October 25, 2017
I have been speaking in front of people for over 20 years. What I find fascinating is the topics that create the most responses from listeners. As a preacher and Bible teacher, the range of topics is virtually unlimited. Dealing with the human condition, as the Scriptures do, allows for many touch points in people's lives.
This post admittedly is somewhat anecdotal, I can't give you hard statistical evidence, but I can give you what I've experienced on a pretty consistent basis. There are some topics that are guaranteed to provoke responses more than others.
In fact, I've come to expect them. Whether by email, text message, on my blog, or in person, certain topics tend to prompt comments more than others. Frankly, I love it when people respond to my messages to share their story.
Here's what I've also learned. If people are engaged enough to want to comment, they are likely connected deeply to the topic in one way or another. Its part of their story, whether good or bad, they resonate with the subject in a personal way.
Knowing what moves people is also critically important when it comes to long-range planning of your speaking schedule. It may be disconcerting to some when they see that topics like doctrine, Old Testament typology, or systematic theology are nowhere on the list. Often what is interesting to the theologian has little traction for the average person in the pew.
I'm not saying I agree with the state of affairs we find ourselves in, but it's a reality nevertheless. As communicators of God's Word we need to know the context of the people we are in front of.
Let me make one last point before I present the list. In no way does it mean that our preaching has to become pop-psychology or something that resembles counselling more than theology. The richness of the Gospel message easily speaks to every topic on this list and much more.
So here are my humble observations of the topics where I've received the most reactions. They are not listed in any particular order, other than to acknowledge the order by which they came to mind.
We've all heard how the Scriptures have a "Do not fear" command for every day of the year, and one extra for leap year! Seems God knows something about human nature. The pathology of our age is stress and where there is an excess of stress there are the delightful threesome of fear, worry, and anxiety. Few are impervious to their effects.
Given the prevalent nature of their existence, even in the life of believers, its not hard to hit a nerve whenever a message moves into this area. People, even children, are weighed down with more than we were ever meant to carry.
2. Suffering and Evil
Few topics have the potential to stir up questions and personal stories of angst as do those of suffering and evil. They raise the inevitable queries of whether God is good or whether he has any control over our circumstances. Add to it the tension of various theological views and you have a recipe for further questions.
Admittedly, this is not a neatly solved tension for a variety of reasons. One of which is the emotional attachment that is part of people's experience. Much hurt exists for many who have been affected by suffering and evil in one way or another. This topic naturally prompts a response, primarily due to the fact that virtually few institutions outside the church discuss this topic with any depth or clarity.
Fractured relationships and broken hearts are everywhere. Add to it the social and cultural messaging promoting personal happiness at the expense of building committed relationships and you're left with a mess.
Even though we all long for love and belonging, few have real clarity on what love is. Granted, love is a huge topic, especially since it encompasses other characteristics like forgiveness, compassion, sex, and unselfishness to name just a few.
Its an area where no one is left untouched. Today, relational dysfunction is the norm, not the extreme. For most pastors, this is usually the part of people's lives we get called in to counsel most.
When people are presented with a compelling picture of Jesus the reactions and responses come naturally. No one, and I mean no one, has had a more profound effect on human history and civilization than Jesus.
People are intrigued with him, whether or not they see him as just a great teacher or the Saviour of the world. His life, in all its richness draws people to compare, consider, and contemplate.
Few figures in history captivate like Jesus.
This is one topic that surprised me. I would have guessed other topics would provoke more feedback than this one. But here's the reality - most parents carry some element of guilt, whether warranted or not. For children and youth there is invariably some element of conflict with their parents.
I remember once in a message flippantly stating that children and pets had become the idols of our day. The room literally froze. It was the one instance that fostered the most reactions I've ever received.
That's just one example. Here's a second one. Without fail, anytime I've spoken on the fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12), to honour mother and father, there is invariably a number of hurt respondents. I've heard enough stories of parental disappointment to last two lifetimes.
6. Meaning/Purpose of Life
People want to know that their life matters. Two questions that people ruminate over, whether they realize it or not are, "Why am I here?" and "Who am I here for?"
Most people acknowledge intellectually that God loves them but struggle with it emotionally. Its an internal tension that also causes doubt concerning not only their worth, but the value of their entire existence.
Sadly, those within the church can struggle with this as much as anyone. If there's a common refrain that never gets old is that every life matters to God, and we are made for a greater purpose than ourselves.
Those are my 6, but would love to hear your comments or your experience on this topic.
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