Preaching to Everybody
Pastor Jack Hyles
(Loyal Pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana for over 42 years)
I Corinthians 9:22, "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."
There is no public speaking as difficult, as challenging and, when done properly, as artistic as that of preaching. Most public speakers speak to a certain group who share similar interests. Sometimes, for example, I will preach to a group of young people. On other occasions, I speak to ladies. There are times when I speak just to men. I often speak at conventions for Christian educators, and nearly every week I speak at some special meeting for preachers. All of these are challenging, but none is as challenging as the time when I walk in the pulpit on Sunday morning to speak to little children, to senior citizens, to the rich, to the poor; to the educated, to the uneducated, to the young and to the old, and I try to adapt the same sermon so it will fit and feed every person in the congregation! This is the hardest of all public speaking, and yet, it is the most blessed, the most challenging and the most wonderful because it is a miracle! The Holy Spirit takes ~e same truth and applies it through His servant to various age groups, to various social standings and to those hundreds and sometimes thousands of people whose life styles, backgrounds and interests are of the greatest variety possible.
1. The preacher should learn to speak to each group. He should be able to hold the attention of a group of children, keep the interest of teenagers at a rally just for them, and be able to hold the attention of each group when speaking to them separately. The best worker with beginner-age children in the church should be the preacher! The best youth worker in the church should be the preacher. The best Bible teacher in the church should be the preacher. It is wrong for the preacher to excuse his deficiencies by saying he does not have the gift to speak to children or the gift to speak to young people or the gift to speak to any other special group. Sometimes there are ways to get abilities without getting them as a gift. They can also be earned and can be obtained by toil and diligence.
2. The pastor should be around children and should force himself to speak to them and learn to do it effectively. For 37 years I have conducted the Vacation Bible Schools in all of my churches. I conduct a 30-minute opening assembly where I lead the children in singing and join in their enthusiasm and laughter. Then, in a 45- minute assembly later in the day I lead in teaching them. I crown the king and queen for the day, and I introduce the special pro- grams. I have had to learn to hold their attention and to work diligently to learn to be a children's worker. The wise pastor will be around children, learn how to reach them and to lead them.
3. Be around teenagers. Get to know them. Find out how to be a successful youth worker.
For several years I have conducted a nationwide Youth Conference. Thousands of teenagers come from all across America. I speak to them, instruct them, joke with them and relate to them. Recently after one of the sessions in our Youth Conference, a pastor came to me and said, "I wish I had your gift." I replied, "Brother, it's not a gift! It is something that I worked hard to get, and it is just as available for you as it is for me.
4. Be around senior citizens. Get to know them. Feel their burdens and their problems. Learn their frustrations, and train yourself to be able to work with them.
5. Identify with the poor, the rich, the educated and the uneducated. Learn to feel at home with each group and to know how to make them feel at home with you
6. Watch carefully those who are successful children's workers or youth workers or adult workers. Learn what makes them successful. Incorporate it in your own life. Be a student of every age group and of every facet of your church's society
7. Be a childish, juvenile adult. By this I mean when a person comes to adolescence, he should not exchange his childhood for adolescence, but he should add adolescence to his childhood. When a person becomes an adult, he should not trade in his childhood and adolescence on his adulthood. He should add adulthood to childhood and adolescence. We should retain our childhood enjoyments that are right and proper. Likewise we should retain the enjoyments of adolescence that are right and proper and add them to the behavior of adulthood. If you will listen carefully to every great preacher, you will see his childhood shine through and his adolescence flicker, and you will notice that added to these will be the maturity of adulthood. Every man of God should be a childish, juvenile adult.
8. Read a variety of things. Read books that children like to read. Read books that teenagers like to read. Fill that computer called the human mind with every bit of proper and decent material possible. One day it will become usable to you and for you. Then read all you can about reaching each and working with each. Learn the physical and emotional makeup of each age group.
9. When speaking to teenagers and children who are seated by age, have the teenagers in front of you so that your eye contact can be with them. Let the children be on the sides. Often I preach on a Tuesday morning to preachers, to laymen, teenagers and children in the same building. I always ask the pastor which group he wants me to reach. Then I ask him to put that group in front of me so that my eye contact will be with them.
10. When speaking to a strictly children's group, the pastor should move a lot. He should ask questions that require brief and concise answers, and he should use the microphone heavily.
11. When speaking to a group which includes a group of children sitting together, it is often wise to begin by bragging on the children. Following is a good way to do it:
"Adults, have you noticed these children over here? Have you noticed how they sit still and listen? It's an amazing thing! Sometimes during the sermon, glance over to them. I guarantee they will be still and quiet. You'll be amazed to see what good children these are."
This gives the children a reputation that they want to uphold. Then, on occasion throughout the message, stop and ask the adults if they have noticed how good the children are. This lets the children know that you haven't forgotten them, and it keeps in their minds the goal of pleasing you and upholding the reputation that you have set for them.
12. When teenagers and adults are present in the same audience and are sitting in groups, preach to the teens. Start off by being honest and telling of your predicament. Then tell the teenagers how you felt when you were their age. I may start off with something like this:
"Kids, what do you say that we make peace with each other and that we decide to endure each other during this message! I know we are both stuck here! You had to come because it was a school requirement, and I need the money, so all of us are stuck. Why don't you just look at me and say, 'Well, he doesn't look like much, but I'm going to hear what the guy has to say I may as well listen to him. I've got to be here.' Then, kids, I'll look at you and say, 'Well, they don't look like much but they are part of the crowd this morning, so I'm going to see if I can get something through to them.' Probably you've already looked at me and asked, 'Can any good thing come out of that?' and I've looked at you and said, 'Can any good thing go into that?' but I'll make you a deal, kids. Give me a good hearing, and I won't preach long at you or hard at you"
When preaching to teenagers, it is always good to make them feel adultish. After all, a teenager is more adult than he is a child, though it is hard for us to believe because we have recently known him as a child and have never known him as an adult.
