How does the spiritual diversity among your listeners affect your preaching?
It affects my preaching by making it extremely difficult and complicated to try to discern how to address multiple levels of understanding, multiple degrees of hunger for the word, multiple levels of boredom in the room at any given time, and multiple spiritual needs because of the pain and the sin in peoples' lives.
This is why it is complicated:
If any preacher says, "I know there is diversity out there, and so I shoot my sermon at different levels. I use different language and different stories," I say, "OK, how many?"
"I'm impressed! Five? There are five thousand needs in a congregation of fifty people."
So we have a task that is impossible.
It requires, number one, that you be yourself. You've got to be you. For me to try to do some kind of stupid country-western thing on Sunday morning to help relate to whoever, it would be ridiculous! Everybody would just say, "Let's go to a real church!" So I just have to be me.
And, secondly, I have to love them.
So I have to be me, while at the same time trying to think of a word, phrase, story, pace or tone that will break in to some people that I know that are out there.
And then you just pray—and I pray it often—"God please. I've got these five loaves and two fish, and there are five thousand people. I'm going to do the best I can and then watch the miracles happen." That's what you pray for.
The miracles are when God takes something that you thought was designed for this little group over here, and here is this one person sitting up in the balcony you didn't even dream was there. He's not like the other group at all, but he hears this one phrase with a certain tone of voice and it just goes right to his heart. And you hear about it a year later, and you thank God that you are not dependent on yourself.
I just ordered Sermons on the Beatitudes by John Calvin. They're just recently translated. They've never been published before. And the preface by the translator said, "Preaching is an unrepeatable event." And I thought, "So what does that mean for video and recording?" And then the next sentence was, "The only way to repeat it is by video and recording." And what he meant was, "This preacher could never do that again."
That was very helpful. He could never duplicate what he just did, ever! The video can, kind of; not entirely, but kind of. But he could never do that again, because everything about it was living. Every tone, every gesture, every movement, and every connection with the audience was unique. If he were to preach that sermon again it would be another event and another sermon. And that's the way sermons are.
So be aware of the diversity. Know where some of your people are. Try to stay tuned to the culture. Try to stay tuned to the temperature in the congregation and the questions that are coming at you. Listen to the questions people ask afterwards. Discern the needs that they pray with you about.
There are a hundred ways that you can stay alive and in tune with the people. Then combine that with who you are, and love the people by talking in a way that will show them the most of Christ and jar them out of their sins the most.