Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

When Hearing Fails

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It has happened to all of us. We spend hours preparing what we believe is a great sermon. We sacrifice time and energy. We wrestle with God’s word. We meditate on holy Scripture. We whittle down our thoughts until we think we have it. We cannot wait for Sunday morning to come. We get up and deliver the sermon with all the passion and fury that one can get away with in a reserved small town church. After it is all over we feel like we have done our job. We have spoke a word of God to the people of God. We walk to the back of the auditorium and greet everyone as they make their way out of the building. That is when it happens. Someone comes up and says, “Preacher, I loved that sermon. We really needed to hear about _________.” You think to yourself, “Ok, but that was not the point.” Someone else comes up and says, “I am glad you used that passage. I have studied that passage and here is what I think it means.” The person then continues to tell you what the passage means, even though your lesson just contradicted nearly everything they are saying. You begin to think to yourself, “Did I do something wrong? Did I miss something along the way?” You preached one thing, but it is obvious that a few people heard something completely different.

We can control what we preach, but we cannot control how the message is heard. This is frustrating, but it is also something we need to come to grips with. We have no power or control over how another person hears our words. There could be many factors that lead to a person missing the point. They might be dealing with personal struggles and their mind is on other things. They could have become distracted and missed a key point in the sermon. They might have had their mind made up before the sermon was preached and really didn’t listen to a thing that was said. We have all probably missed the point of a lecture, class, or sermon sometime in our life. It happens. It happened when Jesus preached, so we shouldn’t be too surprised when it happens to us.

When we come to this understanding it is easy to feel like there is nothing we can do. We might want to throw our hands in the air and walk away, but that would be a mistake. We are not left without any options. There are things we can do. Here are a few.

Preach Clearly – It is easy to put the blame on others, but first go back and reexamine your own practices. Ask yourself, “Is there a way that I can make the message any clearer?” Try conveying the message in multiple ways. Preach it, but also put it on a slide or give the congregation an outline. I am sure most preachers are already doing these things, but we have an obligation to make sure God’s word is heard by as many people as possible. On Sunday morning we have people coming to our building with the sole purpose of hearing God’s word. We must make sure that we don’t disappoint.

Be Open to Another Perspective – The person may have missed the point you were trying to make, but maybe they got something out of the lesson that was beneficial to them. Don’t get defensive. Listen to what they have to say. Try and understand their point of view. You might learn something. This might be a good opportunity to begin a conversation about what was preached. Allow them to explain what they heard, and then you explain where you were coming from. Be open and encouraging and hope the conversation leads both of you to a deeper knowledge of God’s truth.

Don’t Get Frustrated – I have heard preaching compared to the birthing process on multiple occasions. Preachers spend a great deal of time preparing the lessons that are preached. Often the preacher is alone in his office with nothing but the sermon. A relationship is formed. A bond is established. When someone criticizes or misunderstands a sermon, it is hard not to take it personally. Don’t take it personally. Don’t get frustrated. The reason you see the point so clearly may have to do with the fact that you have spent hours with the text, and someone in the pew may have just read it for the first time. Some people may need a little time to meditate on the text. Just because a person misunderstands what you are trying to say does not mean it is personal. It could simply mean they misunderstood and they need a little guidance.

Trust God – I have preached sermons which I didn’t think were good at all, but then someone will come up to me and tell me about how great the lesson was. God can use imperfect people and situations to get his message across. Do not put so much trust in your own ability that you fail to leave a place for God to work. Pray to God before you preach and after you preach. Pray for understanding. Pray for God to use you in ways that are beneficial to others.

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