Yearning to Connect
Tony Cooke

Have you ever taught what you believed was a good message… you knew that the content was good, but it just didn’t seem to “connect” with the people? I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself frustrated on several occasions feeling like I’d shared good information, but it didn’t seem I’d really done an adequate job of expressing it in a relevant, practical way that truly connected with the hearts of the listeners.

My goal is not to have people leaving a service where I’ve preached saying:

  • “That was a nice message.”
  • “That preacher sure is smart.”
  • “He was an eloquent speaker.”

Rather, I desire people to be saying such things as:

  • “That message really spoke to me right where I live.”
  • “That really challenged me.”
  • “I’ve been changed by what I just heard.”

As Bible teachers, it’s possible to get so personally enthralled with our deep principles and theological truths that we stimulate our own minds, but leave our congregation untouched. In such cases, it could be said that we’re answering the questions that no one is asking and scratching where it doesn’t itch!

In “The Seven Laws of the Learner,” Bruce Wilkinson shared the following: “If you have ever heard Charles Swindoll preach, you probably have said to yourself, ‘That’s exactly how I feel,’ or ‘That’s what I really needed.’ He seems to have an uncanny knack of preaching exactly what you need at the time. How does he do it? He is a master at expressing his content with his listeners’ needs and interests in mind. He has one hand on the pulse and the other on the Bible. He disciplines himself never to change the truth but always clothes the truth with contemporary culture. It hits home because he always aims at your home. Unfortunately, too many have both hands on the Bible and no hands on the pulse. Our lessons are biblical to be sure, but as irrelevant as a raincoat in the deserts of Kuwait.”

Exactly how do we get our hand on the pulse of our audience? One way is to make sure we’re being keen observers… being truly tuned in to how people are thinking and feeling… knowing the issues that they are dealing with in their lives. Both Jesus and Paul were great observers, as all excellent communicators are. Mark 12:41 describes how, “Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury.” Before He spoke, He observed. When Paul spoke to the Athenians, he did so based on what he had observed. “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription…” (Acts 17:22-23).

One individual said (and I have not counted to verify this) that the Gospels record approximately 125 accounts of Jesus communicating to others. He indicated that 54% of these were initiated by the hearers. In saying this, he was noting that Jesus allowed his audience to determine his communication agenda more than half the time. With that in mind, I’ve noted in my travels that several pastors have taken a month or so and dedicated certain services to simply answering questions that members of the congregation presented. If you’ve never had a question and answer series, you might consider it. It’s a good way to find out what the people in the church are interested in and curious about. You might really enjoy it, and by the way, be ready to address the issue of whether pets go to heaven. Some pastors have indicated that it’s good to have questions written and turned in ahead of time, and you may want to get some of the books that will help you in addressing some of the questions you might receive. One to consider would be “Bible Answers for Almost All Your Questions” by Elmer L. Towns.

Here are some other great statements regarding relevance and “connecting:”

“When I come into the pulpit it is after study, prayers, and cries for the people; I speak as plainly, and enter into all the cares of the congregation, as minutely as I am able.”
– Henry Venn, 18th Century Anglican Preacher

“So the preacher must plan his preaching for a balance of truth and personality — the Word of God in Scripture and the reality of human agency in the present moment. He must be fully in touch with that Word in its own historical context, understanding its message and trusting its authority. He must also be fully in touch with his own generation, understanding his audience in their need and himself in his own unique personhood.”
– Wayne McDill

“We use the language of the market.”
– George Whitfield

“When the gospel is preached so that a man feels that it is applied to his own life, he has it translated to him. And it needs to be translated to merchants and lawyers, and mechanics, and every other class in society, in order that all may receive their portion in due season.”
– Henry Ward Beecher

“I have no need for trying to become eloquent because I have turned my pulpit into a counseling place. The method of preaching, then, is to counsel the people to help them meet their needs.”
– Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho

“So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:8) God bless you, and may you be richly anointed as you make His Truth known.