One of my tendencies in preaching is to go over the heads of the people in the audience. I tend to use complex terms and philosophical arguments that warrant blank stares on those listening. I’ve had to combat this and learn how to simplify my thoughts in order to get the message across. I want to make sure I’m preaching to the people that are there.
I have noticed similar problems as I visit churches where sermons seem to be targeted at the air.
Preaching to the choir is a problem of confirmation bias. It usually results when the pastor is speaking to people’s prejudices. This is usually the case when pastors get reved up about abstract arts, political issues, generational differences, or cultural concerns. These types of sermons can be difficult for some to notice because they are involved in what is called group think. Everyone around them agrees with the premise, no opposition is warranted, therefore the conclusions are accepted without critique. There is, however, a unifying characteristic to point out this kind of sermon fallacy: they start from a premise that is not in the text or is ripped out of context. If everyone would practice the discipline of searching the Scriptures like the Bereans, this problem would quickly cease. Believers need to learn to practice discernment instead of just drinking the kool-ade.
Preaching to the choir is very close to what Paul calls the problem of ‘itching ears.’ (II Timothy 4:3) People in churches today have no desire for and cannot handle deep doctrine. Instead they would rather hear sermons against homosexuality than the sins of the pharisees. Once I was preaching about the ‘woes’ to the pharisees and several people scolded me saying I wasn’t preaching about relevant issues. What they meant to say was that I needed to preach more about abortion, gay marriage, and all those other sins that are outside the church.
So if the pastor is preaching about the sins outside the walls of the church, who is he actually preaching at? I don’t want to give anyone the impression that we shouldn’t be naming sins and preaching the full countenance of Scripture, but when we can’t tolerate sermons about the religious pharisees it says something about our positional biases.