You Must Know The Audience

July 7, 2014

Faith Comes By Hearing—Is Anyone Listening?  – Part Three

Once you know the message and the entreater you must know the audience. Those who are in evangelism and revival ministries understand this principle. When they stand up to speak to an audience they have never met before they have to make some basic choices based on the the pastor, if they know him, the doctrinal position of the church though that can still be tough as many church people today know little about doctrine and with six Baptists you can get thirteen opinions. Check the physical makeup of the church. Are they primarily young, old, well mixed, one culture, multi-cultured, etc. Are you in the North, South, East or West. All of these factors will determine what direction you need to take in your sermon, applicable stories or analogies if you are going to make any impact at all.

Many colloquialisms and historical references that would work well in Texas would be curiosities or confusions in Maine. Sometimes I will not realize that I am using terms or acronyms that are quite common at my job or my church but are only vaguely familiar or unknown to the people I am talking to at the time. When I see that glazed look or they say they have no clue as to what I just said that I know I have to back up and use a different approach. Having served in three military branches as well as working for the Veterans Administration I could use a great many acronyms that would confuse Socrates. or Einstein. People might think me quite intelligent, but there has been no real communication.

Keep It Simple, Saint is not enough because what is simple to you may not be to the group you are trying to convert or teach. I work in the computer field and I try very hard to keep the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone can eat them when I try to explain things to my clients. Still even using simple language and down home humor and illustrations some folks still do not get it and just acquiesce to let me do what I need to do. Their minds are just not wired to understand that particular set of information.

2 Cor 4:3-4
3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. KJV

Rom 11:7-10
7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded
8 (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.
9 And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:
10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.

You are going to run into people who are not going to get the Gospel because of satanic blindness or because of the hardness of their heart, self-inflicted or God caused, as we see in these passages. No one is saved by clever speeches or being defeated in a debate. You may have vast intellectual knowledge of archeology and various science disciplines, excelled in debate club in college and read your Bible in the Koine Greek on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but in Aramaic on Tuesdays and Thursdays saving the Saturdays and Sundays for Hebrew, but there are people who will not be impressed. They are not ready to be saved or they are the ones that never will be saved. Accept that and pray that God will send someone to them when they are ready or weep for the fact that they are dead men walking.

When Peter gave his sermon on Pentecost and won three thousand souls he spoke to them from the background of Jews and tied them to current events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He did not speak to Greek poetry, politics or economic issues. He spoke to the reason for what the audience was seeing repudiating their accusation of drunkenness and taking them to the Scriptures speaking to it and then explaining how Christ caused it to happen then pointing to their guilt. As one man said, start with your text and make a beeline to the Cross. The result was conviction, repentance and salvation. He used the right material to the right crowd and yet we know that sheer man’s wisdom was not all involved in this.

There was a time in this country when you could preach to unbelievers and they understood what you were saying because they had been exposed to the Scripture as a child at home, school and even church. They may have been religious like the Jews in Acts or scoffers, but they understood because they heard the Bible in many places and scenarios so they were not ignorant. Many could have quoted Scripture for you. I have had many an interesting conversation with a person who grew up as a preacher’s kid or overheard some deep and even sound theology discussed by drunks. In a session of prison ministry I have heard men read poems or sing songs they wrote and even had one fellow break out in a sermon when we were somehow forgotten by the guard and were there three hours instead of one.

When we had a nation filled with people like this it was much easier to get the message out because all that was needed was clarification of issues or conviction of sin. We were like the Jews at Pentecost. We are no longer that nation and yet we are trying to give the message as if we were and we wonder why we are not as effective as Peter. We are a nation of Pilates who ask what is truth.

The Jews had the Law and the history of God working in their nation. They at least outwardly gave lip service to God though their lives did not always match up. You did not have to convince them that Yahweh was God though at times in their history you had to remind them that He was the only God. If you quoted Scripture they would listen and often repent. They believed in a literal six day Creation. They believed in Adam and Eve, the Flood and on and on. Of course, they had the Sadducees who really did not believe in much of anything and probably should have been kicked out of the Sanhedrin, but the average Jew would have been far more in alignment with the Pharisees sans their hypocrisy.

The Greeks on the other hand did not have this background. They and other Gentiles had all sorts of interpretations of God and the origin and purpose of life as well as many gods in their organizational chart. You can find many stories in antiquity from many groups with similar stories as what is in the Bible, but this is to be expected. After all, only eight people got off the Ark. Those eight had the facts straight but as the earth was repopulated and people were scattered about the facts got blurry and somewhat enhanced like Eve adding do not touch to God’s command. Some details would be forgotten so someone would come up with something to fill in the gaps. Thus you have a world wide flood story in many cultures with even one that says only two brothers survived the flood. Why people did not question how the world got repopulated with that one is a good question, but then again many people accept many other tenets of religion and so-called science with obvious errors without question today.
To preach to them as Peter preached to the Jews that day would have been futile. They would have had no clue to much that was being said and thus Festus thinking Paul was mad or crazy from much study while King Agrippa was convicted and almost a Christian. We are in a day of Gentiles, not a day of Jews and we have start with a different premise when dealing with them. We do not change the message. We change the delivery. We start at square one as they have no clue what our church lingo means.

