Each month, the Alban Weekly highlights some of the incredible resources available in the collection of Alban books offered by publisher Rowman & Littlefield. In this week’s Alban Weekly, Alban author Lori Carrell reflects on her learnings as she wrote Preaching that Matters: Reflective Practices for Transforming Sermons.

 Listeners’ Response

by Lori Carrell

Does preaching matter?  You may want to let the perspective of thousands of listeners from across the United States contribute to your thinking about the potential value of preaching.  These adult listeners attend all kinds of churches – tiny and mega, but mostly medium; healthy and troubled; mainline, evangelical, Catholic, and community.  More than 78% of listeners say that they have “never” discussed a sermon with their preachers, so how could you possibly know what your listeners are thinking?”

Pastor, here’s why we listen and why your preaching matters to your listeners:

1 — We Listen Expecting Inspiration

When asked to list elements of the church service “most likely to have an impact on my spiritual journey,” the number one answer from listeners was “the sermon.”  Preachers did not predict their listeners would answer that way!  Said a listener from a coastal state, “I like good music and my church friends, but I come on Sunday hoping for inspiration from the sermon, inspiration to encourage my spiritual growth.”

2 — We Look to Your Preaching for Spiritual Leadership

One listener admits, “I can get better presentation from television preaching, but I want to hear this person I know, this person who knows me, this leader in our community of believers….” Though some analysts predict that a few podcasting super preachers will soon proclaim to a great global pew, right now, in 2014, most Christ-followers are seeking spiritual direction from the public spoken words of their pastors.

3 — We Rely on Your Preaching for Spiritual Content

Please hear this crucial response from your previously silent listeners: We are listening to you for spiritual content that we have determined is a priority for us, listening to hear God’s voice through you, listening for something we don’t hear or view or download anywhere else.

4 — We Listen to Your Preaching Expecting Long-Lasting Impact

Even when the pastor hasn’t used inspirational language, hasn’t included ideas for implementation, or hasn’t asked for change (all desired by listeners!), listeners are still committed to contemplating the content, because they perceive there is potential for spiritual growth to occur.

Affirming that preaching matters is itself transformational. If you actually believe that those minutes you will spend communicating with your congregation next Sunday have the potential to make a significant difference you may approach the pulpit and your prayer life and your sermon preparation a little differently from the way you did last week, when you wondered if those spoken words of yours were evaporating.

For as long as you continue to speak for God publicly-to preach or teach or proclaim – a close, authentic examination of your sermon communication through reflective practice is needed. Hundreds – now thousands – of other preachers have done so, enhancing the spiritual journeys of their congregations.

Preaching That Matters provides the opportunity for you to challenge yourself, prayerfully – for your calling to preach is high and holy.

Lori Carrell is the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Student Development at the University of Minnesota – Rochester. 

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