Diagnosing Your Congregation

It has often been my experience as a preacher that when I preach the law, it comes off as being somewhat generic, not really describing the vices of my particular flock. I suppose this may be one of those “You’ve got to know your people” moments, but I was hoping to come up with something a little more theological. I’ve been at this for about 5 1/2 years in the same place, and I still struggle with knowing what exactly to preach to the people. I mean, take my Keokuk congregation. Most of the people are seniors. And I know that they sin, it’s just that I don’t exactly know how. Oh, there have been moments where I have seen it first hand. But it all stays pretty well hidden. It always seems like it would come off as contrived to talk about lust or gluttony in that congregation because I think that most people would wonder who I was talking about. It also seems pointless to preach against things like despising God’s Word to people who actually made the effort to get their butts to church when there are so many who don’t. Is it ever out of place for a pastor to praise people in the pews where they have demonstrated a sturdy faithfulness?

Perhaps some of the vices that older folks face would include pride, jealousy, greed, laziness, apathy, and bitternness. I’m not old, so I really don’t know. I can tell you what people my own age probably deal with. I can think of what my own vices are, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else is caught by the same things. I wish I knew better how to diagnose the “ills” and “sicknesses” of my congregations, because if I could, my preaching would probably be much more “relevant” (although I hate that word) and the Gospel would undoubtedly be sweeter. What say you experienced preachers? Any tips? Clues? How does a pastor diagnose the vices of his congregation so that he can preach both Law and Gospel better?

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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 Diagnosing Your Congregation

  1. wicked miles says:

    Preach the law that is integral to the text-they will stand condemned just as you and I will.

    Pete

  2. Jim Roemke says:

    I am finding this problem to be especially difficult too. I am younger than many of my parishioners grandkids. They all are so nice and remind me of my dear grandparents that even when I do see their obvious sins (pride, bitterness, gossip, grudges, stubborness, etc.) I feel inept to say anything, however, that is why the office of the Holy Ministry is not about the individual and how they feel, but rather about the Word and what it says. I am way newer at this than you, but I agree with Pete, if you preach the text the Lord will send His Word out for His purposes and He will work for their repentance and salvation.

  3. Pastor Beisel says:

    As usual, helpful words Pete. And Jim as well. Thanks. It just seems like a crap shoot sometimes. Maybe you’ll hit the target, maybe not.

  4. Rev. Benjamin Mayes says:

    Be sure to tell them what they should be doing, and give warnings and threats of the consequences for not doing it. That’s the law. Then if you don’t know whether they’re doing those things or not, it’s OK. And also talk with seniors to find out what things they struggle with.

  5. lutheran lady says:

    I’m obviously not a pastor, but may I share a possible resource anyway?

    I liked the thoughts that Pastor Weedon shared “Homiletical Aphorisms” on his blog under the November 2007 listings.

  6. Pastor Beisel says:

    I saw those “Lutheran lady.” I appreciated them as well.

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