Many of us are familiar with the passage in Luke 15. It’s the Parable of the Lost Sheep. It goes like this:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
What is Jesus talking about in this parable? He’s talking about valuing every single person. I want to remind you that we are called to preach to one person at a time.
Really, one person at a time?
Now you may say, “Matt, how do you do that? We have thirty, one hundred, three hundred, or five hundred people in the service. How do I just preach to one person?”
Haddon Robinson observes, “Life-changing preaching does not talk to people about the Bible. Instead, it talks to the people about themselves—their questions, hurts, fears, and struggles from the Bible.”
A lot of times we can get overwhelmed. There are so many people to consider as we’re doing our exegesis and as we’re thinking about how we’re going to apply this specific passage to their lives. It can be really overwhelming thinking about all the different types of people who are out there. Sometimes, if we’re honest with ourselves, we just preach general, generic sermons. We try to hit everyone, but we’re not really focusing on any individual.
Bringing the message home
We can think of preaching as aiming at a target. When you play the game of darts, you’re throwing the dart and trying to hit the bull’s-eye every time. But one of the ways that we can really focus our preaching on the one sheep that Jesus talks about in this parable is to focus on one individual person.
Think of Tom, the software engineer in your church. What are the struggles that he goes through in a given week? What are the questions that he would ask of the particular passage you’re preparing your sermon on? What about Jenny, the international student from Ecuador? What is she struggling with? How does she read the text? Perhaps we can think about Mary, the bank teller, or George, who owns the convenience store. What are their situations like? What are the daily struggles that they go through? What kinds of questions do they ask when they read a Scripture passage? How does this text relate to their lives? I knew a pastor who once said that his goal in ministry was this: “to make disciples one person at a time.”
Why everyone benefits from preaching to one person at a time
Just because we preach to one person and target our exegesis, our outline, our illustrations to that person doesn’t mean that we forget about the rest. We’re enabling our preaching to home in on an individual so that that individual might be able to sense God’s presence and experience all God has for him or her in this passage. I’ve tried to do this regularly in my preaching. I focus on one individual and ask myself, “How does this text apply to him or her?” It’s amazing how God works in that even though I focused on that individual many people in the church benefited from how I preached to that individual.
Why not try it in your upcoming sermon series? Think about preaching in this way—to preach to one person at a time.
By Matthew Kim, adapted from Preaching Points: 55 Tips for Improving Your Pulpit Ministry.