One of the hit movies of the summer season was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a delightful film which blends animated characters into a scene with human actors in a remarkable way.
Part of the background of the story is the existence of Toontown. Toontown is the place where all the cartoon characters live when they’re not making movies. It is the home of all kinds of imaginary characters, and only a wall separates Toontown from the world of humans.
It is easy for ministers to spend their lives preaching to Toontown.
We can create an imaginary world where the problems are simple and the homiletical answers are easily captured in three-points-and-a-poem. We are preaching to Toontown when we create mental caricatures of people — their needs, hurts, dreams — and end up directing our sermons to those caricatures instead of to real, hurting congregations. Meanwhile, the more-complicated world of living, breathing humanity is just on the other side of the wall.
As we read books and lectures by many of the great preachers of the past, one challenge is issued again and again: know the people to whom you preach. Spend time with them. Learn their concerns, their joys and sorrows.
Henry Ward Beecher spent much of his week visiting in the Brooklyn shops and businesses of his church members, learning about their crafts and skills — and getting to know the people. As a result, every Sunday his sermons were filled with interesting stories and illustrations drawn from the lives and work of real people. Those sermons had an authentic ring because they were forged in a furnace of real life.
With the constant demands on a pastor’s time to do “church business” – staff management, committee meetings, administrative duties, even sermon preparation — the danger is ever-present that we may lose contact with people. When that happens, our preaching will often drop far afield of the target, like an arrow shot from a warped bow.
Fantasy is a wonderful escape; after all, most of us like to go to Toontown once in awhile. Nevertheless, it is essential that preachers, of all people, remember that our congregations spend their lives on the other side of the wall.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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