Rhetoric & Homiletics: A Small Rethink Of Homiletics or “7 Steps To Keep Your Audience Moving With You.”

excursion hop on hoop off

Preaching may be approached as somewhat of a layman’s version of a seminary class. In fact, how often have you heard — “He would be good in a teaching or classroom setting, but no so much as our a preacher.” There may be some who might think of preaching as simply providing a corporate opportunity to teach God’s people what we have learned in that concentrated seminary experience.  They have also voluntarily “enrolled” — howbeit in a local church.  The loose difference is that these men,  women, and children hold down full-time jobs in the real world and only “attend class “for two-three hours a week. 

They intentionally associated with that church and voluntarily sit under the teaching of the pastor. But they may also have several different “classroom teachers / or different pastors” (and even switch “seminaries”) over their years of their enrollment. [1]

Add to that, “Expository preaching” is primarily regarded as the task of “exposing the truths and principles found in the Bible” to an audience.  Most members (more than do attendees/visitors) listen with that mindset — The pastor is preaching what the Bible teaches.  He has had years of education in the Scriptures — He knows the Greek and Hebrew languages (– not true, by the way).   

Most would agree that he is preaching-teaching primarily to a receptive audience. They have come to hear the sermon, “voluntarily,” and generally listen sincerely, week after week, to a “serial speaker,” as a serial audience. They are willingly attentive, have a quiet interest in what the Scriptures teach, and desire to follow what it says!

However, rather than considering preaching as speaking to a quiet and readily agreeable audience, view preaching as moving them towards agreement.  Merely because the listeners have chosen to come (and even returned week after week), does not mean that the sermon need not aim to keep them moving with you on this spiritual excursion. They may well begin that “hourly excursion” with openness, but also with doubts as to the points and conclusion(s) you are seeking to draw from the passage. Whether you would like to believe it or not, your audience listens with some skepticism or reservations — not about the truthfulness of what the Bible teaches, but about what you say it teaches and about how you say it then applies to life and living.

Of course, they are!  They are sinners! 

Of course, there is skepticism — At times, even preachers try to avoid what the Scriptures clearly teach because it touches on their thinking and behavior.  What the passage teaches always seemed so clear and obvious, until it crashed into our path.  Apparently, now, its authority and clarity — not so much, because of what it says about our conduct, about our self-serving decisions, shameful conduct, or even the twisted application of God’s truths and principles to our ministry.  [2]

Add to the cause for some of the audience’s reservation and skepticism . . . .

  • Religious voices are prolific, and proliferating.
  • The avenues are for input are rampant — books, magazine articles, blogs, television preachers-teachers, online sermons, fellow believers attending other churches, neighborhood door-knockers, et al.
  • You are not the first person who said that the Bible teaches “A”, only to find out it teaches “Z.”
  • Secular books and articles question long-held “biblical” positions.
  • There are personal doubts (i.e. Thomas — John 20:24ff).
  • Many life experiences challenge what is being said (i.e. Luke 24:18ff; Matthew 9:33).
  • Add to all that, the interplay of pastoral credibility.
  • And finally, this may not be the first church or pastor they have listened to over the years of their spiritual and biblical journey.

View the task of preaching as moving your audience to consensus, agreement, concurrence. Your aim is not to provide a classroom lecture or to do a “data-dump,” exposing all that you have realized in the study, to which they listen and smoothly agree. Instead it is an one-hour joint excursion during which those on-board — today — with you as the guide — are unsure what to expect to hear and be told — “Thus saith the Lord” — but come to see and agree. 

Most preachers-teacher recognize that there is somewhat of an excursion taking place when they make such comments as . . . . 

  • “Now, stay with me. . . “
  • “Are you tracking me?
  • “Does that make sense to you?”
  • “Did I lose you?”
  • “Now let me make that clear.”
  • “I might have lost some on that statement, but let me . . . “

 

Seven Steps To Keep Your Audience Moving With You: Some of these steps may (or may not) need to become part of your sermon if you want to bring your audience along with you. If you fail as one of these steps, you may lose them on the trail — that is very real and observable.

√ 1 – Establishing that the point is found in the text. Is the point or argument being made found in the text? Whether the passage actually teaches what you state it is teaching is not a given, and the audience knows and understands that. 

An audience that has been taught to value expository preaching is even more demanding than what is being said is found in the passage. Such “Biblical Missouri-ites” say to themselves — “Show me where it says that!” 

“Berean believers” are not waiting to Sunday afternoon to determine whether what the preacher-teacher says is taught in that text (though it may even be biblically true in that it is taught other places, just not here). Some listeners are already looking up other passages as you are preaching. When the message is over, you may hear subtle comments-questions that suggest their skepticism, lack of fully buying-in, or clear disagreement.

i.e.
“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

Your audience might be thinking that this is “the love of God for us.” You may be making the point that it is our love of God for Him.

. . . . . . . 

√ 2 – Ensuring that an implicit assumption does not stop the listener. Am I inadvertently side-stepping one of the needed steps in making the point or the argument? Some points or arguments are linked to other points and require accepting one before the other, or require a fuller clarification before accepting the other.

