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Friday, June 29, 2012

Why No One Listens to Preachers

Preachers have the job of speaking the truth of the bible into the lives of people. But, for the most part, no one is listening. The truth remains unheard.

What's the solution?

Some preachers seek to say it more loudly - then the truth will be heard. If they can just turn up the volume, people will listen to the vital message of scripture.

Some preachers try to say it with more style. They adopt the language, dress and actions of popular culture. They think that if they can just be cool enough, then people will listen to the message.

Some preachers try to say it with more logic. If people aren't paying attention, it must be because they just don't understand the point.They think a will constructed argument will get people to listen.

Some preachers try to say it with more emotion. If people aren't paying attention, it's because they don't feel the power and heart of the bible. They think that using heart-wrenching examples and touching stories will get people to listen.

But people still aren't listening to preachers? Why?

Because preachers don't listen to them.

I remember the first time I sat in a counseling session. I was in college and the young counselor was interning from a local graduate school. I'd never met her before the moment I was supposed to share my deepest struggles with her. I guess she missed the class on rapport building, or I brushed past it in my eagerness to "fix" the problem that took me into her office. For whatever reason, we got about half-way through the session and I found myself profoundly not caring. It wasn't that she was saying bad or unhelpful things, but I just didn't care what she had to say to me because I didn't know her at all. I had no reason to trust her opinion over my own.

Why should anyone trust a preacher's opinion over their own? Not because of the volume - there are a million messages, every day, that are louder. Not because of the style - at best we're mimicking what's cool, which just isn't cool. Not because of the logic or the emotion. No. There's not really a good reason for people to trust preachers who are struggling to be heard.

But when preachers strive to listen, when they seek to understand what the audience needs to hear, when they make it a conversation instead of a lecture - then people start to listen.

When, as a preacher, you can point out examples of conversations you've had with people in the audience (after asking their permission first, of course), or even invite the conversations during the sermon, you offer a glimpse into your relationship with the people. When you use questions to spark discussion - and really engage, not just wait for the other person to stop talking. When you admit that someone else might be right. When you let yourself be changed by the words of other people. Then, you've listened and you've earned the right to speak.

Listen to be heard.

How can you practice listening to your audience?

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