphors from a variety of areas, not just sports illustrations that connect with a narrow segment of the congregation.
As you prepare to preach this week, remember that you will not have just one target but many!