In any discourse, speech, or sermon, some “premises” may be assumed or implicit, though unstated. Many or most listeners might unconsciously and mentally insert and/or accept them. They know what you are saying and/or what the Scriptures teach elsewhere. It depends on the listener’s biblical background, understanding, and even his/her willingness to change.

i.e.
The Bible teaches that when we are saved, we are new men and women in Christ Jesus. Sin no longer reigns in our bodies. The Scriptures state . . . . “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.”

Now we know that John is speaking of a life-style of sin. This is not about sinless perfection, but a life which is either marked by abiding in Him, or abiding in sinful life choices . . . . .

. . . . . . . 

√ 3 – Supporting some of the points — main points, subpoints, or applications. Is the point that is being made considered questionable, weak, or even dismissive, requiring additional time and/or biblical or illustrative support? Some listeners may raise critical questions about some of the “points” that are being made. Not wisely anticipating those questions may well result in the listener hesitating in any further agreement or vacillating as to the speaker’s continued credibility.

i.e.
“The only prayer a sinner can make that God’s hears is a prayer of repentance, a prayer of salvation. Until that prayer is made, God is not listening!”*

* Careful — You are about to lose me as a listener.  I question such a statement. I have heard that comment made and thought of Cornelius in Acts 10! It might be better said that the only prayer that the Lord is obligated to hear, based on the cross, is a prayer of repentance.
. . . . . . .

. . . . . . . 

√ 4 – Including Necessary Disclaimers.  At times, a simple disclaimer will help the audience move down your road, and not be side-tracked by other competing 

i.e.
“God expects us to honor our parents — to obey what they say. O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E is the very best way to show your love and respect for mom and dad . . . . “

Now let me say, we all know that does not mean we are to obey when we are told or asked to do something we know that is wrong. . . . . 

(Necessary Disclaimer) ? ? ?  

. . . . . . . 

√ 5 – Recognizing The Hypothetical & Imaginary.  Making statements as to what a preacher-teacher thinks must have happened in this-or-that biblical-historical-event may pause the listener as you seek to have him move along with you. See the first point — “Is it found in the text.”  

Note: Even worse is building a point or an application on the hypothetical or imaginary. A simple formula is — “If that were me, I know what I would be saying / thinking / doing / reacting / considering / pondering / answering . . . . . 

. . . . . . . 

√ 6 – Refuting Objections.  When anyone seeks to move people through the use of language — whether it be a sermon or a conversation — the listener is pushing back. We all experience that push-back and/or find ourselves pushing back as we participate in a conversation — even a biblical conversation.

When here is push-back, movement forward temporarily stops until the push-back can be appropriately addressed. Now that is where there is a difference between conversations and presentations. In conversation, the push-back has the opportunity to be stated — no so in a sermon. Nevertheless, that does not mean that the push-back is not present, any more than when it is not voiced in a conversation.

In a conversation, if the push-back (a person’s disagreement with what was said) is not voiced, the individual still disagrees with you, but will either give you a pass at this time, or begin his journey on the road of conferring less and less credibility and influence (and attention to what you are saying) to what you have said.

Note anticipating and addressing the “push-back” — legitimate or illegitimate — will do the same sermonically. We all know that and have been on that road as we listened to other speakers and preachers.

That push-back may be because of a statement that raises doubts and/or is founded on a faulty main premise (“Satan is not omnipresent.” ), or a listener’s counter-argument (“What about unjust laws?” ), or a logical fallacy (“No, that does not follow!”)

. . . . . . . 

√ 7 – Plausibility Is Not Certainty.  To make statements of “certainty” when, in fact, plausibility or high probability would be more accurate, causes listeners to pause and/or to leave the excursion. There is not only a loss of credibility, but decisions about even staying aboard arise when comments are marked by hyperbole, exaggeration, magnification, or embellishment, et al.

While some figures of speech are deemed understood and acceptable, — “I have done this a million times.” — others cause some listeners to jettison the journey.

i.e.
“Alcohol use will lead you down the road that many others have walked. It leads to alcoholism and poverty. Smoking marijuana will lead to hard drug use. Get on that road, and the destination will be a life of ruin and regret.”

Note: Defeasible [3] “arguments” are wide-open to lost credibility, attention, and weight of impact and influence.

. . . . . . . 

excursion hop on hoop off cutout

Those listening may have voluntarily “Hopped On”
But they can also freely Hop Off

They do it every year in many local churches across America!

 



1. It would be an interesting demographic to determine how many different churches the majority of members have attended, joined, and purposefully left — as well as how many different pastors they have sat under and for how long.

2. The proof of that is rampant today as you listen to pastors who argue political issues from all different vantages (vastly different — which is further proof).  I can only surmise that the Scriptures are no so clear as some have stated for years.  They really must be subject to a lot of interpretive schemes to understand their teaching. ????

3. A “defeasible argument” is a statement, opinion, judgement, or stated point having some evidence and even plausibility, but is open to revision, contrary evidence, and opposing anecdotal evidence.

 

 

 

 

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