Dear Preacher: You’re Not a Performer, and You Don’t Have an Audience

Full confession: I’m not a preacher. That probably won’t surprise anyone in my audience.

See, I’m just a lowly blogger, but I do have an audience, a pretty faithful one, in fact, for which I’m grateful.

And as a trained classical musician, a vocalist, I still occasionally perform gigs. Like when I sing Handel’s Messiah with a community orchestra and chorus, or perform for a public event somewhere. In those cases I am a performer. And I have an audience.

Again, in that context, “audience” is the right word.

But my day job is as a church music director, so most of the time when I apply my craft, I am not a performer, not in the truest sense, and I don’t have an audience.

So to continue my confession, I’m puzzled that performance vernacular has become the standard terminology for the pop church’s worship. Think about it. We used to have sanctuaries and chancels, now we have auditoriums and stages. And audiences. We don’t have a congregation, we have an audience.

It’s even becoming common among ordained clergy in many circles. For example. I read a post by Dr. Josh Daffern of the New Wineskins blog the other day in which he kept using the word “audience” to describe his Sunday congregation. He even included it in the title, 5 Practical Ways to Preach More Effective Sermons For the Non-Believers in Your Audience. And then he continued to use it. Over and over and over.

A crazy thing happens when you expect and preach like non-Christians are in your audience each week: they actually show up!

Whether you realize it or not, your church members and regular audience all have non-believing friends and co-workers they could invite to church with them this Sunday…

Here are five things you (as the preacher) can begin to do to preach more effective sermons for the non-believers in your audience…

A good speaker will anticipate the pushback that the audience might have to his or her talk.

But when you are in worship, you are not attending a play, a concert, or a movie. We (the church and the people who plan its worship) are not designing a spectator sport that will hook people in and entertain the jesus into their hearts. And if we are, it’s simply not Christian worship.

Contemporary worship has definitely exacerbated this problem, but it didn’t start with the Jesus movement or the charismatic revival. It started when liturgy was exchanged for evangelistic meetings. So, if the main purpose of the service was to hook people in and get them “saved,”we might as well do everything possible to make that happen, right? We should start doing cool, current, marketable music! Why do we need to use all this churchy, stuffy, obsolete language, even though it’s been important to the church for millennia?!? We should speak directly to all the unbelievers, instead of all these other folks that already know Jesus! Mission, schmission! Forget about sending the church back into the world with a purpose. Let’s get the “world” in here and make Jesus therapeutic again!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we’ve ended up with “worship” that looks more like theatrical production.

But what about the non-believers?

All this discussion certainly begs the question, and it’s a legitimate question as Christians seek to faithfully live out their faith from generation to generation.

If non-believers, non-Christians, skeptics, or among you, and they most certainly will be, that’s great. Welcome them. Accept them. Invite them. Befriend them. Listen to their questions. If they hear Christ’s call on their lives and adopt the Christian faith as their own, that is a beautiful, wonderful byproduct of God’s grace among you.

In a real sense, nothing could possibly be more evangelistic than the historic Christian liturgy. Week after week, season after season, year after year, we participate as God’s covenant people in the drama of salvation history. Our history. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to just be inspiring. It’s not supposed to produce intense emotional response. It’s not supposed to make all our problems go away. But Christian worship is not supposed to be a performance for an audience of non-believers.

It’s a microcosmic, disciplined, anticipatory remembrance of who we were, who we are, and who we are to be. It’s about God, and for us, God’s people, believers, Christians, worshipers, the congregation, or whatever you want to call us. We come together, we retell our story, we are strengthened by the Table.

And then we go.

That’s when the real work begins.

So whatever you do for the worship gathering, be it preaching, singing, reading, praying, or anything else one might find to do, you are not a performer, and you don’t have an audience.

If you insist otherwise, the whole exercise might just have become a farce, and it’s time to exit stage left.

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