In a recent interview for the Preaching Today Sermons newsletter, Duane Litfin discusses the danger of preaching that focuses only on felt needs:
“Felt needs can distract us because of the misdirection of our society, the pop culture, the advertising. People think they need all sorts of things they don’t need, and they are distracted from the things they do need. It’s almost a mistake to be asking, ‘What are the felt needs of my audience?’ and use those as my take-off point. As an expositor, I work the other way around. I come to the text, and I ask, ‘What is this passage saying? What is the truth here? Why does God want us to know this? What is the need in our lives this passage is speaking to?’ That is the need I’m going to try to raise in my introduction.
“I don’t start with my audience. I’m big into preaching to needs, but I don’t begin with my audience and ask, ‘What are their needs?’ I start with the passage and say, ‘This is the answer. Now what question might someone pose to me where I would say, “Let’s turn to this passage and look what God has to say?”‘ In other words, you let the passage determine what the need is. Then that’s the need you raise in your introduction and deal with.
“That comes out of a confidence in the profitability of all Scripture. All the graphe, all the writings, are profitable for doctrine, correction, reproof, instruction in righteousness. God wants to grow us into the people He wants us to be through the graphe, through the writings, through Scripture. It is God-breathed, profitable for us. Now the question is, ‘Here’s a passage. How is this profitable? What needs to be reproved, corrected and instructed? How do we need to grow in our walk with the Lord? How is this passage helping us do that? What is it speaking to? Why does God want me to know this?’ When I’ve answered those questions at a deep level, I’ll know what to do in my introduction.”