We are becoming more and more secular so we abound in atheists and agnostics. We are a pluralistic culture with people from all over the globe that come from a myriad of religions. Folks are into being spiritual though they often have no idea what that means but because they are open to a buffet of ideas where they pick and choose they think they are spiritual versus the dogmatic, narrow minded folks they perceive biblical Christians to be.

They don’t believe in Creation so to tell them Jesus died to save them from their sins means nothing since they don’t see a fall of evolved man. Sin is not being true to yourself and experiencing life to the fullest no matter what your desires might be as we are all part of the cosmic consciousness and indeed are all little gods. The Bible is not the Word of God for God is within them, not a divine Being to which they will answer, so they may accept Jesus as a god, but no more a god then you or they are. God is love and even a professing Christian author believes no one goes to Hell because love wins. I have a psychologist friend that was raised Catholic, but just can’t grasp the substitutionary atonement.

To walk up to these folks and give our standard presentation that we grew up with when there were still a substantial amount of Jews left would be useless. Hollywood, the media and Liberal theologians have so polluted the Gospel with their variations that you can use the same words with six people and have thirteen meanings. Catholics have been training their people to use our lingo, but the meanings are different. They are born again when they are sprinkled as infants and they receive Christ as their Savior when they receive the sacrament of the Eucharist for they are taking in the literal body and blood of Christ.

Many people in our own circles know the handshakes and lingo, but are not truly converted so even non-Catholics need to be thoroughly questioned even if they say everything right. Many pastors, deacons, teachers, musicians and members have been saved after being in a solid church for years. Since that is true, imagine how hard it is for someone with no background and has been taught secular humanism for many years or raised in an Eastern religion or some cult to grasp the message. You cannot win someone in thirty minutes at a doorstep as you might have done sixty years ago.

Acts 17:18-34
18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
33 So Paul departed from among them.
34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. KJV

The Epicureans were the atheistic eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die and if it feels good, do it crowd where the Stoics were more of the prideful suck it up and do it because it is right and what will be will be type. As opposite as they were they were still curious and thought it might be a good show to take Paul to where the gang hung out that just wanted to hear new things. I would venture most were the idle rich, who in their boredom, would listen to most anything.

Talk about a tough crowd. Indeed, we are only told of these two major philosophical schools that were present, but they were probably others else the debates would get old too quickly. Paul used their curiosity and fear of leaving out some god to gain his hearing. The unknown god to them was the only true God. They knew a myriad of false gods. They needed to know the true One.

He did not water down the message or even try to make it more appealing to them. They were seekers, but he did not go overboard to make it a seeker church kind of a thing. He did what all good teachers do. He took them from something they knew and led them to what they did not know. In the end, many laughed and mocked, but he did win some more time to explain with a group of people including a big wig named Dionysius whose name meant divinely touched, but really got divinely touched by Paul’s message and even though Damaris meant little woman she must have some influence in the city since she is called out by name.
Titus 1:12-13
12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.
13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; KJV

Sometimes you have to appeal to a person they respect and use what that person has said to gain an ear. Truth is truth and when a unbeliever speaks truth he is speaking God’s truth without giving Him credit. While some might see this prophet’s statement as a stereotype, there is usually some grain of truth to it which made it a stereotype. When I say kilt, what group do you think of automatically? The Scots and yet not all Scotsmen wear a kilt. If I say Lederhosen, you will say German and I am here to tell you I am one German you will most likely never see in that attire. When one of your own that speaks with authority says that you are something it is safe to say that you are what they say. That is why the movie, God’s Not Dead, uses many quotes from scientists and philosophers that show the folly of evolution.

I am not saying that you have to be fluent in every religion and philosophy. You will not live that long. The principle is to find something you can agree with or break the ice with to gain a hearing. Once they are paying attention you will start to see where you need to go to get them to where they need to be. Ask questions. Never assume they understand you even if they are nodding in assent.

You may have to go back to second grade Sunday School. If you do, no problem. Better to go back there and spend time making sure the person is saved then to have him say a prayer he does not understand to a God he really is not sure about so you can report back to someone your victory and the guy dies and goes to Hell the next night.

Matt 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. KJV

I used to think this was just the cults and apostate groups, but I fear that some of us bible thumping, independent Baptists and others like us are just as guilty. You have to get a man lost before you can get Him saved and if he does not believe in Creation, Adam and Eve and the Fall, you are not going to get him lost in his mind though he is lost biblically.

Using the phrases we love so well, regeneration, sanctification, justification, born again and on and on will be as useful to most people today as my IT and military lingo would be to a civilian or a person who can barely turn a computer on. It will be Greek to them as it would be if I spoke some of the things I know in other languages would be to most of you in the class.

When you meet a stranger do not press him hard for a conversion unless you sense real conviction. He may just say the prayer to send you on your way or to be polite. In most cases, you are going to plant the seed and water it a bit, but it is unlikely you will go from seed, to water, to fertilize, to harvest in twenty minutes or less. Someone will have to water what you’ve sown and someone else may end up harvesting so don’t feel like it has to be you. You were put there for that time to accomplish nothing else, but to be faithful and present the Gospel. If you are truly sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit you will know if it is time to plant, water or harvest. If they walk away, you are not a failure.


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