I used to begin with the needs of people and then go to Scripture. I figured that the place to begin as a preacher is with the needs of the people in front of me.
I still see the value in this approach. The wise preacher considers the needs of the congregation. We need to know our people and their struggles, and build a preaching diet that’s appropriate to the needs of our people.
But there’s also a danger in this approach. Taken too far, the needs of people — not Scripture — will dictate what we preach and teach.
There’s another way.
Get to know Scripture. All of it. Dig deep into texts that are often ignored in the normal preaching diet of the church. Read the books of the Bible that are rarely preached. Don’t just read them. Dig deep and meditate on them.
Pretty soon you’ll discover that they have a message to communicate, a message that we often miss because we don’t pay much attention to these parts of the Bible. You’ll see the way that these passages intersect with the needs of your people.
You’ll soon be overwhelmed with how much of the Bible — every part of it — speaks to the human condition and to the hope we have in Jesus.
Keep going. Let Scripture set the agenda. Follow its contours: its ups and downs, its low points and its high points. See the hope; feel the despair. As you read it, determine to let it set the agenda. Allow it to speak, and you will find that it speaks clearly and loudly to what people are facing today.
And then preach that Word. Allow it to set the agenda. It will tackle issues you may have ignored, not because those issues aren’t relevant to your congregation, but you might not have thought of them. Believe that you don’t have to make the text relevant. Start with the assumption that it’s already relevant, and you just need to let it speak its message to people who desperately need to hear what it says.
I’m discovering the beauty of passages that rarely get preached. Scripture contains a richness that’s unimaginable, that’s far greater than what we’d come up with when we set the agenda. Scripture is not some irrelevant book in which we have to find the relevant parts; it is a book in which every passage has more riches than you can extract in one or two sermons. Begin with the assumption that allowing the text to speak will be more relevant than any other kind of preaching, and you will discover a new and better way to preach. You won’t want to go back.
Don’t get me wrong. Pay attention to your congregation’s needs. You will still need to do that. Just don’t let those needs set the agenda. Let the text set the agenda, and over a regular preaching ministry of months and years, you will find that it speaks to those needs in a far richer way than anything you could have come up with any other way.
When Scripture speaks in its fullness, it speaks to the needs of our people.