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Why People Respond Differently to the Very Same Sermon

Always remember that we are seeking to help the congregation digest the information presented in the sermon. There are times when this discomfort is due due to the powerful truth presented. We must always remember that the truth will cut at times. But we also must be sure that it is the truth that is doing the cutting and not us.

Sometimes we force discomfort on the people. We can do that in a few ways.

Don’t Force The Response You Want

The first is when we are expecting and attempting to force a particular kind of response that we want to hear or are used to hearing. You know the preacher who shows up at the conservative Presbyterian church and castigates the people for not saying amen. We use words like: “Do you hear me!!!….Amen Walls!!!!” “I feel like I’m among the frozen chosen.” These and other kinds of statements can serve to not only cloud the message, but could actually shut off its hearing by some congregations.

Please note, sometimes these same words are used to add a bit of levity to break up a particularly hard point, or to connect to a congregation that truly is responding and understanding. However, some preachers hear other preachers use these devices effectively and then seek to use it as a club on folks who show emotion in other ways.

Remember Different Responses by Different People

I remember in my Intro to Homiletics course, taught by Dr. Brad Braxton, where Dr. Braxton showed a sermon where he preached in an urban African American Baptist Church. He ended the sermon with whooping, the people were showing their connection in verbal ways. Then Dr. Braxton showed a video of himself preaching to an affluent predominantly white suburban Baptist church. Dr. Braxton still was Dr. Braxton, he still was earnest. While he didn’t whoop, he did show his usual animation. The people weren’t shouting, there may have been an “amen” here and there, but you could see the big beaming smiles on their faces during the “celebration” of the sermon. Dr. Braxton then sought to emphasize, these people were responding in their own way, just as the other church was responding openly and verbally.

I repeat, sometimes smiling and shouting is not the appropriate response to the messsage. Sometimes there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as the congregation realizes the truth and its need to live in it, but always follow the simple rule “let the truth do the cutting and not you.” Always stay true to the message that you are pressenting. Ss preachers, it is your job to see if the connection is happening, not by expecting the response of an urban African American Baptist church, but by discerning what is going on in that particular congregation by a reliance on the Spirit and the Word.

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Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.