Assumption #5: “People have a pretty good understanding of the Bible.”
I wish this were true; unfortunately, it’s not. In fact, it’s gotten worse. There’s a dearth of Bible knowledge in the Church today. I’ve learned this first-hand as a lecturer in Bible colleges. I have to be more cautious than I used to be. I cannot assume everyone knows who Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, doubting Thomas, and a list of other Bible characters are.
In my experience, the older the preacher, the more he explains his terms and speaks simply, because he’s discovered over time that people are never where we think they are in their Bible knowledge. Those preachers fresh out of seminary often preach over the heads of their people.
Nowhere is this problem more critical than when you speak to an audience of people whom you suspect have never met the Savior. If you tell them to “put their faith in Christ,” for many it means to depend on Christ for everything in life: groceries, health, the job, etc. But what you actually mean is, “Trust in Christ alone to save you.” Similarly, “Christ died for you” might mean to them that He died to show them how to live: putting others first. What the Bible means is “He died in your place.” By not falling victim to this dangerous assumption, you will use terms people understand and explain ones they might not. It also enhances your communication skills—can you explain propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, and justification in a way people can grasp and hang onto? Can they explain those terms back to you? Could a twelve year old understand you?
How do you overcome this assumption? Interact with your people. In a non-threatening way, take the time to find out how much of the Bible they know. Many will feel honored if you ask them, because it indicates a real interest in them as individuals. Secondly, when you speak, err on the side of explaining too much about what your listeners need to know. Do not assume they already know it.
Assumptions can be costly. Avoiding dangerous assumptions can be rewarding. Only when you know what the assumptions are and how to avoid them is communication enhanced. I can assure you that, had the Italian team at the America’s Cup competition in Australia been told how to make sure a kangaroo is dead, they would have been greatly helped. Not only would they have saved themselves embarrassment, but it also would not have cost the driver his wallet and keys. Avoiding dangerous assumptions in speaking can help you not to lose your audience, and that’s far more important than keys or a wallet any day. Keys and a wallet are only temporal; communication about spiritual matters has to do with the eternal. Don’t let our impact on people be hindered through false assumptions in our preaching.