Bill Cosby has created much laughter with his show “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” The program is built around the funny responses children often make in conversation with him. Their candidness, simplicity, bluntness, honesty, and mostly their childlike naiveté make the show most amusing for adults who listen to their commentary on Cosby’s questions.
Most preachers would be able to compile a series for such entertainment entitled “Church Members Say the Darndest Things.” Any preacher who stands at the back of the sanctuary shaking hands after the service has undoubtedly heard his fair share of amusing remarks from parishioners making the exodus from the morning worship service. Of course, there is the typical “good sermon, pastor” and the customary “enjoyed the message,” but not long ago a comment was spoken in the back of the church that was interesting to say the least.
After having heard an expository message from the book of Numbers, a particular young man shook this preacher’s hand and said, “Good message preacher, but it wasn’t for me.” Now after years of hearing Sunday after Sunday of lay commentary from church members about my preaching, there isn’t much that surprises me anymore. However, this caught me off guard. Instead of the typical “Blessings, good to see you today,” I instinctively responded by asking “Oh really? Why wasn’t it for you?” While this certainly caused a slow-down in the line of those racing to their cars for the best seats at the local eatery, further explanation warranted my pointed question. Whether he realized it or not, I just knew there had to be some sort of latent theology (or lack of theology) behind his concerning statement.
Without flinching, he said “Oh it was a great message, and I am sure some here needed to hear it, but it just didn’t meet me where I am at right now.” There was an obviously awkward pause as both of us stood there not really knowing what to say next. He knew it and I did too — something wasn’t right about what was just said.
Driving home from church, it seemed as though all my seminary notes from Systematic Theology and Homiletics came rushing back to me. Think about it — “it just didn’t meet me where I am right now.” Perhaps there was not as much dynamism in my delivery — something which more and more people today are expecting from their preacher. On the other hand, a more practically-oriented life-application approach to the Old Testament text might have been desired. Granted, as always the sermon could have been better. However, for anyone to claim that a sermon or a particular biblical text is “not for me” reveals a troublesome approach concerning one’s understanding of preaching. Moreover, such a response communicates a less than adequate view of God’s Word.
Is preaching primarily about the God whose truth pastors are called to preach, or is it primarily about those persons who are listening to the preaching? While an element of both is indeed a part of biblical preaching, it is this seemingly slight distinction that makes the ultimate difference in how preachers preach and how church members listen. When the hearer sees himself as the primary focus and purpose of preaching, an egocentric attitude begins to permeate not only his own personal Bible reading but his entire understanding of God. When preachers lead churches whose preaching is focused more on the ones who hear rather than the One who speaks, congregations are cultivated who believe that the ultimate purpose of God’s Word is merely to provide helpful hints for the living of life. Perhaps this is the reason the gentleman believed that the message wasn’t “for him.” Maybe there were not enough specific points of application which he felt could be incorporated immediately into his daily living.
The Bible is God’s written revelation of Himself to humanity. It is not God’s written revelation of practical pointers for more purposeful living. Sure, there are personal benefits to be experienced from the application of the worldview derived from God’s Word. However, that is not the main thing. God gave us His Word so we might know who He is — it is the “revelation of Himself.” Such a God-centered approach to preaching prevents preachers and listeners alike from ever thinking that any part of Scripture or biblical preaching is not “for me.” Rather, understanding the Word of God is given for the purpose of revealing who God is and communicating His expectations for humanity, one realizes all Scripture and indeed all biblical preaching is “for us,” for regardless of chapter and verse, it is what God has to say to us about Himself.
Todd E. Brady is Minister to the University at Union University in Jackson, TN.