Let me suggest at this point that the reader get a copy of my book, HOW TO REAR TEENAGERS and read carefully the chapter on communicating with teens.
13. When speaking to teenagers alone, don't bend all the way to meet them. Let them know that you are aware of the fact that they are nearly adults. (They will like this.) Let them know that you don't plan to treat them like little children, but like the near adults that they really are.
When speaking to teens, love must be shown and sincerity must be obvious. Teens are very adept at reading a speaker's intentions. They can spot insincerity as well as sincerity. To them, the real you will shine through!
One of the most important things in speaking to teens is to not be defeated before you start. Convince yourself that you can hold their attention. Many speakers are defeated before they begin when speaking to teenagers. If you are defeated at the start, you will be destroyed by the end. When preaching to a crowd of preachers, lay adults, teens and children, preach to the teens on behalf of the adults and let the adults identify with you as you preach to the teens. Preach to them a truth that all the adults there would like to tell them. Become the representative of all the adults present. Let the adults identify with you as you speak to the teens.
I have a sermon entitled, "Let's Hear it for the Other Son." It deals with the brother of the prodigal son. It is a sermon that reminds the young people that though the prodigal son's brother did not cooperate in the welcome-home party, he nevertheless was a man of character. It is said of him by his father; "Son, thou art ever with me." The son said to his father, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee." He also said that he had never once transgressed his father's commandments or disobeyed. I remind the teenagers that the fellow was probably a pretty good guy who had character and decency, and I would rather have them be like him than be like the brother who went into the far country and became a prodigal. While I'm preaching this sermon, I can see the adults nodding their heads up and down in agreement. I am saying to the teenagers what the adults would like to say, and they are identifying with me. In a sense, we together are preaching to the teenagers.
14. When preaching to several different groups who are sitting together as groups, preach to the crowd most obvious. Don't try to reach all. In a sense, get alone with one group and let the others listen in. It is enjoyable for an adult to watch a preacher preach to young people. They can learn from him how to do it. It is enjoyable for them to watch him handle children. This can be an education to them.
Again, it is important to have the group to whom you are primarily speaking in front of you so that you can make eye contact with them.
15. Have a list of sermons that are basically for children. Have another list of sermons that are basically for young people. Have another list of sermons that are basically for preachers. I have a list that I use for Christian educators. Then, choose a sermon or a few sermons that you would use in the presence of children and teen- agars; likewise, sermons that you would use in the presence of teenagers, preachers, children and adults. Have special sermons that you could use for any combination of groups.
16. Have one truth to put across. Hit it over and over and over again! Remember, you are dealing with minds of various abilities to retain and to comprehend. A profound truth presented in a simple manner is perhaps the best when you speak to a group of groups.
17. When speaking to a group of groups, make mention of each group in the sermon. Let them know that you are aware of their presence, even if you are not addressing them primarily
18. Include something for all emotions—for tears, for laughter, for sobriety, for excitement.
We have been dealing rather extensively with preaching to different groups or to groups of groups. However, most of our preaching is to a mixed congregation on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. Therefore, the following should be remembered:
1. Preach mainly to adults, but if you have become a childish, juvenile adult, even the adults will enjoy seeing your adolescence and your childlikeness. The main thing is to become what you ought to be and then when you are what you ought to be, it will manifest itself in your preaching.
2. Check your sermon for milk and meat in the same message. Remember, you are preaching to new Christians and to mature Christians and to Christians at every place on the spectrum of Christian growth.
3. Mingle old truth and new truth. By that I mean, keep fresh and new for the people who have heard you for years, but don't neglect to teach the simple and old truths, for the new Christians need them!
4. Fit profundity into simplicity. True profundity can be transferred only from one mind to another through the vehicle of simplicity The vehicle of simplicity can appeal to the youth, to the children and to the new Christians, whereas the truth of profundity can appeal to the mature Christians and older people. When profundity is transported in simplicity, it has a way of appealing to everybody and reaching everybody.
5. If what you say is over someone's head, reach them with how you say it. You can feed a heavy piece of meat to mature Christians and yet the way you feed them can be enjoyable to young people and to baby Christians.
6. Think all week of the various groups in the congregation. Every week, sometime during the week, I pause to think of my teenagers. I pray for them and spend some time loving them. I pause to realize that they are growing up in the generation where the Devil is most active in trying to destroy them. Every weapon in his arsenal is pointed toward them.
I then spend some time thinking about my senior citizens. I pray for them and love them. I hurt with their pains and mourn with their sorrows.
Every week I spend some time during the day thinking about my men who are at work, and for that matter, the ladies who work in public. I spend some time loving those men who are working in the blast furnaces of the steel mills. I think of their getting up in the wintertime before daybreak; fighting the traffic, the zero weather and the snow to go to work; them working in the blast furnaces all day long, only to leave work after it is already dark, again to fight the traffic, the snow and the cold to come home weary and tired. I often think of them late at night gathered around in the family circle, leading their families to pray for their preacher.
Every week I take a few minutes to stop up my ears so that I cannot hear. I walk in silence for sometimes as much as thirty minutes in order for me to identify with those whom [serve who are deaf.
Each week I take time to blindfold myself. I try to shave wearing this blindfold. I try to dress wearing the blindfold. This enables me to identify at least for awhile with those whom I serve who cannot see.
At certain intervals each week I also think about the educable slow, the poor' the bus kids. I try to make it so that by the time I walk into the pulpit on the Lord's Day I will have such a love and compassion for all of my people that I "preach to everybody"
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