Lessons from Preaching: Interacting With Your Listeners

In my preaching, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way: through experience. I keep a running file of mistakes I make in preaching and what I’ve learned from them. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about crowd interaction while preaching:

(1) Since people’s thoughts are guided by associations, be highly selective in what you say–watch your word choice, examples, and illustrations. This plays out in several ways. One is that some people will always read extra meaning into your illustrations. For example, if you’re telling a story about someone who’s a rough character and you describe them as having tattoos, some people might think you’re associating tattoos with sin, even though you never said that. If you share a hypothetical illustration about a man who’s insensitive or a woman who nags her husband, some people will think you’re making blanket, sexist statements. Another way this association confusion can happen is sexual innuendo. People today have turned everything into a sexual innuendo (see #3 for an example). So be well prepared and think carefully about what you say!

(2) Don’t feel the need to respond to hecklers. I’m not talking about people who answer your questions, laugh at your jokes, or do the “Amen!” thing. I’m talking about people who try to run a Jay Leno-style running commentary on your message. These are the ones who will audibly respond to anything that can be construed as sexual innuendo (see #1 above). Most of these people do not have malicious intent. They just enjoy being the center of attention and don’t tend to think before they speak or act. There are at least three important reasons for ignoring your hecklers: First, even though you hear them easily, most people probably cannot. If you respond, they won’t know what you’re responding to. This is especially true for recordings, since your microphone will probably not pick up comments from the crowd. Second, you’ll allow yourself to get distracted and flustered. Preaching requires enough focus without letting people throw you off course. Third, acknowledging hecklers will only encourage them, and you’ll find their unwanted comments increasing each week.

(3) When you make a blunder, acknowledge it and quickly move on. Avoid both extremes of ignoring it or dwelling on it. One time I was talking about people’s sleep habits, and I said, “Most people don’t get enough.” That seemed to just kind of hang out there, and so after a pause, I added, “…sleep.” Right away I knew that I’d made it worse. Anyone who hadn’t picked up on the innuendo definitely couldn’t miss it after I’d inadvertently emphasized it. Everyone started laughing and I just turned red. I tried helplessly to try and explain it away, but it didn’t work. It seemed like I stumbled and muttered for about five minutes, but when I watched the recording, it turned out to be only a few seconds. What helped me recover from my blunder and move on? A friend of mine was sitting near the front, and when he got my attention, he moved his finger around like a turning wheel, as if to say, “Move on.” So I did. I just moved on. And it worked! But now I know that whenever I have a blunder like that, I can simply acknowledge it (don’t pretend it didn’t happen–that will only make it worse!) and quickly move on.

(4) Remember Jeremiah 23:29. It says: “‘Is not My Word like fire,’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?'”God’s Word will prevail. It’s powerful. Just be faithful! He is more concerned than you are about how people respond to the message He’s given you. He will work through your mistakes and blunders to impress His Word on the hearts of the people listening to you.

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Published in: on April 13, 2007 at 8:09 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve never heard of a jay leno style of heckling in church.what church was that? anybody that speaks in front of people is going to have a faux pas from time to time, it’s inevitable but I’d love to hear a leno style running commentary, i bet it would be a gas if the sermon was about things that happened in the old testament!

  2. Okay, so I’ve never seen Leno offering feedback in church. I was referring to his style of humor. But yeah, that would certainly be amusing to hear him do commentary on it!


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