Preaching at People

Larry Ray Hafley
Plano, Illinois

A frequent complaint against the preacher is that "he preaches at people." The complaint is valid if the preacher is vituperative or vengeful. If he is reproving a reprobate in the pulpit to relieve a personal grudge, he is sinfully "preaching at people." Such a charge is hard to prove. God knows (Heb. 4:13).

However, the complaint is usually made by those whose spirit is now dead, being weak in faith, bringing shame to God. The one who dislikes "preaching at people" is the one the preaching is at. Sermons on attendance are at them. Sermons on gracious giving and godly living are aimed at them. Lessons against dancing and immodesty are at them. Throw a rock into a dog pack and the one who gets hit will yelp, "He is preaching at people."

If the preacher must not preach to the ones who are present, should he preach to the ones who are absent? If he does, the same ones who say he "preaches at people" would then say his preaching is "sniping gossip behind your back." So, in attempting to please people you meet yourself coming back.

Bible preaching is at people. "Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem" (Jer. 2: 1, 2). "And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them" (Ezek. 6:1, 2). "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me" (Jon. 1:2).

Acts 2 and 7 contain preaching that was at the audience. It fit their needs, crying against their lawless deeds. Before the Jews in Antioch (Acts 13), Paul presented a vastly different lesson than the one he preached before the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17), but each had a similar goal of faith in Christ. The reason for the diversity of content is that Paul "preached at people."

I wonder if the Corinthians or the Hebrews felt "preached at" when they received the epistles delivered to them. Or how about the seven churches of Asia, named and cataloged, I wonder if they felt "preached at?" And while we are wondering, I wonder what those pious souls who resent being "preached at" would say to a Jew that would keep them from "preaching at" them about the Lordship of Jesus?

Conclusion: More preaching at people is needed. General themes, eloquent lectures, and sublime answers to problems, questions, and situations that do not exist are words wasted. Preaching should draw a bead on the needs of people.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 23, pp. 8-9
April 15, 1971