"Know your people!"

We’ve all heard this from Homiletics profs, District Presidents, and well-meaning pastors. The more you get to know your people, the better preacher you will become. The more you will know how to apply God’s Word to their lives. The more of a sense they get that you know who they are and what they are dealing with, the more apt they are to listen to you.

I actually think the opposite is true. The more you know your people, the more you hold off on saying things that might offend because you know that one person’s children have left the faith, and that another person is mad at you for changing the bulletin covers. You know who hasn’t been to church for 10 years, who struggles with alcoholism and addiction. All the more reason to hold back out of fear of personal offense when you preach. I think some of the best sermons I have preached have been the ones for pulpit supply when I didn’t know any of the people. That’s also, probably, why everyone likes it when I have a supply preacher here. He comes and blasts away, so to speak, without concern for offense. It is fresh to them. I think some of my best sermons were preached during my first year here, before I began to worry about offending the people with the Word of God. Since then how many times have I gotten to a point in my sermon that I know will be offensive and skipped over it. Have mercy upon me, O God, a wretched and unfaithful servant, more concerned about what men think than with what the Word of God says.

This was inspired by a recent post on preaching at Gottesblog.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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6 Responses to "Know your people!"

  1. Pastor Daniel Skillman says:

    Brother Paul,
    I’ve heard that advice too: “Get to know your people, it’ll make you a better preacher.” I wonder what they mean by “better.” Thus far, I am finding that “better” does not mean “more faithful.”

    Brother, you are absolved.
    Now, I too confess the same sin, and look for God’s grace.

  2. Orycteropus Afer says:

    Charles Schulz put these words in Linus’s mouth: “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.”

    Does familiarity breed crummy sermons? Seems so.

  3. Preachrboy says:

    I do see the danger of trying not to offend people, but I did detect a difference in my sermons preached to a “generic” people at the seminary, and my sermons preached once I started to pastor real people.

    I don’t think it’s “knowing YOUR people”, but better “knowing PEOPLE” in general that has helped me.

  4. Pastor Beisel says:

    Dan,

    Te Absolvo in nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti. (Excuse any mistakes in the Latin. I don’t actually know Latin).

    By the way, good to have you in our district. Look forward to seeing you at District Convention next month.

    Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words would be helpful for preachers: “Know Thyself.”

  5. OSC says:

    I think knowing my people has actually helped me a great deal in my preaching. Coming from the Midwest and the seminary to a saltwater district, my preaching would have been lacking had I made assumptions that I was preaching to folks who had much of a grasp of Lutheran doctrine (or the Gospel, for that matter–there’s a whole lotta anthropology goin’ on out here). But knowing my people has given me a window into the steady diet of “justs” and “accept Jesus” and the like. It helped me to refine how I would preach to them.

    Yet I think the most formative for me was the fact that, while I may like or not like people, my task here is not the Willie Loman goal of “being well liked” but of proclaiming the whole counsel of God to these people. That has meant some drastic changes in worship (gently introduced and explained), speaking unpopular words, and acting in unpopular ways. And it has been very, very lonely at times. And at the same time, it has been very rewarding, not personally, but vocationally. All of a sudden someone who was, to all appearances, holding a non-Scriptural view of something started asking one of the right questions. I sang the Te Deum.

  6. Ben says:

    I’ll have to respectfully disagree with my friend Paul. I do think that knowing your people can totally help toward better preaching. I think it has in my own case, at least. I know more about their concrete vices now, and because of that I actually tackle these issues and warn them. Knowing where some of them are at in their understanding of God’s Word helps me to apply and teach about the parts they’re weak in.

    On some issues, though, I warn them not to let me know about their sins. I’ve told them not to tell me if they’re going to be skipping church to go to a sports event, or if they do, they should be prepared for me to interrogate them on what Monday night service they’ll be going to in a local LCMS congregation. Or I may just admonish them right then and there not to put sports on a higher pedestal than preaching and God’s Word.

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