The real job of the preacher is to point away from themselves, not to pander.
The endless drive by preachers to pander to their audiences, by trying to look cool, hip, relevant, with it, a man of the people etc. is an act of desperation. This is no way to identify with your people at their best. If you identify with them at their worst, why should they think they must change?
The preacher is the agent of Christ. He is called to please God and help the people. He is not called to be a people pleaser… thank you very much. And yet, because of a deep-seated need to be loved or at least liked by the people (or even just employed by the people), you find preachers, almost unconsciously becoming people-pleasers, pandering, coddling, encouraging peoples every desire, preaching ‘the disease of the health and wealth Gospel’ (as Gordon Fee once called it), preaching one sermon after another after another based on what he thinks the audience wants, or even worse, what their expressed needs are.
Alas, the wants and desires of a congregation are a chimera. They move, they change, they shift, they disappear, like the illusory water on the road on the way to the beach in N.C. on a humid day. And anyway preacher, how do you know you’ve properly assessed the wants of your people? You could of course be way off base. Fortunately, its not your job to be a tester or predictor of which way the congregational wind is blowing. It’s your job to take them to Sinai so they can encounter the Mighty Wind of God’s Spirit, and hear the still small voice.
Preaching should not be needs-based, except in extreme situations (i.e. the church burns down and we need to raise money to rebuild). Yes, it should be sensitive to the audience and its real, deep seated needs, but not to its lusts, desires, expressed and confused ‘wants’. Preaching instead should be Scripture based, text based, not needs based. The preacher is not called to be a pop psychologist serving up chicken soup for the soul, pablum for the masses. He is not called to be a sensitivity group leader. He is called to break the bread of life for a starving people, open the Word of God for the unenlightened, share the living water in a dry and weary land. Only the real thing will feed their real need, and slake their real thirst.
The preacher needs to give them the Gospel and get out of the way and let it work through the ministry of the Spirit. It’s not about the preacher, its not about his personality. It’s not about his style and grace. It’s about being like John Baptist and every Sunday saying ‘there is one coming after me… listen to Him. He must increase and I must decrease.’ The preacher can only point to the Savior like John– ‘behold the Lamb of God’. The preacher is not the savior of his people. I grow weary of hearing preachers brag “I saved 40 souls last night at the revival, rescued them from iniquity and Hades’. This word just in, the preacher never saves anyone. Only Jesus can do that. For a preacher to claim ’40 souls were saved through my ministry’ would be like a quill pen claiming ‘I am the author of Shakespeare’s ten best plays’. Wrong. And one more thing preacher— it’s not your ministry, it’s the Lord’s.
Above all, its not about the preacher telling his own story, though there is from time to time a place for a good testimony. It’s about telling the OLD OLD story…. and then telling the people that His story is not merely history, it is your story if “anyone is in Christ.”